Pipeline protesters bring concerns to council
CLOQUET CITY COUNCIL
Mother Earth wasn't officially listed on the Cloquet City Council agenda Tuesday, but discussion of possible impacts to her health dominated the meeting.
Councilors, city staff and several area residents started the council work session on a bus tour of the local industrial landfill, which is asking for changes to its permit that are opposed by nearby residents and others. Upon their return to City Hall, city officials were greeted outside by more than a dozen people with signs protesting the council's decision not to meet with local residents concerned about the Enbridge Line 3 oil pipeline and its proposed replacement.
A number of the protesters addressed the council during the public comment portion of the meeting.
"I'm back and I'm not going away," said Cloquet resident Sheila Lamb, who had asked the council at its July 18 meeting to allow her to present to them information about the Enbridge pipeline proposals (to build a new Line 3 and leave the existing line in the ground) during a future work session. "I was told by you, Mayor, that I could have one hour and I was welcome to bring whoever I wanted. I find out later when my calls weren't being returned, that this council voted against it. ... For you (all) not to listen to your own citizens who vote you into office, that is remiss. You need the facts, gentlemen."
The new pipeline would replace the existing 50-year-old Line 3 that cuts across Minnesota on its 1,031-mile route between Alberta and Superior. The project is intended to return Line 3 to its original capacity near 760,000 barrels per day; the current line's capacity has been reduced because of restrictions on the pressure in the pipe, Enbridge has said.
Work started recently on 12 miles of new pipe from the Minnesota-Wisconsin state line to Superior, and construction will start in Canada this summer as well. If approved, parts of the proposed pipeline will run through Carlton County.
No Cloquet elected officials or city staff responded as the protesters took turns at the podium, expressing concerns for the future, fear that water would be polluted and wild rice beds destroyed, disappointment in government, and hope that the Cloquet City Council would ultimately agree to follow in the footsteps of the city of Grand Rapids, which sent a letter requesting total removal of the existing Line 3 and contaminated soils from areas surrounding their municipal water source.
As the proposal now stands, the old Line 3 would be left in the ground.
Speaker Danielle Oxendine Molliver explained that she recently resigned from a position as a liaison between Native American tribes and the state of Minnesota after she realized the state has already issued four permits for storage yards for pipeline materials. She said she thought Minnesota would be transparent and accountable in the pipeline process — and do a better job than North Dakota had done with the Dakota Access Pipeline — but she isn't confident that is the case now.
Minnesota and nearby Wisconsin could be the next site of pipeline protests, more than one person told the city officials. Protesters will head to Wisconsin on Monday, Dan White said, to take "direct action" to put pressure on the government to deny the pipeline easement.
Shania DeLille spoke to the councilors in Ojibwe first, before telling the council that she was there because she told her grandpa that she would "step up."
"I offer my tobacco every day and I pray, because right now I have clean water, but I want children someday," the young woman said, holding tobacco in her clenched fist. "And they're gonna want children, and so on and so on. And we all need water. The Great Lakes hold 20 percent of the world's fresh water. If that goes, how much is going to be affected?"
Debra Topping brought two small jars — one containing water, the other wild rice — which she presented to the council.
"This is what we're fighting for," she said. "And we will fight to our deaths. I hope you understand that."
She pointed to each councilor, the mayor and city staff member in turn, telling each that they were fighting "for you, and you, and you."
"Fond du Lac is the biggest employer in Carlton County, and we have a voice," she said.
Minnesota has yet to approve Enbridge's replacement plan, which includes a new route across the state. A final environmental impact statement will be released today (Thursday, Aug. 17), and more public hearings are scheduled for this fall. The state Public Utilities Commission could decide the fate of the pipeline as soon as next spring.
Lamb requested that the council make a formal agreement to meet with her and her team. They did not do that during the meeting Tuesday.
When asked what they would do next, Lamb responded: "Keep fighting."
In other matters Tuesday, the SKB Environmental landfill tour was simply a tour. It was also an opportunity for landfill officials to show councilors and residents how the landfill works and answer questions about operations, possible issues and its requests for increased hours and permission to accept unlimited paper sludge (which is currently capped at 20 percent of the landfill). Close to 20 people attended, and rode in a 25-foot bus to a nearly full cell of the landfill to watch how truckloads of waste are dumped and spread around the landfill. The tour then went to the nearby Hilltop soccer fields to see how much landfill operations impact the neighborhood park and soccer fields.
During its formal meeting Tuesday, the council voted unanimously to reject the only bid to build a new skatepark in Cloquet, because it came in at $415,000, more than $100,000 over the engineer's estimate of $307,000. City Engineer Caleb Peterson said city staff plan to come back to the council with potential cost-saving measures for a possible rebid of the project.
Boldt Company was the only construction firm to bid on the project. In the staff report, Peterson said the project was the first contract bid under the recently adopted Project Labor Agreement (PLA) requirements.
While he said it was unclear if the PLA requirement affected the cost of the project, one subcontractor indicated they were unwilling to bid projects under the current PLA language because it isn't clear if employees must join a union to work on a contracted project. Attempts to clarify the question with the local labor body were unsuccessful, the staff report noted.
City officials are currently checking with the state attorney general's office to see if all of the language in the PLA resolution was legal.
Councilors also approved a bid for $117,862 to replace the roof systems at City Hall, and make the roof more energy-efficient.