The day after Minnesota regulators approved a controversial oil pipeline project, East Grand Forks civic leaders made it easier for the city’s police officers to head to protests throughout the state.
City Council members on Tuesday unanimously approved a new mutual aid agreement that allows the city’s police officers to head to the aid of any other Minnesota law enforcement organization that requests their help with only the say-so of the East Grand Forks police chief. Without that agreement in place, police would need approval from the city's elected officials.
But, wary of ceding too much control, council members also pushed for – or at least didn’t object to – the creation of an “internal” police department policy that would require the city’s police chief to get the go-ahead from the mayor, city administrator or City Council president, if possible, before exercising his power to dispatch officers to another part of the state.
“I think having some checks and balances in place for situations like this – that’s a positive, not a negative, so I’d have no problem with it,” Police Chief Mike Hedlund told council members on Tuesday.
The police department policy could be changed without council approval, but Hedlund said he doesn’t intend to do so.
“If myself or a future chief were to remove that, essentially cutting (the mayor, administrator and council president) out of the loop, I don’t think that would bode well for that chief at that time,” he said. “I don’t think that would be a wise decision. So I don’t foresee there being any issues.”
The city policy doesn’t carry the same legal weight as the aid agreement itself. Violating the agreement could theoretically land someone in civil court, but violating the city policy would only mean a “corrective action” of some variety by higher-ups at East Grand Forks City Hall.
The aid agreement is one of several on the books throughout northwestern Minnesota. It was drafted with pipeline protests in mind.
Calgary-based Enbridge Energy has pushed for years to replace its aging Line 3, which ships crude oil from Edmonton, Alberta, to Superior, Wis., by way of northern Minnesota.
Environmental and American Indian groups oppose the project, wary of pipeline leaks and global climate change. Supporters argue that the existing Line 3 poses an environmental threat itself and replacing it would mean thousands of temporary jobs.
The worry among police is that Line 3 protests could become akin to the monthslong Dakota Access Pipeline protests near Mandan, N.D., which drew national media attention in 2016 as police there used tear gas and fire hoses to disperse demonstrators who had occupied land crucial to the pipeline’s construction.
Monday’s approval by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency means that construction on the new Enbridge line can begin, but Red Lake Nation and White Earth Nation – a pair of Ojibwe bands with land holdings on either side of the incipient pipeline – asked the agency last week to stay its decision until an appeal of a Minnesota Public Utilities Commission approval of the Line 3 project runs its course and the COVID-19 pandemic recedes.
The two Ojibwe bands and several environmentally minded organizations also filed a lawsuit on Monday demanding that a Minnesota court review issues that, according to the suit, the state’s pollution control agency refused to consider before issuing an earlier permit, including risks to water quality and impacts to the climate and tribal nations.