Enbridge Energy cleared another hurdle in the pursuit to complete its Line 3 oil pipeline project when the Crow Wing County Board approved an agreement outlining rights of way and easements for pipeline construction.

County Attorney Don Ryan summarized the agreement for commissioners Tuesday, June 25, noting the potential pipeline is considered a utility, much like power poles or transmission lines. This means Enbridge Energy can exercise eminent domain powers to acquire land. He noted Enbridge has acquired most of the private property along the pipeline corridor, negotiating agreements with each of those landowners. The land in question for commissioners is county-owned tax-forfeited property and fee title land.

The $2.6 billion Line 3 project would replace an aging pipeline that traverses Minnesota, delivering oil from Alberta, Canada, to Superior, Wis. While much of the pipeline would follow the original route of Line 3, the company's preferred route for the replacement would diverge from that path and cross new ground in north-central Minnesota, including the northwestern corner of Crow Wing County. The route would snake its way from Cass County into Crow Wing, threading its way between Clough and Jail lakes in Gail Lake Township and exiting via Timothy Township.

County Administrator Tim Houle asked Ryan to explain what authority Crow Wing County has to influence the pipeline project, the second controversial oil pipeline set to cross into the county forwarded by the Canadian company in the past five years. Enbridge dropped plans to build the Sandpiper oil pipeline after years of delays, and the Line 3 project recently ran into another snag when the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources said they wouldn't proceed without a revised environmental impact statement.

"If we don't work with them and grant the easements they're looking for, we'll go to court, and we're going to lose," Ryan told commissioners, noting the company continued to push forward with property acquisitions despite delays.

Houle said in the county's own experience as a road authority, officials prefer to agree to a solution when it comes to right of way acquisitions versus legal action.

"What I see in this particular agreement was whether we were going to go to court to fight for valuation or control our own destiny," Houle said. "We are doing that to the very limited extent that we can."

In a unanimous vote, commissioners approved the agreement, which sells 13.87 acres of easement space to Enbridge at $3,125 per acre and establishes 18.31 acres of temporary working space at $1,250 per acre. It also included a lease for a temporary access road. In total, the county will receive $69,594 as part of the agreement.

Also included were requirements for the energy company to reclaim these areas upon completion through revegetation, to clean up any contamination and equipment, to maintain insurance throughout the project and to perform ongoing maintenance on the land, according to Ryan. The agreement stipulated which county roads the company could use and when, and weight limits on certain stretches of roads were taken into consideration. Approved for use were county highways 56, 43 and 1 and County Road 136.

Commissioner Steve Barrows and Ryan tipped their hats to Assistant County Attorney Rocky Wells, who drafted the agreement. Barrows said he could only imagine the number of hours it took to develop and write the agreement, given how many hours it took for him to read it. Ryan said Wells went above and beyond, and while other counties may have signed what Enbridge handed them, Crow Wing County made its own way.

"It's not always the most glamorous fun thing to do, contracts," Ryan said by phone later Tuesday. "He did a really, really good job to protect the county's interests to put us in the best position we could be."

In other business, the county board:

Accepted federal funds to assist in resurfacing County Highway 49, also known as Wise Road. The Surface Transportation Block Grant funding, provided under the Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act, requires a 20% local match, which the board approved along with accepting the funds. The grant award totaled $1,496,575 of the expected $2 million project slated for 2023.

Authorized the county attorney's office to proceed with eviction of a resident on a tax-forfeited property in Jenkins Township. According to a request for board action, taxes on the property first went delinquent in 2012. In September 2018, the property was forfeited for nonpayment following published and mailed notices to the property owner. Extensions of stay on the property were granted and the property owner indicated they would repurchase the property in May. This was not completed, however.

Agreed to sponsor Region V+ Adult Mental Health Initiative in its pursuit to become a member of the Minnesota Counties Intergovernmental Trust to obtain liability coverage. The joint powers entity pools resources of counties and other public entities to provide property, casualty and workers' compensation coverage, and requires a sponsor for new members.

Approved an easement request from Verizon Wireless to access a cell tower site on private property in Fifty Lakes via tax-forfeited property. The easement will be located on an existing driveway and was not expected to cause significant adverse environmental or natural resource management impacts, according to a request for board action from Ryan Simonson, environmental services supervisor in land services.

Approved exempt gambling permits for the following organizations and events: Crow Wing County Fair Association, July 30-Aug. 3, at the Crow Wing County Fairgrounds; and the Legionville School Safety Patrol Training Center, Sept. 5-7 and Sept. 13-14, at the center.

Approved the hiring of Emily Olson, business and financial analyst in administrative services.

Approved the promotion of Amanda Moore to probation agent in community services, and approved staffing the case aide position she vacated.

Accepted the departure of Carl Anderson, probation agent, and approved staffing the open position.