No pitchforks, please: Wright Co gets MRAP to defend nuclear power plant from Xcel ratepayers


Via MSN, Michael Virtanen of the Associated Press is reporting in Spoils of war: Police getting leftover Iraq trucks:

Coming soon to your local sheriff: 18-ton, armor-protected military fighting vehicles with gun turrets and bulletproof glass that were once the U.S. answer to roadside bombs during the Iraq war.

The hulking vehicles, built for about $500,000 each at the height of the war, are among the biggest pieces of equipment that the Defense Department is giving to law enforcement agencies under a national military surplus program.

For police and sheriff’s departments, which have scooped up 165 of the mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles, or MRAPS, since they became available this summer, the price [free] and the ability to deliver shock and awe while serving warrants or dealing with hostage standoffs was just too good to pass up. . . .

But the trucks have limits. They are too big to travel on some bridges and roads and have a tendency to be tippy on uneven ground. And then there’s some cost of retrofitting them for civilian use and fueling the 36,000-pound behemoths that get about 5 miles to the gallon.

The American Civil Liberties Union is criticizing what it sees as the increasing militarization of the nation’s police. ACLU affiliates have been collecting 2012 records to determine the extent of military hardware and tactics acquired by police, planning to issue a report early next year. . . .

An Associated Press investigation of the Defense Department military surplus program this year found that a disproportionate share of the $4.2 billion worth of property distributed since 1990 — everything from blankets to bayonets and Humvees — has been obtained by police and sheriff’s departments in rural areas with few officers and little crime.

According to (a “decentralized group” hosted by the Liberty Web Alliance), in Minnesota, that means a mix of suburban and rural counties. Pete Eyre reports in Deploy the Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles!:

In addition to the MRAP now in St. Cloud, a half dozen are now controlled by sheriff outfits the Minnesota counties of Dakota, Pine, Sherburne, St. Louis, Olmsted and Wright.

Dakota and Wright Counties are suburban-to-exurban places; Olmsted is home to Rochester, the state’s third largest city, while Duluth’s in St. Louis County; part of Sherburne is in St. Cloud. Only Pine County counts as purely rural, although its proximity to I35 allows some residents to commute to the Cities for work.

So what will sheriffs’ departments be using their new toys for? According to the Monticello Times’ Tim Hennagir, it’s protecting the local nuclear power plant. Hennagir writes in Wright County Sheriff’s Office gets ready to roll out armored vehicle:

The Wright County Sheriff’s Office has obtained a surplus military armored personnel carrier and is getting the heavy-duty law enforcement vehicle ready to roll.

“It’s basically a big dump truck that’s got a lot of armor on it,” said Lt. Todd Hoffman. “”We picked it up at Fort Bliss, Texas. It came back from overseas.”

The Wright County Sheriff’s Office was placed on a short list for acquiring the 2008 International Navistar MaxxPro Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle because it plays a key role in security planning for the Monticello Nuclear Generating Plant in Monticello, Hoffman said.

“We’ve been working with the federal government ever since the nuclear plant has been here,” he said. “The Monticello pant, whether we like it or not, is considered a national asset. We have different types of plans for security, and there are different types of contingencies we have to be able to address. This vehicle fit nicely into our plan.”

The Military Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) operates a program called the Law Enforcement Support Office (LESO), Hoffman said. The LESO program assists local law enforcement offices across the country in acquiring surplus military supplies and equipment for no or little cost.

“These surplus fully armored vehicles are now being given to local law enforcement agencies at no cost. The sticker price on a brand-new vehicle is $658,000,” Hoffman said.

Wright County’s armored vehicle arrived Sept. 23 with 13,000 miles on it, he said. The Wright County Highway Department is currently working on the armored vehicle and giving it a thorough tuneup. Once operational, the vehicle will be used by the sheriff’s office and its emergency response team as part of its security plan for the nuclear plant. The vehicle will be used at other incidents if needed.

The Wright County Sheriff’s office did remove the gun turret, a spokester tells the paper:

“There are two different types of vehicles,” Hoffman said. “The St. Cloud Police Department decided to keep the gun turret. We decided to take that off as well as some of the armor. Basically, it’s a transport built on an International dump truck frame. It doesn’t have any gun ports.”

Bluestem knew that St. Cloud State’s Homecoming got rowdy, but this seems a bit overboard. Over at the Wright County Tea Party ally Wright County Watch, Tom McGregor approved the acquisition, although he had some reservations:

Troubling, in that there now seems to be a 20 year practice of distributing military-grade, assault weaponry to the local level. Here is a description of the Law Enforcement Support Office ( LESO ) program on the MN state web-site

“HSEM is the state administrator for the Minnesota Law Enforcement Support Office (LESO) program established by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) through the Defense Logistics Agency. It allows law enforcement agencies to obtain surplus military weapons, tactical vehicles, aircraft and other equipment for any bona fide law enforcement need at no cost.

All transferred surplus items must have a direct application to the law enforcement agency’s arrest and apprehension mission.

Since the inception of the program in 1993, more than $25 million worth of equipment has been transferred to Minnesota law enforcement agencies including the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), the Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) Enforcement Division, along with 85 county sheriff’s offices and approximately 325 local police agencies.”

But ultimately, he’s down with it:

In the end however, I guess that until I hear that a 50-caliber machine gun has been mounted in the turret of that armored vehicle, I believe that we are still a long ways away from any danger of Wright County Sheriff’s department becoming an instrument of tyranny and oppression and I have to say that the acquisition of this vehicle is a good thing for the citizens of Wright County and for the men and women in Wright County Sheriff’s department who risk their lives on a daily basis protecting our freedoms and keeping Wright County safe.

That MRAP and the direction of a citizen energy rebellion

Meanwhile, the Wright County Watch is rallying the citizenry against a request by Geronimo Energy LLC to install three solar projects that will supply energy for Xcel Energy, which also operates the nuclear power plant at Monticello.

In Geronimo Energy Seeking Solar Energy Support, Albion Farmer writes:

So, here is your chance, citizen of Wright County, to make your voice heard regarding solar energy in Wright County, but act quickly as a vote on the issue will be taken next Tuesday’s Wright County Board meeting. One question that seems germane is: Do we really want our county commissioners, in essence, lobbying for something that ( will most likely be funded with tax dollars ) when there are serious questions about the effectiveness of alternative energy production?

The Commissioners voted to withhold support for the project until the boards of the townships form opinions about the projects, three of thirty-one sites in the distributed solar energy project.

It’s curious to see the local Tea Party ally, like legislative Republicans, kvetching about solar energy, while remaining mute about Monticello. Earlier this month, the Star Tribune’s David Schafer reported in Xcel Energy seeks a $291 million rate hike:

Xcel Energy asked for its largest-ever Minnesota electric rate hike on Monday but offered ways to soften the pain, including spreading it over two years.

The increase of $291 million is slightly more than what Xcel sought in its 2013 rate-hike request, which utility regulators slashed by two-thirds. This time, Xcel proposed smaller, single-digit increases over two years for its 1.2 million electric customers in Minnesota. . . .

In its regulatory filing, Xcel attributed 37 percent of the requested increase to investments and expenses related to its nuclear power plants. The company’s oldest reactor in Monticello was recently refurbished and one of the two units at the Prairie Island nuclear plant in Red Wing, Minn., is now undergoing a major upgrade.

Xcel said 17 percent of the rate increase stems from transmission investments, 11 percent from wind and other generation projects and the remainder from an array of investments and expenses. Overall, Xcel said its been investing about $1 billion a year in Minnesota.

Earlier articles indicated that the refurbishing of the nuclear power generating plant at Monticello went way over budget, while Xcel sought to pass these expenses on to ratepayers. Shaffer reported in August in PUC slashes Xcel rate hike, votes to probe reactor upgrade:

One question getting special attention is how much Minnesota ratepayers will end up paying for the $655 million project to extend the life and boost the output of the Monticello nuclear power plant. The project ended up costing more than twice the 2008 estimate of $320 million.

In response to the overruns, Minn. to hire an expert as it studies Monticello cost overruns, the Strib’s Shaffer reported on November 14, 2013:

Minnesota regulators are hiring a nuclear expert for their investigation of Xcel Energy Inc.’s massive cost overruns during upgrades to its Monticello nuclear power plant.

The state Public Utilities Commission on Thursday decided that a consulting engineer would help the state Commerce Department review the $665 million spent to extend the plant’s life and boost its output. The final cost was more than double the original estimate.

The PUC in August decided to investigate whether the investment was prudent — and whether ratepayers should pay for the overruns. The Minneapolis-based utility last month submitted to regulators a lengthy explanation, asserting that the five-year project turned out to be more complicated than first envisioned, but still worth doing. . . .

The cost-overrun investigation is expected to last into 2014, and is likely to play a role in the PUC’s eventual decision on Xcel rates. The company in October asked for a $291 million rate hike that will raise customers’ bills 4.6 percent increase in January, with a slightly larger increase possible in 2015.

If the PUC declares some of the Monticello costs imprudent, Xcel investors, rather than ratepayers, would pick up the tab.

And there you have it, gentle readers: the local Tea Party watchdog in Wright County is calling citizens to the barricades over three small solar installations, while remaining silent over the potential rate-hike spiking overruns.

Doesn’t look like the Wright County Sheriff’s Office will have to roll out its armored dump truck for that.