‘Actively oppose’ language in resolution cause for concern, some on council say
By Brandi Makuski
The Stevens Point City Council spent a good portion of its final 2016 meeting on talks over a new resolution — this one formally opposing the Dakota Pipeline.
The Dakota Access Pipeline, a 1,172-mile pipeline that would transfer crude oil from North Dakota to Illinois, has been the subject of stark criticism for several months, in large part because it crosses land the Standing Rock Souix Tribe considers sacred. Protests have also been held throughout the country, including one in Stevens Point, in opposition to the project’s impact on the environment.
The City of Stevens Point, too, is now officially in the opposition column of the environmental flash point.
Mayor Mike Wiza said he was approached by a UW-Stevens Point senior, Brewster Johnson, asking the city to show official support for those in opposition to the pipeline.
Johnson is a natural resources student who said he observed the protest at Standing Rock and “saw some really messed up human rights violence.”
“It’s kind of hard to not know what’s going on, but it is easy to be misinformed,” Johnson said. “As many of you know, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers refused to grant an easement through treaty territory….they’ve already desecrated ancestral grounds.”
Johnson added he’s aware of many small cities throughout the country passing resolutions opposing the pipeline, saying, “I think it’s very important the City of Stevens Point make a proactive step.”
But the resolution was a standalone document in the Dec. 19 City Council agenda, with no supporting documents for information contained within the resolution — something not lost on several members of the council.
“Unfortunately, I’m not real familiar on all aspects of this,” said Alderman Jeremy Slowinski. “I represent the taxpayers of Stevens Point; I don’t understand why we’re doing this. I don’t know this [information in the resolution] is fact. Not that I don’t support conservation, but I don’t feel this is necessary.”
Councilman Shaun Morrow agreed, saying because it wasn’t directly related to city business, it wasn’t “the right thing for the City Council to be involved in.”
Ald. George Doxtator said he worried the council was losing its focus on issues directly related to the city.
“The last [resolution] we passed, it was important because it dealt with our city and what was going on here,” he said; then, holding up the Dec. 19 resolution, added, “What will be our next resolution be, voting against ISIS?”
Council President Mike Phillips also said the council was losing focus on its job — representing city taxpayers.
“I’m not in favor of doing anything with this; I think it belongs out there in North Dakota and not here,” Phillips said. “This is the wrong venue to do something like this, even though everyone’s getting a warm, fuzzy feeling that they did something good.”
Phillips also questioned using the term “eco-municipality” in the resolution, pointing out the city wasn’t completely environmentally friendly.
“We moved the bus garage out towards Custer,” he said. “Do you know we know burn 2200 more gallons of fuel a year because we moved it out there? What about our police cars — they’re driving trucks now. What’s the gas mileage there? I will not support this resolution.”
Councilwoman Heidi Oberstadt provided a segue between the opposition and those supporting the resolution. Initially, she was concerned about language in the resolution reading, “Stevens Point Common Council will actively oppose the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline”, questioning what it meant to “actively oppose” because it wasn’t made clear in the resolution.
“It puts us in a position to direct citizens to accurate information, that’s it,” Wiza replied. “You don’t have to go out there and stand in the road or anything. It’s a directive to educate citizens as best we can.”
An avid outdoors-woman herself, Oberstadt said her biggest concern was maintaining neutrality on politically-charged issues for the benefit of her constituents.
“Of course I support giving correct information to people, but I also want my constituents to know they can come to me with issues,” Oberstadt said. “So highly politically-charged issues that don’t have a direct relevance to our city, when I’m forced to make a decision in a public forum, I think that makes it more difficult for my constituents to come to me when they have issues. I have a lot of heartburn about this.”
Ald. Meleesa Johnson, who also serves on the Portage Co. Board of Supervisors and works as a dept. head for Marathon Co., “very happily” made a motion to approve the resolution. The motion was seconded by Ald. Cathy Dugan.
Johnson said she supported the resolution because she supported indigenous people, and said she spent time “checking various sources,” adding she “did not listen to hyperbole” on the issue.
“I tend to enjoy facts, and there were many challenges in that area,” Johnson said. “This is about protecting our land and protecting indigenous people who were here long before us. What this does, just like our last resolution, is [say], ‘What are our values?'”
Ald. Mary Kneebone called her support of the resolution, “the least we can do”.
Councilwoman Mary McComb said the move “so perfectly matches the culture of Stevens Point”, while Dugan said “these people need to be seriously supported by all of us.”
The resolution was adopted by a vote of 7-4, with council members McComb, Kneebone, Dugan, Johnson, Oberstadt, Garrett Ryan and David Shorr voting in favor.
Council members Slowinski, Doxtator and Morrow, along with Council President Phillips, all voted against the measure.
The resolution, which contained several grammatical errors, was adopted by a majority of the council as follows:
WHEREAS, the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), a $3.78 billion project, is proposed to run across or under 209 rivers, creeks, and tributaries, including the Missouri River, a drinking water source for 17 million people; and would carry as many as 570,000 barrels of fracked crude oil per day; and
WHEREAS, the United States is among the leading contributors of greenhouse gas emissions and consume the most fossil fuel energy per capita in the world as there are global efforts to gain independence from fossil fuels; and
WHEREAS, the DAPL is proposed to run through recognized cultural resources sacred to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, including ancestral burial grounds, and archaeological surveys are not adequately reported; and
WHEREAS: despite insufficient tribal consultation and strong opposition from most Tribal nations, farmers, lawyers, and scientists, on July, 2016 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a permit allowing construction of DAPL to move forward; and
WHEREAS, the National Lawyers Guild recognizes security forces have used excessive force on Native American water protectors and their suppo1iers with attack dogs, rubber bullets, lead filled “beanbags,” Taser guns, water cannons in subfreezing temperatures, explosive tear gas grenades, and pepper spray; and
WHEREAS, these characteristics do not align with the City of Stevens Points ethics as an Eco municipality and many citizens of the city have shown strong opposition to the level of environmental risks and perpetuation of systematic oppression of indigenous people that accompany the construction of the DAPL; and
NOW THERFORE IT BE RESOLVED that the Stevens Point Common Council will actively oppose the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline through the sacred grounds of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation by directing its citizens to the resources necessary to be an empowered supporter of the indigenous opposition whenever possible.