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Council reverses Enbridge decision

 

August 23, 2019

Jana Peterson

Cloquet City Council chambers were packed for Tuesday night's meeting, when councilors and audience members addressed a number of contentious and heartfelt issues, from sex trafficking and extraction industries to the lack of cable access television to whether or not to allow a local businessman to rent Veterans Park to sell cars.

In front of a standing-room-only crowd Tuesday, Cloquet City Council members first "reconsidered" a vote to deny a $1000 donation from Enbridge Energy, then reversed their vote from two weeks ago in favor of accepting the money.

The donation became an issue at the Aug. 7 council meeting when Ward 2 councilor Sheila Lamb made a motion to deny the donation to the National Night Out celebration, asserting that if the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline goes through, sex trafficking will increase in Cloquet and other Carlton County communities because of the large numbers of temporary workers that will come here for the project.

In the two weeks since, the council's 4-3 decision to reject the donation sparked strong feelings on both sides of the issue, and statements from Enbridge denying the allegations that trafficking will increase because of the project.

Ward 1 Councilor Bunn Carlson - who voted "yes" to the resolution to deny the donation on Aug. 7 - made the motion to reconsider the vote Tuesday. (Only a councilor who voted in favor of the resolution could ask for a new vote.)

Carlson first praised Lamb for her passion on human trafficking issues, along with others who work to stop "this horrible thing happening in our world."

"Hopefully we're realizing it can be in our own backyard," he said.

But choosing to reject the Enbridge donation for National Night Out, and any future donations from the pipeline company, didn't feel right, he said.

Carlson's motion to reconsider the original resolution passed 5-2, with Lamb and Mayor Roger Maki dissenting. The council then overturned its original decision, voting 5-2 to accept the $1,000 donation. Specifically, councilors Carlson, Kerry Kolodge, Steve Langley and Lara Wilkinson voted "no," rejecting the original motion, while Lamb and Maki voted "yes," in favor of the motion to deny the donation.

Both at-large councilor Wilkinson and Carlson reversed their original votes.

It was a difficult decision, Wilkinson said after the meeting, stressing that it wasn't about the money.

"I have an obligation to base my decisions on the best facts I have available to me," she said, adding that she believes there is a serious problem with sex trafficking in the community that has not been properly addressed and should be.

"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. I found too much contradictory evidence, from sources I trust profoundly, to continue to assert a connection, and I felt ethically obligated to vote accordingly."

Lamb addressed the council and audience members after the vote.

"This issue has been and will continue to be about sex trafficking," she said, noting that when she ran for office and since then, she has had teachers and others come to her, telling her the city has issues with sex trafficking. "I kept my promise," Lamb said. "I will continue to speak out."

In discussion after the vote, Lamb and Kolodge both talked about educating the police force and the public - kids and adults - on ways to stay safe and stop sex trafficking.

"This can be a defining moment," Lamb said. "It doesn't have to be divisive."

People who supported or objected to the decision were present in the audience Tuesday, and the new votes were met with mixed reactions.

Ten individuals addressed the council about its Enbridge vote, including Cloquet residents, Duluth residents, one man from Cook and another from Minneapolis.

Dan Gilbert, representing the Local 49 International Union of Operating Engineers, told the council that rejecting the Enbridge donation because the pipeline would cause an increase to sex trafficking was "an insult to skilled labor."

Others cautioned that accepting the donation "opened a door" that the city would regret.

According to Cloquet's Lyz Jaakola, the video of the Aug. 7 council meeting (available on the city's website) "went viral," at least in Indian Country, she said, as it was shared over and over.

Jaakola expressed disappointment in the changed vote, adding that she is another mother "who lives up the hill" and worries about her children and others.

"It's happening here already," she said. "It will happen more now that they have purchased you."

Acknowledging that the Cloquet police department is now part of the Minnesota Human Trafficking Investigators Task Force, Jaakola suggested that the city create a "citizen task force" to address human trafficking.

"Do you know what it's like to sit with children whose mother is gone?" she said. "Maybe when it becomes children and relatives who don't live on the reservation, you'll want help because we've been through it."

Sex trafficking and Enbridge Energy were not the only contentious issues debated during Tuesday's meeting and/or during the public comment period.

Veterans Park

A request by Cloquet Ford Chrysler to rent Veterans Park for a weeklong sale - as they have done twice before - was denied by the city, a decision the council supported on the grounds that renting the park for entirely commercial purposes is not consistent with city code.

Cloquet Ford owner Al Birman was disappointed and let the council know how much his company and its owners support the city with taxes and volunteer efforts. Regarding any possible claims of disrespect to veterans, he revealed that their third partner is a disabled veteran. He pointed out they collect an extra $20 in taxes on each vehicle they sell for the local options sales tax.

"The irony is that taxation pays for the parks we can't use," he said. "So far we've collected $196,000.

Two prominent local veterans spoke in return. Both stressed it wasn't about money.

"I say that's sacred ground, but that's me - I'm a veteran," said Gary Dahl.

CAT-7

During Tuesday's work session, councilors heard from city attorney Bill Helwig that the 2016 Joint Powers Agreement passed and signed by Cloquet, Scanlon, Thomson Township and Carlton elected officials was never implemented, so the city was not bound by it. Although they can't find a copy, he said the city is operating under arrangements set up under the original 1999 JPA.

Helwig advised the council, however, to call a cable commission meeting soon, and start working with the advisory committee to make decisions about the cable television channel that's now been off the air for five months.

After lengthy discussion, Wilkinson said she'd "like to see the bleeding stopped."

"I think this will take a long time to figure out, but for now I'd like to see CAT-7 back up and running until the commission can sort this out," she said, suggesting that the city consider making the CAT-7 coordinator Eric Lipponen full-time again. "We need to get things functioning again on a basic level."

The council asked Lipponen to present a list of things that need to happen to get the cable access channel back on the air at its next work session Sept. 3.

Patty Murto, longtime "Harry's Gang" co-host and now a cable commission member for Thomson Township, disputed Helwig's interpretation of the past and present operation of CAT-7 and suggested that the city dropped the ball on the JPA and cable commission after former longtime city administrator Brian Fritsinger left it in the hands of assistant city administrator James Barclay.

Murto also informed the council that she had called a meeting of the cable commissioners for Friday at 6:30 p.m., since the city hadn't called one since January 2017.

 
 

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