Freeborn County Commissioners delay action on request for mutual aid for Line 3 pipeline protests

Published 8:50 pm Tuesday, February 16, 2021

The Freeborn County Board of Commissioners told Sheriff Kurt Freitag they needed more time to decide on his request to join other law enforcement agencies in patrolling protests at a pipeline construction site in northern Minnesota.

Freitag initially discussed with the group an anticipated request for assistance from the Northern Lights Task Force — a law enforcement consortium currently made up of agencies from 18 counties — at the board’s workshop on Feb. 10.

Commissioners were uncomfortable with the limited details about the request on Tuesday. They delayed action on the request until March 16.

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“There are still more details the task force is working out,” Freitag told the group. “It’s hard to predict when and how and the level (the request) is going to be at.”

The sheriff asked the group to trust his judgement and experience. He said he’d agree to send personnel north if it was “reasonable” and work with the county’s staffing at that time.

“I would like to be able to make those decisions as the sheriff,” Freitag said. “I don’t take it lightly. This is a big responsibility.”

The county currently allows Freeborn County deputies to assist when needed within a 200-mile radius. The current discussion would eliminate that distance requirement to allow for work specifically with the Northern Lights Task Force.

Mutual aid

Freitag noted Freeborn County received assistance from outside agencies during the shooting at Shady Oaks in November and in the summer during the demonstrations at the courthouse.

He said after the meeting that almost all of his deputies have completed mobile field force training, and the board allocated $20,000 to purchase gear related to demonstration and protest law enforcement — for example gas masks, ballistic-rated helmets and turtle suits.

He noted Freeborn County has assisted incidents in neighboring counties in all directions and occasionally in Rochester and the Twin Cities.

“The big thing is,” Freitag said, “when it was our turn with Shady Oaks, with the demonstrations in the summer, everyone showed up. As one of the smaller agencies, we’re not always capable of handling that.”

Freitag — and other sheriffs, according to published reports — expect the Northern Lights Task Force to ask for help in the coming weeks. Freitag said the board likely wants a memorandum of understanding, but that there isn’t typically one for each event.

He said he’ll ensure his personnel would receive adequate lodging, meals and work conditions.

Enbridge has said it will reimburse agencies $13 million for wages related to law enforcement. That’s atypical, Freitag said.

“We’re not reimbursed for other mutual aid,” he said. “They say, ‘Thanks,’ and we go home.”

Line 3

Enbridge’s Line 3 runs from southeastern Alberta, Canada to Superior, Wis. Almost all of the United States’ portion of the 340-mile oil line runs through Minnesota, including through the Fond du Lac Reservation west of Duluth.

Work began in December on the nearly $10 billion project.

Earlier this month, a Minnesota court rejected a civil motion by area Native American tribes to stop construction. Protests at the site have resulted in some delays, but Enbridge officials expect the line to be completed and begin operating this year.

Opponents worry about a spill occurring in one of the 200 bodies of water the pipeline will be in close contact with on tribal lands.

Once the 4,000 workers are done building the pipeline, it will transport more than 760,000 barrels of oil per day. 

Enbridge officials said last week construction costs for the line have increased by more than $1 billion, but once opened, money will run as readily as oil.

“Once Line 3 is in service, it’s going to contribute a lot of free cash flow,” Al Monaco, Enbridge Ceo, said on a call with investors on Friday.