September 12, 2012 - Groveland Twp.-On Monday, Township Supervisor Bob DePalma addressed several issues regarding the ongoing Enbridge pipeline project.
Enbridge, Inc., which operates in Canada and the United States the world's longest crude oil and liquids transportation system, sent letters last fall notifying property owners in Brandon and Groveland townships of their plans to replace segments of the Line 6B petroleum pipeline. The pipeline originates in Griffith, Ind. and extends across southern Michigan, including three miles of pipeline in the township and six miles of pipeline, including a pumping station, in Brandon Township. The 75 miles of pipeline that Enbridge plans to replace ends in Sarnia, Ontario.
The new pipeline is proposed to be installed alongside the existing pipeline in place since the 1960s, which will be left in the ground and deactivated. The plan has raised concerns from landowners with whom Enbridge has easement agreements, and also prompted the Brandon Township Board of Trustees to unanimously pass a resolution last month demanding Enbridge apply the same safety measures required by the Northern Gateway Project in Canada, higher standards than are being required in the United States for this project.
Several township residents expressed concerns regarding the project during the Monday meeting.
"After calls to (Oakland) county and the Michigan Townships Association (MTA), as well as the township insurance carrier, I believe, and have all along that we are legally not a party to any of the private easement issues pro or con," said DePalma. "However, we are interested in any issues of safety and exposure to our community."
DePalma said the township currently has no permit process for utilities such as Enbridge.
"I don't think the (utility) permit process will get it done. Even if the MTA recommends we permit, that permit will be limited to reasonableness. The permit will not be specific, for example we are not going to demand a thickness of the pipeline wall. We are not engineers. For that matter, you can't have 50 different specifications along the pipeline route from township to township. However, if there was an issue with a utility company and a township road or safety equipment the township needs to remedy a problem, then yes, the township would require notice. So far Enbrige has been OK. We have no legal standing to change anything right now."
Regarding wells and septic, DePalma said that Enbridge has a list of all impacted wells and septic systems.
"If a resident's well or septic is within 50 feet of the pipeline they should check with Enbridge to see if they are included," he said. "Keep in mind these wells are going to have to be moved."
Joe Martucci of Enbridge attended the meeting and responded to several concerns.
"Right now we're looking to start clearing ground in the latter part of September," he said.
Several township residents that attended the meeting also expressed concern about Enbridge's future plans for the existing pipeline.
"The old pipeline will be deactivated, the oil will be removed and cleaned then filled with nitrogen. The (existing) line will be monitored—with no plans to use the pipe. We operate on just in time delivery and would not be able to just flip a switch and send oil down the line. The pipeline supplies eight to nine refineries in the Midwest."
The comments from Martucci regarding closure of the old Enbridge pipeline did little to calm the ire of township residents who attended Monday's meeting.
Township residents Katy Bodenmiller and her husband Jeff Insko live on about two acres along Oak Hill Road. The Enbridge pipeline project will cut through a section of their property that is currently wooded.
"It's a similar story," she said. "Just the timeline differs—Enbridge showed up at our door in February. The scope of the (pipeline) project was much larger then we imagined—until that time we understood there would only be some repairs to the pipeline. In February we learned that not only would the 30 feet of the easement be used, but an additional 65 feet of property Enbridge called 'temporary workspace,' is also included. So when Enbridge leaves our property after the project there's going to be a 95 foot swath of land where they chop down all the trees, brush and everything in their path."
Bodenmiller said the first sign of trouble was when Enbridge threatened them with condemnation.
"Basically, if you don't sign they take you to court," she said. "If our property was a prairie it would be one thing, but a major reason we bought this land was the trees and landscape."
Bodenmiller said over a 5-month period they negotiated with Enbridge.
"Enbridge was often silent about the cost negotiations over the damages to our property as a result of the pipeline," she said. "We contacted a landscaper to determine what the cost would be to replace about 100 established trees including hardwoods, evergreens and ornamental trees—a reasonable plan we received was $75,000. A month later Enbridge's response was $16,000 and the number of trees went from about 100 down to 16. Totally inadequate. I asked, 'Can we meet in the middle somewhere?' We really wanted to be reasonable. Then another two months would go by and Enbridge was silent. Then we'd get a letter in the mail telling us sign or you're getting $800—that's it. That was the pattern."
"That's the level of frustration in dealing with Enbridge," she said. "They say they treat people fairly—that they are transparent. The gap between their public face and what happens privately is large."
Bodenmiller realized the magnitude of the situation when the report came out in July 2012 from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) saying Enbridge failed to deal adequately with structural problems detected years ago and to respond appropriately to the Marshall, Mich. spill that dumped more than 800,000 gallons of oil in the Kalamazoo River in 2010.
"You combine the NTSB report with the feeling you have not been treated fairly as a land owner—it makes us skeptical, about anything Enbridge does. There's a feeling of there's nothing you can do at any level."
Bodenmiller said she's written Michigan Congressman Mike Rogers (R-8th District) regarding the Enbridge issue. She received a response two months later from his office.
"They just don't want to talk about it. But in the light of the Marshall spill, Rogers and other lawmakers should be asking tough questions of Enbridge. The silence of the people that should represent me and my neighbors is an endorsement of the way Enbridge does business in Michigan," she said.