Counties Warn Pipeline Protests Could Cost Taxpayers

Construction on the Enbridge 3 replacement oil pipeline should start this year, once state regulators get out of the way and give final approval. The vital project will generate hundreds of well-paying construction jobs and millions of tax dollars for Minnesota communities lucky enough to be located along the pipeline.

But local governments are also bracing for a less welcome influx that may come with the pipeline–professional protesters. Law enforcement officials got a potential preview of what’s to come from the Dakota Access Pipeline fiasco a couple years ago, according to the Duluth News Tribune.

The prospect of protests in Minnesota along the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline construction corridor is forcing officials to consider ways to pay for law enforcement responses and other associated costs.

“It’s clearly on our minds,” St. Louis County Sheriff Ross Litman said. “If the resources required go beyond the expense associated, it’s a legitimate concern.”

In the Bison state, the AP reports that law enforcement’s tab hit tens of millions of dollars.

North Dakota’s protest-related costs hit nearly $38 million. The developer of the Dakota Access pipeline, Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners, gave North Dakota $15 million to help cover those bills, and the state got a $10 million grant from the U.S. Justice Department. But North Dakota still hopes to recoup more of the costs from the federal government.

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission was recently put on notice that security costs could become a state issue by the Executive Director of the Association of Minnesota Counties, Julie Ring.

“Our concern honestly is being prepared and learning from what happened in North Dakota and trying to be prepared for unanticipated costs,” Ring said. “We’re not talking about routine day-to-day law enforcement. We should be planning for the potential for something out of the ordinary.”

Ring was referring to the Dakota Access Pipeline protests by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota, where thousands of people gathered with the tribe for several months to protest the pipeline crossing beneath waterways. The protests saw more than 100 arrests and clashes between authorities and protesters.

A small band of protesters has already been active off and on for the last year, mainly on the Wisconsin end of the pipeline project. But authorities warn it could be just a warm-up for what’s to come.

In the case of pipeline protests, when, where and with what frequency the events will take place are the primary variables which have people wondering how law enforcement involvement will be funded. Litman agreed that while his office is prepared for anything, the prospect of daily involvement with protesting would be out of the ordinary.

“While all of this is going on, we’re responding to calls every day dealing with other issues and that pulls us away,” he said. “Depending on the situation we might need to page deputies that are not working and if it rises to such a level even our emergency response team. If the size or complexity of the situation is so great you can’t handle it with two or three or four deputies, we’ll call additional resources.”

The pipeline’s exact route remains in flux but will affect about 15 northern counties, which will benefit greatly from the boost to the local economy, if they can afford the law enforcement costs.