Local View: Protesters risk safety of, drain resources from Minnesota's first responders
When taking the job, first responders understand the risks involved, the long hours, rigorous physical requirements, and constant training. However, many of our emergency workers are starting to face an unexpected hurdle and a new kind of threat: anti-energy protesters.
Despite the numerous regulatory agencies ensuring careful approvals and construction processes, protesters fervently press on, continuing to utilize tactics that risk their safety as well as the safety and livelihoods of construction workers, community members, and local first responders.
In addition to posing a threat to themselves and other innocent bystanders, anti-energy protesters and their risky theatrics pull first responders off the streets, forcing them to dedicate time and resources to cleaning up after protest efforts. First responders have a duty to protect and serve — but protesters and their antics take advantage of our essential emergency services at taxpayer expense.
Here in Minnesota, activists have focused efforts on hindering the construction of a replacement for Enbridge's Line 3. More than 100 people recently blocked streets in Bemidji to express their opposition to the crude oil pipeline; law enforcement spent nearly two and a half hours trying to disperse the crowd.
Activists have predicted the pipeline will draw mass protests similar to those of Dakota Access, which resulted in more than 750 arrests over six months. In fact, Duluth already appears to be preparing for these encounters: The City Council authorized nearly $84,000 worth of crowd-control gear for its police.
All this misguided opposition is despite this project's promise of millions of dollars in investment and tax revenue for local communities — and, ultimately, a much safer, more efficient means of transporting energy resources.
Minnesota is not alone in these challenges. Law enforcement in Louisiana faced resistance from vigilante protesters in the swamps where the Bayou Bridge Pipeline is nearing completion. Over the past several months, protesters chained themselves to equipment, scaled construction cranes, blocked access roads, fought with police, and climbed up in trees directly in the path of construction and refused to come down. Many of these desperate tactics required first responders to tend to protesters, keeping those first responders away from other critical responsibilities throughout the community.
In Pennsylvania, a group of protesters has continued to oppose the Mariner East 2 Pipeline project. One elderly woman even went so far as to set fire near construction equipment and spread spoiled food around construction sites to attract wild animals.
Of course, there was also the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. In late 2016 and early 2017, protesters from around the country descended on Morton County, N.D., in an attempt to stop construction. Protesters used aggressive and violent tactics, including burning vehicles, building roadblocks and lighting them on fire, damaging bridges, and fighting with police. Law enforcement reinforcements were called in from around the country to assist. The county's police, fire, and cleanup costs were estimated at nearly $40 million. Now, the pipeline has been safely operating for more than a year, carrying more than 500,000 barrels of crude oil per day to consumers across the country.
These are just a few examples of activist efforts that have pulled first responders off the streets at taxpayer expense. Surely, freedom of speech and the right to assemble are critical bulwarks of our democracy. But there is an appropriate time and place for protest.
Our economy, industry, and local first responders already have started to pay the price for anti-energy antics. Let's end these risky games before other innocent bystanders get hurt in the process.
Kevin O'Connor of Annapolis, Md., is a retired Baltimore County firefighter who also led the Governmental Affairs and Public Policy Division of the International Association of Fire Fighters. He is a columnist and associate editor of Firehouse Magazine. He wrote this for the News Tribune.