Law enforcement has received $500,000 in Enbridge money for work related to Line 3

By: - April 12, 2021 6:00 am

Crews worked on Enbridge’s Line 3 oil pipeline near Hill City on Jan. 26, 2021. Fifty-foot paths through forest and wetland were cleared to make way for the pipeline. Photo by Rilyn Eischens/Minnesota Reformer.

Canadian energy company Enbridge has spent more than $500,000 to cover law enforcement expenses related to construction of its Line 3 oil pipeline in northern Minnesota, according to documents obtained by the Reformer through a public records request.

The payments come from a requirement in project permits, which mandated that Enbridge create a trust to reimburse law enforcement and social service organizations for wages, mileage, training and protective gear related to Line 3 construction.

The stipulation was intended to prevent Line 3 from becoming a strain on local agencies’ budgets, as small, rural police and sheriffs departments contend with increased traffic and hazards brought about by construction. But experts and pipeline opponents say they’re concerned the fund could influence officers’ activities as relationships between law enforcement and protesters become increasingly tense.

“One of my concerns is that the way the escrow trust is set up, it is incentivizing police to put more hours into patrolling worksites,” said Shanai Matteson, an Aitkin County resident who opposes the pipeline. “In some ways, this is giving them wages. They’re getting their budgets filled by doing (certain) activities.”

The way it works is Enbridge set up the fund at a bank, and law enforcement agencies send reimbursement requests to a state-appointed account manager. The account manager — a former deputy chief of the Bloomington Police Department — assesses requests and approves reimbursement for eligible expenses.

“In other words, these requests are not made to, nor does payment come from, Enbridge,” an Enbridge spokesperson wrote in an email.

Other pipeline projects across the country created financial burdens for local police and social service agencies, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission noted in a Line 3 permit. For example, Morton County in North Dakota racked up nearly $40 million in expenses related to construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. 

The PUC included the public safety fund as a permitting condition to defray the costs of public health, safety and human and drug trafficking efforts near the route, according to the permit. This is the first time a state regulator has attached such a condition to a permit for an Enbridge project, an Enbridge spokesperson told the Reformer.

The Cass County Sheriff’s Office received $327,224.65 to cover wages from security patrols of pipeline property and neighboring homes and businesses. The sum is significant for the rural county, amounting to roughly 7% of the department’s salary and overtime budget for this year.

Experts in policing question the arrangement. Kevin Karpiak, an Eastern Michigan University professor, said he hadn’t heard of an agreement like the public safety account before. But it reminded him of other public-private law enforcement partnerships, like police officers providing security for college football games, he said.

“The ethical stakes of that new relationship changes who the police are indebted to,” Karpiak said.

He said law enforcement are, ideally, supposed to protect the common good, but interests in protecting property cloud that mission in many cases. For Karpiak, the public safety account raises questions about the broader role and authority of law enforcement, and “who the police work for, and whose interests they represent, or whose interests they claim to represent — and what we make of the difference between those two circles in the Venn diagram.”

Crews worked on a sectionalizing valve on Enbridge’s Line 3 oil pipeline near Hill City on Jan. 26, 2021. (Rilyn Eischens/Minnesota Reformer)

A spokesperson for the Public Utilities Commission declined to comment, citing ongoing litigation against the project.

So far, the vast majority of reimbursements have gone to two sheriff’s offices: Cass and Beltrami counties. A spokesperson for the Northern Lights Task Force, which represents 18 law enforcement agencies along the pipeline route, did not make representatives from the Cass and Beltrami sheriff’s offices available for comment before publication.

Between Nov. 28 and Feb. 19, just over 40 employees of the Cass County Sheriff’s Office dedicated more than 7,000 hours to safety patrols, according to time sheets. Several logged more than 100 hours of overtime during that period.

In a letter to the escrow account manager in late February, Sheriff Tom Burch wrote that the pipeline stretches 48 miles through Cass County and crosses four busy highways.

The county has seen increased traffic and responded to more than 100 calls for service related to the pipeline since construction started in December, the letter said. A supervisor meets multiple times each day with Enbridge staff to discuss potential safety concerns and plans, Burch wrote.

“Our mission of this patrol is public safety orientated and focused on our citizens, landowners, motorists, workers and those in opposition of the project,” Burch wrote.

More than 130 pipeline opponents — water protectors, as they call themselves — have been arrested in Minnesota since construction started in December. This includes several people who have been arrested in Cass County, among them protesters who chained themselves together inside a section of pipe.

The Beltrami County Sheriff’s Department has received nearly $170,500 for training dating back to 2017, wages for time spent preparing for Line 3 construction, and mileage and pay for responding to pipeline protests in other counties. The majority — about $100,000 — went to equipment, including gas mask filters and radio batteries.

The Public Utilities Commission permit specifies the account can’t be used to cover equipment costs, except protective equipment. Several requests for equipment that don’t fit that category haven’t been approved, including an $18,500 fingerprinting system, a $3,300 trailer and $3,300 for tools like saws and sledgehammers.

Social services organizations have also received reimbursements from the account. A nonprofit emergency shelter in northwestern Minnesota received about $250 to pay for hotel rooms for women allegedly assaulted by pipeline workers, and a sexual assault advocacy group with multiple locations along the route received about $115,000 for a safety liaison.

A property in Palisade has become an unofficial headquarters for “water protectors,” as people opposed to the pipeline call themselves. (Rilyn Eischens/Minnesota Reformer)

Matteson, who organizes against the pipeline full-time, said she’s concerned the account could motivate law enforcement to spend extra time patrolling near the route. She said people involved in efforts against the pipeline are regularly followed by law enforcement and pulled over for minor traffic infractions, which could be billed to the public safety account.

Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, a lawyer with the Center for Protest Law & Litigation, traveled to northern Minnesota last month to meet with pipeline opponents. Veryheyden-Hilliard said she was followed by law enforcement for more than 10 miles and pulled over for not signaling a turn far enough in advance. 

“This is a highly irregular structure that, in essence, is privatizing the public police force by having the public police force ultimately work in service to the private interests of the pipeline company, rather than in service to the public interests,” Verheyden-Hilliard said. 

Construction on the 337-mile pipeline started in December, following six years of state review, permitting and litigation. The $2.6 billion project is set to be completed by the end of the year, but opponents hope courts will block the project before then.

Enbridge and pipeline supporters say the new line is necessary to replace the existing Line 3 — which was built in the 1960s and requires more upkeep each year — and to meet demand for oil. The project has also created jobs for roughly 5,000 welders, equipment operators and laborers.

Opponents say the pipeline will eventually leak and contaminate Minnesota’s forests and waters with crude oil. The cultural significance of these lands and the wild rice beds near the pipeline makes the risk intolerable for Native people, who say the project also violates their treaty rights.

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Rilyn Eischens
Rilyn Eischens

Rilyn Eischens is a former data reporter for the Minnesota Reformer. Rilyn was born and raised in Minnesota and has worked in newsrooms in the Twin Cities, Iowa, Texas and most recently Virginia, where she covered education for The Staunton News Leader. She's an alumna of the Dow Jones News Fund data journalism program and the Minnesota Daily. When Rilyn isn't in the newsroom, she likes to read, add to her plant collection and try new recipes.