The Cloquet City Council refused to accept a donation from Enbridge Energy after Ward 2 Councilor Sheila Lamb claimed construction of the company’s Line 3 replacement project could lead to an increase in sex trafficking in Cloquet and surrounding communities.
The $1,000 donation was intended to help pay for the city’s National Night Out celebration Tuesday, Aug. 6, at Veterans Memorial Park. NNO is an annual community-building campaign in which neighborhoods and municipalities host events, often in an effort to build camaraderie with police.
Lamb, as well as Ward 1 Councilor Warren “Bun” Carlson, At-Large Councilor Lara Wilkinson and Mayor Roger Maki, voted to reject the donation during a meeting Wednesday, Aug. 7. Ward 3 Councilor Chris Swanson, Ward 4 Councilor Kerry Kolodge and Ward 5 Councilor Steve Langley voted to accept it.
The council’s acceptance of a number of NNO-related donations were part of the consent agenda — a meeting practice packaging non-controversial or independent actions not requiring discussion as one agenda item.
Lamb requested the donations be removed from the consent agenda for council discussion.
Earlier in the meeting, the council executed a joint powers agreement allowing the Cloquet Police Department to join the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension Human Trafficking Investigators Task Force.
Lamb said she objected to the donation due to her conversations with the BCA task force and Fond du Lac Tribal Police Department’s Tribes United Against Sex Trafficking (TRUST) task force in which she learned there is an “expectation” of a sex trafficking increase in Cloquet if Enbridge’s Line 3 is built.
“A $1,000 donation or a $5,000 donation is not worth putting a single child in our community at risk,” Lamb said. “We have an obligation to protect our community above and beyond anything else.”
Enbridge communications specialist Juli Kellner disputed Lamb’s assertion that sex trafficking would increase in Minnesota as a result of the construction of Line 3.
“Enbridge absolutely rejects the allegation that human trafficking will increase in Minnesota as a result of the Line 3 Replacement Project,” Kellner said in an emailed statement. “All our employees and contractors are held to high standards and must act in accordance with the policies outlined in our 'Statement on Business Conduct' and within the law.
“At the same time, Enbridge recognizes that human trafficking is a real and important problem happening right here in Minnesota. As members of the community, we stand strongly against this exploitation," Kellner said.
Enbridge will require all Line 3 project workers to complete human trafficking awareness training, which is being developed in partnership with the BCA and TRUST task forces.
Lamb further alleged that Enbridge hasn't been a “good corporate neighbor” after the company objected to the assessed value of its pipelines in Carlton County and 13 other Minnesota counties. In May 2018, a Minnesota Tax Court judge ruled in Enbridge’s favor, and Lamb noted the county could owe Enbridge up to $750,000 and Cloquet, Carlton and Wrenshall school districts could owe a combined $275,000.
“That money will have to come from somewhere,” Lamb said. “This can affect our property taxes and it can definitely affect the services of our schools — again affecting our children."
Kellner noted that Enbridge didn't sue Carlton County and she acknowledged that counties have been “caught in the middle of this state-imposed tax dispute.”
“We know that the recent ruling in our property tax appeal represents a potential burden to counties and their budgets and we have consistently told them that we are committed to work with each county if needed at the appropriate time,” Kellner said.
Lamb said the issue of sex trafficking is personal because she works with “trafficked and at-risk youth” at Lifehouse in Duluth.
“I would like our City Council to join me in saying ‘no’ to any industry of any type that has a link with sex trafficking that we will not take your money and put our babies at risk on any level,” Lamb said. “We can do fundraisers, we can get creative, but we have a responsibility to ensure the lives and the safety of our children, of our women, and this includes our young men.”
Lamb, who participated in some Line 3 protests prior to her time on the council, made opposition to Enbridge a central tenet in her campaign to oust former Ward 3 Councilor David Bjerkness, who works as an architect for Enbridge.