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Protesters scuffle with organizers of Line 5 lecture in Petoskey

 North Central Michigan College seen from above

A melee broke out as an Enbridge official tried to speak about the Line 5 pipeline at North Central Michigan College last week.

Protesters said in a statement this week that they were physically assaulted while trying to nonviolently disrupt the event. Organizers say protesters barged in without proper clearance.

A press release posted Wednesday on Twitter by the Anishinaabek Caucus of the Michigan Democratic Party describes a group, which included NCMC president David Finley, forcing the protesters out of the room resulting in minor injuries.

A video provided to IPR News and the Record-Eagle by John Woodward, one of the protesters, shows the two groups scuffling with a banner that reads “Enbridge Out! No Line 5."

“We showed up to practice our First Amendment rights. And people didn't like what we were saying,” Woodward said. “They decided to put their hands on us. We felt threatened — it was scary.”

The event was part of NCMC’s Luncheon Lecture Series which regularly brings in professionals from different fields to discuss their work.

This time, the series featured Enbridge Community Engagement Manager Paul Meneghini to present on the planned Great Lakes Tunnel Project beneath the Straits of Mackinac.

Line 5 transports crude oil and natural gas liquids across the U.S.-Canada border and under the environmentally and culturally significant Straits of Mackinac.

The project has been met with protests for years, and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration continues fighting in court to shut down Line 5 entirely.

Charlie MacInnis organizes the series for NCMC, which is a community college. He says protesters entered the room without purchasing tickets, which were $15 each.

“There was no opportunity to ask them to leave, they burst in and started yelling, they were not civil, they were not appropriate,” MacInnis said. “They did not act in a way that would suggest that civil discourse was their goal.”

In the video, MacInnis is shown pushing protesters through the door before whistling to someone off camera. Protesters are heard chanting “No Line 5.”

Woodward said police were on scene after the scuffle and issued a trespassing warning. Macinnis and Woodward said no charges were filed in the aftermath.

In a statement, NCMC officials said the school is working with Petoskey Department of Public Safety.

"The college supports orderly protests on campus and tried to redirect them to a space designated in the center of campus for protestors/demonstrations," the statement read.

Enbridge, meanwhile, said its representative was an invited guest at NCMC and had no role in security.

“Enbridge recognizes the rights of people to express their views legally and peacefully, and to discuss Enbridge's business and projects. We encourage active discussions about our operations and projects, as long as everyone is respectful of one another and non-violent,” the company’s statement read. “Enbridge will continue to engage in conversations with individuals and communities in areas where we have operations or active projects.”

EDITOR's NOTE: Charlie MacInnis is a former member of the IPR Community Advisory Board.

Michael Livingston covers the area around the Straits of Mackinac - including Cheboygan, Charlevoix, Emmet and Otsego counties as a Report for America corps member.