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Board approves mutual aid at Line 3 protests

The Freeborn County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday voted to allow Sheriff’s Office deputies to give mutual aid if requested at protests at the pipeline construction site in northern Minnesota.

Freeborn County Sheriff Kurt Freitag said the Northern Lights Task Force, a law enforcement consortium made up of agencies from 18 counties that line the 337-mile Enbridge Line 3 route, is expected to put out a mutual aid request for construction site security along the route.

Freitag initially came before the commissioners with the request in February — because commissioners have to approve travel outside of a 200-mile radius — and the commissioners later that month said they needed more time and information to decide on the request.

During the board meeting Tuesday, 2nd District Commissioner Dan Belshan asked why a mutual aid agreement had not been drafted for the arrangement, and Freitag said it is not common for smaller agencies to draft mutual aid agreements.

He said the county has not had a mutual aid agreement when agencies come to assist in Freeborn County, referencing the November shooting at Shady Oaks, when several outside agencies came in to assist. He said the county wouldn’t have had the resources to cover the overtime rate for all of the officers who came to assist during that incident, which went on for several hours, and noted each county is typically in charge of their own personnel and equipment.

He did note, however, that mutual aid agreements were in place when law enforcement from around the state assisted Minneapolis and Hennepin County in preparation for the end of the Derek Chauvin trial and during the Super Bowl.

Freitag said if the Northern Lights Task Force puts out a request for mutual aid, deputies could go for multiple days.

In February, Freitag said Enbridge would reimburse agencies $13 million for wages related to law enforcement.

Belshan asked the sheriff how he would plan to fill the positions from Freeborn County who would provide mutual aid, and Freitag said he would utilize people who are on scheduled days off.

He said he was comfortable with going that route and said that was what took place when the county sent people to Hennepin County to assist earlier this year.

In other action, the board amended the county’s reopening and safety plan.

The part that referenced that masks should be required to be worn by all staff and visitors in public areas will be removed per new requirements from Gov. Tim Walz and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week.

Another part regarding screening for temperatures and social distancingwill no longer be required, and employees and visitors will also be able to gather in groups and share workspaces as necessary.

The resolution states that people who are fully vaccinated are not required to wear face coverings while in county buildings, but the county “highly recommends” that all non-vaccinated people wear some form of face covering in public until vaccinated.

Administrator Tom Jensen said other counties are also removing the mask mandate from their organizations, though he noted he and Public Health officials have some reservations with only a little over 50% vaccinated in Freeborn County.

Jensen said he hoped there would not be a spike in new cases, but there could be down the road.