October 31, 2012 - On Thursday, Nov. 1, at about 7:30 a.m. in Groveland Township at the corner of Oak Hill Road and Bird road, contractors for Enbridge were preparing to lay a replacement oil pipeline in the ground.
Workers from Precision Pipeline, based in Eau Claire, Wisc. and the main contractor for Enbridge, work on Oct. 27 in Groveland Township at the corner of Bird and Oak Hill roads. Precision employees said they were pulling the top soil off and leveling the ground to be flat before ditches would be dug to install the Line 6B crude oil replacement pipeline. Photo by Susan Bromley. (click for larger version)
In the pre-dawn darkness, headlights shined from heavy equipment. On the first day of November, the workers weren't waiting for daylight. The massive project, which in total spans 210 miles from Indiana to Sarnia, Ontario, is behind schedule due to what the workers call "land issues," or objections from private land owners. But while Enbridge seems to be plowing ahead in Groveland, where three miles of pipeline will be laid, the multi-billion dollar company has been stopped short in Brandon Township, the neighbor to the east.
On Oct. 29, following a closed session special meeting to discuss the township attorney's opinion in regard to Enbridge, the Brandon Township Board unanimously approved a motion to take whatever legal action necessary to make the Alberta, Canada based company obtain the township's consent for the replacement oil pipeline.
"We will be requiring that Enbridge obtain consent to cross our roads," said Supervisor Kathy Thurman. "Article 7, section 29 of the Michigan state constitution says a utility needs to obtain local consent. They are running a pipeline, so in that regard, they are a utility… We also want them to abide by ordinances."
In early September, Township Building Director Bill Dinnan posted stop work orders at Reese, Allen and Hickory Ridge roads, where Enbridge subcontractors had leveled dozens of mature trees in preparation for installing the Line 6B crude oil replacement pipeline.
The woodlands ordinance states that no person of any nature, for whatever reason shall develop any parcel in the township without providing a survey of woodlands on such parcel. Enbridge has not complied with the ordinance.
"They got ahead of the game," said Dinnan. "What Enbridge has said is their project has been approved by the Michigan Public Service Commission, but that is not relevant… The bottom line is they violated the woodlands ordinance because they haven't gone through the process."
The process for obtaining permission, Dinnan further explained, would include the building director and a landscape architect determining a process for reestablishment of trees, including unique trees and woodlands characteristics, prior to excavation.
Violation of the woodlands ordinance is a municipal civil infraction, and persons or entities violating the ordinance can be subject to fines, as well as injunctive court orders.
"If we have to go to a court hearing and ask the judge to make (Enbridge comply), typically we will also ask for attorney fees, administrative fees and the like," Dinnan said.
Township Trustee Cheryl Gault noted she doesn't want to go to court or incur legal costs, nor does the township board want to stop the pipeline.
"Our goal is to make sure it is put in properly without destroying the environment and to ensure safety so we don't have any incidents like the spills in Kalamazoo," she said, referring to the 2010 disaster in which an Enbridge pipeline ruptured in Marshall, Mich., spilling approximately 1 million gallons of crude oil into Talmadge Creek and ultimately the Kalamazoo River. The Environmental Protection Agency approved up to $13 million for response efforts and rated the spill a Type 1 incident, requiring the largest number of resources the EPA has available. EPA Deputy Incident Commander Mark Durno said it was the biggest volume pipeline break in the past 20 years.
"My hope is that we can negotiate an agreement with Enbridge so they can complete the pipeline in a timely and safe manner."
Thurman and the board have not received a response from Enbridge after numerous inquiries about the number of trees that will be, and already have been, removed in Brandon Township, the depth of the wetlands the pipeline will be traveling through, road crossings that will be open cut or bored under, whether Brandon is considered a high consequence area, nor copies of permits that have been requested.
"We definitely want to see the pipeline replaced, but we are concerned that it be done in the proper manner," said Thurman. "Enbridge does not appear to be sincere in what they have communicated to the township. They have made statements that they will get information we have requested, but they have not produced it for us."
The board planned to meet Thursday in closed session to consider and possibly take action regarding Enbridge.
Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville