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Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe withdraws power line project agreement

The Leech Lake Reservation Business Committee, also known as the Tribal Council, has taken official action to withdraw the Oct. 13 letter to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission approving the granting of a 230kV Otter Tail Power Company Power-line route permit.

The letter of approval was issued by Secretary/Treasurer Michael J. Bongo, suggesting the Tribal Council approved the transmission line route through the Leech lake Reservation.

Project Manager Al Koeckeritz told the Beltrami County Board members Tuesday that the PUC granted the project's certificate of need in July 2009. The Bemidji-Grand Rapids power line is designed to run from the Wilton substation along U.S. Highway 2 to the Boswell substation west of Grand Rapids.

On Friday, Jan. 28, Tribal Council members met with attorneys to review the recording of the special meeting and minutes from Sept. 9, which Bongo pointed to as approving the 230kV Power-line Agreement. After careful review of the recording, it was apparent the only official action taken by the Tribal Council was to not hold a referendum vote on the 230kV Power-line.

"Secretary/Treasurer Bongo took a no vote for a referendum on power line and tried to pass it off as approval for a $5.7 million deal with power companies," Leech Lake Band Chairman Arthur "Archie" LaRose said in a press release. "Then he wrote a letter he never shared with the full LLRBC and sent notice of approval to the PUC. This is important because the signed agreement waives the sovereignty of Leech Lake, jeopardizes our treaty rights and civil regulatory authority. The full RBC never saw the agreement until after the fact. The original copy of the agreement and negotiation documents were only recovered from fired Band Attorney Eric Lochen after threat of legal action last Friday. How this was handled has created a political and public relations mess for the Leech Lake Reservation."

Because the 230kV Power-line Agreement was submitted in violation of governing by-laws of Leech Lake, the Band will engage in government-to-government consultation regarding the treaty rights compromised by the utility crossing. The Band also gave notice to the power companies and PUC that the duly elected, governing authority for the Leech Lake Reservation never gave consent or made an agreement.

The power line route is about 70 miles long, Koeckeritz said, running through a 125-foot right-of-way. In addition to the Leech Lake Reservation, the route travels through more than 20 miles of federally owned land within the Chippewa National Forest. In January, the power company received easement agreement with the national forest and a Department of Natural Resources license to cross DNR land and waters. The line is scheduled to go into service in December 2012.