Less than two weeks after voting to reject a $1,000 donation from Enbridge Energy, the Cloquet City Council reversed its decision and accepted the donation during its meeting Tuesday, Aug. 20.
During the council’s Aug. 7 meeting, Ward 2 Councilor Sheila Lamb asked the city reject a $1,000 donation to help pay for Cloquet’s National Night Out Celebration Aug. 6 in 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 said she objected to the donation due to her conversations with a Bureau of Criminal Apprehension 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 if the Line 3 pipeline replacement project moves forward.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Ward 1 Councilor Warren “Bun” Carlson asked that the councilors reconsider the decision. Only councilors who voted in favor of rejecting the donation are allowed to request the council reconsider.
Carlson applauded Lamb and the work of others at the meeting in trying to bring awareness to human trafficking.
“I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, too, and it goes back hundreds of years,” Carlson said. “I think hopefully with some of this, we’re starting to realize that it could be in our own backyard — it can be anywhere. Being said that, with all the lists of donations for the National Night Out, I do not feel that it is right to exclude Enbridge on their donation."
At Large Councilor Lara Wilkinson also changed her vote from the Aug. 7 meeting. She joined Carlson, Ward 3 Councilor Chris Swanson, Ward 4 Councilor Kerry Kolodge and Ward 5 Councilor Steve Langley in voting to accept the donation. Lamb and Mayor Roger Maki maintained their position and voted to reject the donation.
"I have an obligation to base my decisions on the best facts I have available to me," Wilkinson said in an email after the meeting. "I believe it is a fact that we have a serious problem with sex trafficking in our community that has not been properly addressed, and that now is the time that the council takes steps to do so.
"That said, in the last two weeks, I spoke with countless people and subject-matter experts specific to the issue of a trafficking connection to the Enbridge project in our area," she said. "I found too much contradictory evidence to continue to assert a connection, and felt obligated to vote accordingly."
In a statement responding to the Aug. 7 vote, Enbridge spokeswoman Juli Kellner said the company 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.
At the end of the meeting, at least 10 residents spoke to the council for and against the council’s decision. The council chambers were packed with nearly 30 residents; several more had to wait outside in the City Hall lobby.
Several women who live on the Fond du Lac Reservation that borders Cloquet were concerned about the dangers to their children. According to statistics provided by Paul, Native Americans have a much higher risk of falling into a system of trafficking and sexual exploitation.
“I’m one of those women up on the hill that worries about her children,” Lyz Jaakola of Cloquet said.
On the other side, Cloquet resident Tim Krohn said the council’s decision — which also stated the city would not accept any other donations from Enbridge — threw a $5,000 Enbridge donation to help expand the Pine Valley Single Track Mountain Trail from 3.2 to 5 miles.
Despite the council’s change of position, Lamb declared that she would continue to raise the alarm about sex trafficking.
“This issue has been and will continue to be about sex trafficking,” Lamb said. “When I made that motion two weeks ago, from the time I was door knocking on my campaign until the present time, I had teachers, community members and others coming to me wanting to make sure I was aware that our city once again had an issue with sex trafficking and exploitation.
"I used my voice on behalf of them and I have kept my promise.”