BEMIDJI -- Beltrami County has been reimbursed more than $170,522 for expenses related to Line 3 construction site law enforcement.
According to a press release from Beltrami County Sheriff Ernie Beitel, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) Line 3 escrow account -- escrow is a legal arrangement in which a third party temporarily holds large sums of money or property until a particular condition has been met -- reimbursed Beltrami County for expenses incurred by the Beltrami County Sheriff’s Office for training deputies, purchasing equipment and other expenses related to mutual aid requests from neighboring law enforcement agencies in support of the Northern Lights Task Force.
The Northern Lights Task Force is a law enforcement coalition, “designed to address public safety needs posed by the installation of the pipeline across northern Minnesota.”
The mission statement for the task force is, “to provide a safe environment that protects life, property, and free speech through a respectful approach by well-trained, disciplined peace officers relating to the lawful activities conducted by those who wish to exercise their First Amendment rights in Minnesota.“
The escrow account was established by the PUC to lessen the burden on local taxpayers as part of the permitting process for Enbridge Corporation for the construction of Line 3, Beitel explained.
As of March 30, the Beltrami County Sheriff’s Office had responded to seven requests for mutual aid from Clearwater, Hubbard and Aitkin counties related to Line 3 construction.
In Clearwater and Hubbard Counties, deputies were called to assist in the removal of protestors attached to sleeping dragon devices or suspended in tripod systems, the release said.
A sleeping dragon device is usually made of metals, plastic tubing, or concrete products in which protestors form a human chain, hand to hand, with arms linked while inside the device. The person within the device could disengage from it if desired, but removing someone safely from the device is cumbersome for law enforcement, Beitel explained.
All expenses incurred from these mutual aid requests were reimbursed by the Public Utilities Commission. Other reimbursements received included $107,620 in personnel protective equipment and nearly $50,935 in wage reimbursements related to the training and planning associated with the Northern Lights Task Force.
“Maintaining public safety is one of the many duties of our office. Minnesota laws allow law enforcement agencies to assist other agencies through reciprocal agreements when planned and unplanned events could or would likely overwhelm the services of a smaller agency,” the release said. “Not having mutual aid could easily overwhelm a rural sheriff’s office or fire department in their time of need, potentially costing lives and unrecoverable financial costs associated with property damage, recovery operations and cleanup.”
In 2020, the Beltrami County Sheriff’s Office and the Bemidji Police Department called upon mutual aid from agencies across Minnesota during the visit from President Donald Trump in September 2020 and during the Bemidji protests surrounding the death of George Floyd and subsequent curfews toward the end of May 2020.
According to Beitel, only the costs of food and beverages were passed on to local taxpayers during those mutual aid requests.
In total, the Beltrami County Sheriff’s Office submitted reimbursement requests from the PUC for $206,580.
Of that amount, $170,522 was granted, $23,130 of those expenses were initially denied, and $12,927 is still pending reimbursement.
All related expenses for Line 3 law enforcement were within the sheriff’s office budget, the release said, but having additional expenses reimbursed by the PUC is being fiscally responsible to Beltrami County taxpayers.
The Beltrami County Sheriff’s Office has returned an excess of $2.2 million back to its general fund since 2015.