In preparation for possible Line 3 protests, Hubbard County Sheriff Cory Aukes inquired about the possibility of shutting down public access to an 80-acre, tax-forfeited parcel.

He spoke to the Hubbard County Board at their June 9 work session.

“The one hotbed which we see is probably going to be that Hinds Lake area, where the pipeline will cross a very contested piece of private property down there, which is adjacent to some county property,” he explained.

Aukes speculated “that the county land, being public, will be possibly highly utilized by protesters.”

He said Enbridge’s Line 3 replacement project will be delayed for about six months and will probably be a winter project. He wondered if the parcel in question could be posted as “closed to the public” before any issues arose.

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County Land Commissioner Chip Lohmeier said, “There is no means of simply identifying a specific parcel and closing it off to the public. You could close the roads, put a gate up to make it not motorized, but as far as stopping people from using public land, not sure how you’d do that.”

County Attorney Jonathan Frieden agreed, adding one possibility would be putting up barricades. “Still you’re running into that it’s public land and it’s generally supposed to be public. I’d have to look into it further,” he said.

Aukes said his office is not worried about vehicle traffic. “What the potential would be mass camping and congregating by a lot of people. That’s what I’m concerned with.”

Lohmeier said there is a caveat in the county’s forest management plan and state law that during the summer people may only camp for 21 days on a specific spot in tax-forfeited lands. “It doesn’t limit the number of people that could be there, but it says they have to move after 21 days,” he said. “You could get them for destruction of public property if they’re destroying any timber regeneration or trees or whatever.”

Aukes said it would be difficult to prove that one individual caused property damage. “There’s potentially going to be hundreds of people down there, and I mean that, because this is going to be a hot, hot area where this is going to happen,” he said.

County commissioner David De La Hunt asked if the sheriff’s office could have a presence at the site.

Aukes replied, “We will, if and when the time comes, but that’s not going to keep them from camping. You’re going to have to put up protesters some place, so where are you going to do it if you don’t have enough room on your own property?”

Aukes further stated that law enforcement presence won’t be a deterrent to protesters “because this is such a hot topic to them. I don’t know that there is going to be any deterrent.”

County Coordinator Eric Nerness asked if it might fall under a mass assembly ordinance, requiring a permit.

Aukes said that was a possibility, depending upon the interpretation of “assembly.” “That would have to be explored,” he said. “If we could keep them from having a place to camp that is going to possibly help solve the problem.”

De La Hunt pointed out there will be people camping on a neighboring 80-acre parcel. “It’s just whether they spill onto the tax-forfeited land.”

De La Hunt asked if the parcel could be reclassified so it couldn’t be used for camping.

Lohmeier noted there was some Minnesota Department of Natural Resources property in that area, so they should be involved in discussions as well.

Board consensus was for Aukes, Frieden and Lohmeier to explore solutions to the issue and bring it back to the county board.