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BELTRAMI COUNTY: Foster homes for Native American children needed in Beltrami County and Red Lake; Oil spill from 1979 discussed, commissioners meet with Bemidji City Council

BEMIDJI -- Topics ranging from worldwide to close to home were discussed Tuesday at the Beltrami County commissioners meeting. Commissioners heard how the Health and Human Services Department is working toward increasing targeted foster care efforts, what environmental scientists are doing to clean up a 35-year-old oil spill and met with the Bemidji City Council to discuss topics pertinent to both groups.

Beltrami County is working together with Red Lake Family and Children Services to help better serve the children in the region. Both the county and reservation are facing a shortage of foster homes.

The Federal Indian Child Welfare Act outlines a preferred placement that includes placing children first with a member of the child’s extended family, then other members of the Indian child’s tribe or other Indian families. This placement preference prompted members of Beltrami County and Red Lake to start researching targeted foster care recruitment.

In May, Commissioner Tim Sumner; Jeffrey Lind, Social Services Division Director for Beltrami County Health; and Human Services and Paula Wood with Red Lake Family and Children Services travelled to Albuquerque, N.M. to participate in a Casey Family and National Resource Center for Tribes foster care recruitment program that targets Native American Families. Lind has a background in foster care licensure for the county.

“Because it was a team from Red Lake and Beltrami County, there’s always been, I think everybody can understand, a little bit of mistrust and a little bit of relationship building that has been necessary between the county and the tribe,” Lind said. “I think this went a long way towards that.”

Of the 35 foster homes in Beltrami County, only four or five are Federal Indian Child Welfare Act eligible, Lind said. Wood said there are 72 foster homes in Red Lake, with another 50 families applying.

“We learned quite a bit about different processes and procedures,” Lind said. “Generally speaking, we need more Native American foster homes.”

Wood spoke to one of the misconceptions of becoming a foster parent referred to as the bait and switch in which people are given foster care brochures showing children walking through meadows, when the reality is much different.

“What you get when you get a foster kid in your home is a 14-year-old with a shaved head with a purple stripe...and swear words tattooed on their knuckles,” Wood said. “We have to be clear and honest about what we want.”

Lind and Wood agreed there is a shortage of families willing to accept multiple foster children which leads to splitting up siblings. One of the greatest needs identified is homes that are able to take three or more siblings, teenagers, teen mothers and their babies and medically-fragile children or babies.

The collaborative recruitment project is in an effort to recruit Native American foster families both on and off the Red Lake Reservation. Through the project, people from Beltrami County and Red Lake will be distributing informational brochures, contact cards and talking points at powwows and other events held in Native American communities.

Although the project is aimed to recruit Native American foster families, all people who are interested are encouraged to inquire by calling Red Lake Family and Children Services at (218) 679-2122 or Beltrami County Health and Human Services at (218) 333-8317.

Pipeline from the past

A pipeline transporting crude oil through Beltrami County broke causing a spill in 1979. Since 1983, a parcel of land in Lammers Township has been extensively studied by environmental agencies.

Mindy Erickson, United States Geological Survey Site Manager updated commissioners on projects and activities at the National Crude Oil Spill Fate and Natural Attenuation Research Site on the tax-forfeited land. Approximately 2,500 barrels of oil remained in the unsaturated zone and near the water table after the initial clean up.

“It’s always intrigued me that we’re concerned about spilling of a natural product,” said Commissioner Jim Lucachick. “Is it really bad that it came out of the earth and spilled out on top?”

Erickson said although the spill isn’t the largest in national or statewide history, the land area is unique in that studies on the ground have benefitted scientists, engineers, industry and the public worldwide.

Beltrami County signed a 5-year Memorandum of Understanding in June with the USGS, Enbridge Energy and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency authorizing further research on the site. Five proposals have received funding for the 2014 field season.

The five projects were awarded a total of approximately $30,000 and will yield approximately $70,000 in matching funds and in-kind contributions. Projects will include appraisal and course development, evaluation of remediation methods for water-repellent petroleum contaminated sites, arsenic association with iron minerals in Bemidji plume, investigating the sensitivity of magnetic susceptibility measurements to natural attenuation of crude oil and determination of the active members of the microbial communities within zones of altered geophysical signatures at the hydrocarbon research site in Bemidji.

“Even though there’s not a high level of arsenic in the oil, it still results in a relatively high concentration of arsenic in the water,” Erickson explained. The arsenic project will determine the reach and mobility of arsenic in the area.

Erickson said the studies will help answer the board’s question about when the land can be used for planting again. Over the years, environmental science students at BSU have contributed to the research through sample collection and masters projects, she added.

“We’ve had very mutually beneficial work with the BSU students,” Erickson said. ‘It’s been a really great collaboration.”

County and city confab

Beltrami County commissioners hosted the Bemidji City Council in a discussion led by Mayor Rita Albrecht. Topics on the agenda included airport initiatives, historical society support, city and county trail systems, fire association, city hospitality tax, street improvement districts, south shore beach and lake cleanup and county Mississippi Headwaters Board membership and Veterans home initiatives.

Each entity expressed interest in the other sharing fiscal responsibility on certain community assets. Councilwoman Nancy Erickson proposed the county should kick in for operating support for the Beltrami County Historical Society, stating if the county helped fund the organization it could be open longer and be a resource to not only the county but neighboring communities. Beltrami County Commissioner Jack Frost said it is not in the county’s practice to fund special interest groups. Commissioner Joe Vene agreed the county has not historically paid for operations of non-profits.

The county and city were in agreement that the trail systems may need some work but are well maintained by the parks departments. Although some commissioners and council members are opposed to the fire associations request to have tax exempt properties pay for services, it was agreed that a solution will not be reached until the next legislative session should legislators be convinced the pay for services approach is a stable funding source.

The food and beverage tax or hospitality tax is being looked at by the city in a similar way to how the county adopted the half-cent sales tax. While the county has designated funds collected on the half-cent sales tax to support road infrastructure, the city would be using the hospitality tax to offset costs incurred by building amenities that draw tourism, namely the Sanford Center. Lucachick pointed out residents outside the city limits were not able to vote on whether or not to build the center and such a tax would be unfair.

“It’s taxation without representation,” Lucachick said. Vene countered there was no legal mechanism for those residents to have voted.

Two resolutions came of the meeting. In past county commissioner meetings it has been mentioned the city of Bemidji should be part of the Mississippi Headwaters group which is comprised of eight counties. The city, however is unable to have a seat at the table as it does not fall under the rules outlined in the joint powers agreement. It was agreed the county will be pursuing grant dollars for veterans homes since the homes would benefit people not only in the city of Bemidji. A last minute addition to the agenda was the presence of algae in the north end of Lake Bemidji, which will likely be discussed at future county and city meetings.

Crystal Dey
Crystal Dey covers crime, courts, tribal relations and social issues for The Bemidji Pioneer in Bemidji, Minnesota. Originally from Minnesota’s Iron Range, Dey has worked for the Echo Press in Alexandria, Minnesota, The Forum in Fargo, North Dakota, The Tampa Tribune in Tampa, Florida, the Hartford Courant in Hartford and West Hartford News in West Hartford, Connecticut. Dey studied Mass Communications at Minnesota State University Moorhead with an emphasis in Online Journalism. Follow Crystal Dey on Twitter @Crystal_Dey.
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