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Aitkin County Sheriff Dan Guida Says He Is Protecting All the People Involved with Line 3


We continue our coverage of the Line 3 Replacement Project.  Whether it's Enbridge, Water Protectors or Law Enforcement, each has their own narrative about what is happening near Palisade, MN and at other sites along the construction of Line 3 in northern Minnesota.  Listen to our conversation, or read the transcript (edited for clarity) below: 

Heidi:  We continue to cover the construction of the line three pipeline in Aitkin County and throughout Northern Minnesota, we've been talking with Enbridge Energy. We've been talking with water protectors, and today we are talking with law enforcement.

Joining me now is Aitkin County Sheriff Dan Guida. Let's talk about December. The beginning of December began the construction of line three in Aitkin County. How has this impacted your department?

Sheriff Guida:  You know, leading up to December was about five or six years. We've had some angst about this process just because we knew that there's lots and lots of energy that would come from both sides. And so there was some stress, I'll be honest with you. There, there still is some stress or some concern and our job with community public safety. And we want to keep everybody safe, no matter what side of the issue they're on. And so it wasn't - and it's not -  an easy thing to do.

Heidi:  How do you guide your team about what their role is?

Sheriff Guida:  You know what -  if there's just construction people there, there's no energy. And if it's just opposition people there, demonstrators there, there's no energy. If they both get there at the same time, that's where we kind of run into our problems. So, you know, we've had lots of opportunity to kind of talk about what's going on, but you can't really prepare for that verbally ... I spent a lot of time up there. We did a situation where had all our officers come up there and basically just wanted them to really be familiar with what's going on so they could get comfortable with it. You know, so it wasn't this strange, unknown thing that we've been planning for for a year to get ready for. Wasn't like it was opening day deer season. It was just like another day on the job. So that's really what we had to do to get ready. You know, we had to get everybody comfortable with the situation at hand.

Heidi:  Honor the Earth Leader and Water Protector Winona LaDuke in a House hearing talked about that Enbridge Energy is paying for local law enforcement to be there. And she  questioned what the role was then of police. How Enbridge is involved in your job as Aitkin County Sheriff?

Sheriff Guida:  It's kind of sad to me because, you know, Ms. LaDuke and I have had lots and lots of opportunity to discuss things when I'm there and she's there. We're typically, you know, caucusing about issues and what's going on. And she's generally been really respectful when I've been present. I can't say anything bad about that. I have been able to listen to some of the interviews and, you know, it's a little upsetting to me. She has this energy and, you know, she believes they're her truth and her truths aren't necessarily my truths.

So some of the things that were said, just aren't real. They make this allegation that Enbridge just hired us for security. It's actually quite opposite. So the State of Minnesota with the Public Utilities Commission established what was known as an escrow account.

It wasn't money that was coming from Enbridge directly, but it was going to pay for public safety issues that would arise if there was issues. So they put the money in the escrow, just like when you're buying a house that goes into an escrow account. And if no one ever used it, it would go back to Enbridge. It's not fair for the taxpayers of Aitkin, St. Louis or any County where we have a significant response to have to bear the burden of this pipeline prior to even getting here. So the State of Minnesota hired a person to manage (a person from down in the Metro) to manage that account. So they have kind of a process where there's allowable expenses. So let's say I had to call in five of my troops by my officers to come in and go up there to maintain and keep everybody safe.

Most people would be there on the taxpayer's dime of  Aitkin County. The PUC in the statement of needs put documents in there to say that Enbridge would be responsible for that cost.  Enbridge doesn't direct pay us that money goes into a fund that's managed by the state or the person that the state hired, and that person would reimburse us for this.

So Ms. LaDuke and I talked about that, she knows that that money was established in escrow. As a matter of fact, she offered to teach cultural diversity classes to my officers and tap into that same resource. So she's familiar with it and everybody else is too.

Heidi:  One of the things they've also said is they feel like the normal job of law enforcement is not being done because a lot of attention is being paid to protestors. Can you answer to that as well?

Sheriff Guida:  For sure.  So the first couple of weeks that we were there, we went straight staff. We didn't increase our staff at all. We didn't consider adding staff to try to cover that amount. And we considered it like, you know, Hey, there's a domestic at a bar in South Aitkin County. We go to that -  we just considered it normally routine business. It certainly did end up being where there were resources there that we needed. Every time someone from that demonstration camp walked out on the highway and block the road, essentially just for a short period of time, we would get a 911 call and have to respond to try to keep them safe. Every time that a truck driver went in the ditch up there that was a resource got tapped.

So we have switched to the model or we're going to keep people up there as long as both sides are there.  When there's energy there. I can't do that with my regular staffing. So we have stepped up the staff and a little bit, we've offered some, some extra shifts, so people can be up there just to cover it. So we are covering those shifts with extra shifts, which is taxing on my resource because I don't want any of my law enforcement officers to burn out, you know, their health and welfare is very important to me. It's very important. Or our staff or administration team, we have to take care of people. We have a chaplain that we deal with. We have other services that we use that are above and beyond this, just to try to make sure that everybody's going to be all good.

Heidi:  How big is your department?

Sheriff Guida:  We have 22, full-time licensed officers right now. So it's not very big. We have almost 2000 square miles that we  cover.

So in that process, you know, it's just not easy. The Northern Lines Task Force, which is a task force that was kind of put together to build relationships between neighboring counties that are going to be on the line because energy might shift. It kind of created this situation where we have access to more staff. So if I make a call to the EOC and we can get, if we know there's going to be an issue, I've had people from St. Louis with that people from Carlton come just like we had gone to their jurisdictions and help them. So it's been a big benefit to have access to some more staff.

Heidi:  How do you advise our listeners and your staff on how to handle and understand this issue right now?

Sheriff Guida:  You know it's one of those situations that's going to be difficult, no matter what you do. Cause it's about what (media) you're watching. How if you listen to KAXE radio all the time, you're going to have the attention to detail. But if you watch, you know, a Washington Post or something, you're going to have a little bit different viewpoint.

The people up at the pipeline have represented two sides. Enbridge tells their story all the time. They spend a lot of money on advertisement. They spend a lot of money on trying to have the people in Northern Minnesota know what's going on. They went around and traveled around prior to the pipeline ever being built and did a demonstration. That here's what the pipe that looks like in the ground...this is a replacement line. The line in 1960 was this and they showed us what the line today looks like.

They showed us what the pipe today looks like. They showed us the different thicknesses where they're going to go onto the river and they're going to use this. They showed us all those things. And so they've got their story out to anybody that would want to listen.

The opposition groups have a Facebook page. They have a Twitter page. They have all sorts of websites. They're telling their story in a way that they can, you know, they're telling everybody what they feel like and how, how they see this pipeline going down. So us  in the middle -  it's difficult, but you have to know what you see sometimes  in media isn't necessarily accurate.

So if you and I were to drive up there today, you would see there's probably two to three people sitting at a fire,  being respectful to pipeline workers, waving at them, telling them to slow down a little bit.  If you're driving too fast, much like you would see in a normal neighborhood.

But let's say that we planned this event where we're going to get a bunch of newspaper coverage. There are a bunch of press there and we're going to have a bunch of people. They step up that game. They bring a lot of energy to to the table and they'll have a lot of people.  So it's more like planned, coordinated events. It's not necessarily this sustained presence that everybody sees the people in Aitkin County, the ones that have driven by will call me and say, Hey, there's really nothing going on there today. You know, there's two or three people sitting around a fire in the ditch. And that's pretty consistent as to what's happens. There has been days where there's been a lot more people.

And in those days we tend to ramp up our energy quite a bit from having one officer up there to having anywhere up to 30 officers up there. And we could have more than that. So it has been for the most part, peaceful, we do have a lot of cases. There's been aa lot of violations from people that call themselves direct action people. They say they're nonviolent direct action.

But I have had an officer hurt. I've got an officer that's going to be out on medical, leave for a sustained period of time because of an incident that occurred up there where an individual was not cooperative and, and not, you know, non-violent.  That is very sad to me...And I'm sure that the opposition folks were sadly impacted by that as well.

Heidi:  Before we go. How important is it to sort of understand the cultural differences here and understand the Ojibwe folks that are from this area and how do you relate that to you, to your officers?

Sheriff Guida:  Absolutely. That understanding is paramount. We have had the opportunity (to learn). A good friend of mine, Herb Fineday, is a cultural diversity class instructor. He comes from the Ojibwe,and he's from Fon du Lac - he's spoke to every single one of my officers. We've sat down and had classes with the people. We pushed that same class to a lot of the law enforcement, so they could have an understanding. 

You're never going to fully understand how other people feel - I haven't walked in their shoes - I have some minority law enforcement and they've worn shoes that are different. I have some law enforcement that are Ojibwe or part Ojibwe. Their culture is different. We have got a lot of cultural advisors that we talk to, but it's not possible for me to understand them because I'm not in that same shoes.

So I have to listen. That's really what it boils down to is I sit down and listen and I sit down and listened to when Winona LaDuke or Tania Aubid or  any of those people that would like to discuss the situations.

I take it from their side because they're people living in Aitkin County - and that's who we need to talk to. So there isn't any sides in this, you know, it's opinions and it's differences, but I can sit down and listen to both. I can sit down and listen to the Enbridge side too. Enbridge has made big steps to try to understand - to have a cultural awareness officer.... for example,  when we had a situation where there was a medicine lodge or a lodge that they had constructed down by the river and construction got close to that. There was energy there. I was able to go down and talk to them both sides. 

It's important for both sides, but for now we need to figure this out. And they did, they haven't, they haven't had to make any decisions on that (medicine lodge). And they allowed that time to try to absorb the full energy from both sides. So I think that's just the best. I know this has been a discussion that Enbridge can be frustrated with because they've been planning and they have done all the requirements and jumped through all the hoops. And there's some people that just don't agree with the answer that they got from the State of Minnesota or the federal permit or anything like that. But, you know, we really need to make sure that everyone is heard. It's an identity thing.

Heidi:  Sounds a lot like what's going on in the entire nation right now, doesn't it?

Sheriff Guida:  Sure does - it's a little bit scary for me because we're all people and we're all equal. We all should be valued to the level that we deserve. And we're all humans. You know when some people think they're better than someone else or something like that... there are guys that aren't in elected positions and they look at that person and they think, Oh, that guy was elected to be the King.  And he gets to run Aitkin County and he gets to do all this other stuff.

And, you know, the longer you sit in the Sheriff's chair the more you realize that you were elected to be a servant of the people. And that's just really what we do. We're servants to everybody.


Heidi Holtan is KAXE's Director of Content and Public Affairs where she manages producers and is the local host of Morning Edition from NPR. Heidi is a regional correspondent for WDSE/WRPT's Duluth Public Television’s Almanac North.