December 05, 2012 - Brandon Twp.- For most of 2012, township officials challenged Enbridge plans to replace the Line 6B petroleum pipeline, part of which runs through the township.
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Since the debate commenced here in the spring, there have been multiple meetings with attorneys, a violated woodlands ordinance by the multi-billion dollar company, a work stoppage ordered by the township, requests for higher safety standards that went unheeded, retractions of those requests, legal wrangling, untold fees incurred and concerns voiced from residents over environmental impact and damage to personal property resulting from planned construction, as well as the delay of it.
On Dec. 3, just before midnight and at the end of a 5-hour meeting, a newly elected township board unanimously approved a motion that will allow Enbridge to proceed with the first phase of the project in the township.
"We've agreed to settle," said Supervisor Kathy Thurman. "This battle was worth it because we are maintaining our woodlands the best we can, we are instituting a method for our residents to be treated properly by Enbridge (with) the inspector we are going to have, and we are being compensated for the funds we've invested in legal costs to get them to comply with our woodlands ordinance and consent."
The approved motion was "to agree to the settlement terms as amended, including the five terms discussed this evening and to authorize the township supervisor and township clerk to sign the final documents after the amendments are incorporated into the documents and have been reviewed by the township attorney."
"We appreciate the Brandon Township Board's dedication and commitment to the residents of Brandon Township as well as their willingness to work with us," said Jason Manshum, Enbridge senior adviser, community relations. "We value our relationships with all those who live and work along our pipeline right-of-way and will be working hard to minimize the impacts on the community and the affected landowners."
Prior to the board entering a more than 90-minute closed session with Township Attorney Stuart Cooney, township resident Jeff Axt pleaded with the board to postpone making a decision on approval of phase one of the project in the township, which includes three miles of pipeline. A second phase, not yet approved by the Michigan Public Service Commission, includes another 3 miles of pipeline and an above-ground pump station in the township. In total, the massive Line 6B replacement project spans 210 miles from Indiana to Sarnia, Ont.
The founder of POLAR (Protecting Our Land and Rights) cited the five new members on the board and planned amendments to the settlement documents. The changes were being negotiated during the meeting, as Mark Curwin, Enbridge's senior director of strategic coordination for major projects, agreed to a $50,000 bond to ensure gravel roads the company affects during replacement of the pipeline are restored to pre-project condition. The township will also be permitted to provide their own inspector to oversee the project from point of tree removal to restoration of the soil once the pipeline has been installed, although how often inspections will occur was not specified. Curwin also agreed that if affected landowners didn't want any or all of the 80 trees per acre (part of the woodlands ordinance settlement) replanted on their property, those trees would be given to the township to redistribute. This will be in addition to the $10,000 Enbridge agrees to pay to Brandon Township for their sole discretion in using for woodlands purposes.
Trustee Jayson Rumball called the $10,000 offer "grossly inadequate," adding that the board believed Enbridge could do more for the township.
Curwin's response was that Enbridge is developing an "environmental stewardship program" for which the township would be eligible for funds. However, he lacked details on the program and said while it was "not a small amount," he was "reluctant to put it in the agreement" because the company doesn't want the money put in the township's general fund.
"I'm stuck on the environmental stewardship," said Trustee Bill DeWitt. "You're developing it… I don't like maybes."
The environmental stewardship program is new, but concerns with Enbridge's environmental record are not. Enbridge is responsible for the 2010 disaster in which a 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.
"The work ahead in Brandon Township is part of the Line 6B Maintenance and Rehabilitation Project, replacing 65 miles of pipeline in Michigan this year and into early 2013," said Manshum. "There have been numerous integrity or maintenance digs along Line 6B in recent years, causing disruption for landowners. We recognize the impact recurring digs have on these residents, so the replacement project should decrease the number of digs required in the coming years, ultimately being less disruptive for landowners."
DeWitt's hesitation in approving the settlement was also displayed by other board members initially. When Trustee Ron Lapp said he wanted to see the finished document before he approved it, Rumball, Trustee Dana DePalma and Clerk Candee Allen all agreed. But near the end of the meeting, after Cooney spoke in support of the agreement, the board had an apparent change of heart.
"I have complete confidence in Stuart (Cooney)," said Lapp, who then addressed Curwin, Enbridge Project Manager Tom Hodge, and the Enbridge attorney, asking: "Is it going to give you heartburn to wait seven more days?"
In unison, the Enbridge representatives answered "yes," and Axt expressed disbelief that the board was expediting the process on behalf of Enbridge rather than the township residents.
The board then unanimously approved settlement, clearing the way for phase one of the project in the township to proceed.
"We have reviewed the documents, made adjustments and changes and now we're going to move forward," said Lapp.
Manshum said Enbridge has all permits required to conduct work in the township and now that agreement has been reached, the company will move forward with construction planning with their contractor.
"The township and affected landowners will be notified prior to the start of the work," he said.
Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville