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Military Violated Agreement with Low-Flying Helicopter Training, Minneapolis Officials Say

A helicopter hovers over the Minneapolis Federal Reserve building on August 18.

A helicopter hovers over the Minneapolis Federal Reserve building on August 18.

During yesterday's Minneapolis City Council public safety committee meeting, officials threw the military under the bus for the decried helicopter training that took place over the Twin Cities last month.

Matt Clark, assistant police chief, told council members that Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman "needed to approve allowing [the military] to train within both cities." But deputy city attorney Peter Ginder said the military violated the agreement by flying helicopters low over both downtowns.

See also:

Mpls public safety chair Blong Yang says he knew nothing about military exercises

To make matters worse, not only was the public in the dark about the training, but council members didn't receive any advance notice either.

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Hodges "didn't get a full assessment on the extent of what this training would be like," Clark said, adding that MPD Chief Janee Harteau "has made it very clear to me that we will not be approving any future training requests by [the military]."

Clark said police officials wanted to inform the public about the impending military training days before it occurred via a press release, but were vetoed by the Defense Department. As it turned out, the MPD didn't publicly release any information about what was going on until after military helicopters were flying over Twin Cities skies.

"I didn't know until later that the press release was not approved by the Department of Defense and that we had to actually vet any information we released on these operations through the Department of Defense before releasing them," Clark said. "Clearly the message should have been sent much earlier and clearer to the public."

Asked whether the city has any authority to put the kibosh on military training like last month's helicopter exercises, Ginder told council members that "the short answer is no."

"We don't regulate airspace except to the extent they might land in it," he continued. "Airspace is not under our control. The license we did grant [specified the military] couldn't use low-flying helicopters."

Council Member Cam Gordon pointed out that Ginder's comments indicate the military violated the terms of the training agreement.

"People were really upset that first day, they were really confused that first day, and I looked like a big idiot because I couldn't say what was going on," Gordon said. "All I could say was, 'No, I haven't really been informed about this either. And yes, you're absolutely right, two helicopters could've smashed into your high-rise apartment with 3,000 people living in there and there could've been a horrible accident.'"

"This was a pretty big deal for the city and people were really alarmed and concerned and we didn't have a lot of good answers we could tell them," he continued.

Gordon asked Clark if whatever document Hodges signed giving the military permission to train in Minneapolis would be publicly released. Clark said the document is part of an ongoing investigation.

"I'm not sure if we can release it at this point," he said.

Hodges's spokesperson didn't respond to two messages we left with her earlier this month seeking comment on what the mayor knew about about the military exercises and when she knew it. The mayor's office wasn't represented at yesterday's meeting.

Gordon said his biggest concern was that the training "actually posed a very big public safety risk to people."

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"I couldn't warn people," Gordon said. "Training -- how often have they done this before? Here they are weaving close to skyscrapers. I had visions of an airborne vehicle full of fuel smashing into a building."

Clark said the MPD devoted "a dozen officers or so" for "security details protecting the sites" where the training occurred. But a staff directive approved at the end of the meeting would force the MPD to clear any staffing expenditures related to military training with the city council in the future.

Here, via the Downtown Journal, is the text of Gordon's directive:

City of Minneapolis staff are directed not to authorize expenditures of City resources on future military training exercises in Minneapolis, unless approved by the City Council.

Further directing the City Attorney to develop a process, including engagement of the Council, for considering approval of future requests by federal agencies, including but not limited to the Department of Defense and other military units, to conduct activities in Minneapolis that are likely to cause disruption to Minneapolis residents and businesses.

Send your story tips to the author, Aaron Rupar. Follow him on Twitter @atrupar.