July 24, 2013 - Brandon Twp.- If 300,000 barrels worth of heavy crude oil is to flow daily through a new pipeline, two 6,000 horsepower pumps will be needed here to aid it on its way.
Each pump is only 3 feet high and six feet long, but they are causing plenty of controversy, particularly because a structure proposed to house the pumps would be 40-feet high, and would be accompanied by environmental and safety concerns, lights, and a noise level which is as yet undetermined.
For these reasons, township planning consultant Doug Lewan recommended the planning commission deny Enbridge Energy preliminary site plan approval for the pump station at 3403 Seymour Lake Road. The planning commission took his advice at their July 23 meeting, but for the crowd of more than 40 in attendance, most neighbors opposed to the project, it is almost certainly a temporary reprieve.
"It is very unlikely the pump station would be anywhere other than where it is planned for," said Township Building Director Bill Dinnan. "My understanding is that state and federal government control that."
Enbridge is no stranger to opposition, here, or in the various communities their Line 6B pipeline traverses, which includes Marshall, Mich., where a rupture in the pipeline in 2010 spilled more than 1 million gallons of crude oil into Talmadge Creek and ultimately the Kalamazoo River. The spill was the largest in-land environmental disaster in U.S. history.
Replacement of the aging pipeline began more than a year and a half ago and when complete, will cover approximately 210 miles from Griffith, Ind. to Marysville, Mich. and includes six miles in Brandon Township and three miles in Groveland Township.
The original pipeline has been in existence since the 1960s, and the replacement pipeline is being laid alongside the old pipeline. In Brandon, the first phase of the project began last summer after delays because Enbridge failed to obtain the proper permits and violated ordinances in the township. Stop work orders were issued and the township board approved court action before the company finally met legal requirements in December.
Earlier this month, the township board of trustees unanimously approved a consent agreement clearing the way for Enbridge to begin work on phase II, which includes three miles from the planned Cook Trail pump station to the corner of Granger and Baldwin roads. However, the pump station is not part of the approved consent agreement. Enbridge must win approval from the planning commission for the station.
Lewan noted at Tuesday night's meeting he had several reasons for recommending the denial, including a proposed fence around the pump station that does not meet required setbacks, a lack of adequate information on plans for traffic and parking at the site, protection of wetlands and woodlands and the number and type of trees that will be removed; proposed light fixtures that would be 24-30 feet high, violating township ordinances that only permit lights to be 16 feet in height and downward directed; and no information at all on the level of noise that will be produced from the pump station.
After Lewan's assessment of the plans and recommendation to deny, Dinnan added that he also has concerns regarding the Brandon Fire Department's ability to address emergencies such as leaks, ruptures, or fires regarding the pipeline or pump station. Hubbell, Roth and Clark, the township's engineering firm, also has concerns regarding site drainage, he continued.
"Typically, this is an unmanned structure," Dinnan said. "The site will be totally monitored through electronic means. People won't be there for long periods of time once construction is finished."
A pump station existed in the 1990s at the same location, but on a much smaller scale. The station was removed several years ago because it was no longer needed.
Glen Jones, lead project manager for Enbridge, said demand has increased again, necessitating the pump station, the proposed size of which is 5,000 square feet. Due to new safety standards by both Enbridge and the federal government, the station will be significantly more impacting to the landscape, in the midst of a neighborhood with homes that are valued as much as $300,000-$400,000.
Jones said safety measures that would be in place with the new pump station include a concrete floor "to capture any leaks that may happen"; two electrical control buildings; and a 2-and-a-half foot berm around the station. The three levels of containment are the pipe itself, then the pump building, and third is the berm.
In countering concerns, Jones said the height on the structure is needed because the pumps (which will include a third "hot spare") will be elevated off the floor to make inspections easier; the building is being designed in accordance with the noise study that he apologized for not being able to provide; and the lights are to be used if night maintenance is needed.
"They would be operated on a switch," he said. "Otherwise, it won't affect the neighbors."
Enbridge personnel, he continued, would come out three times a week on a continuing basis after construction is complete in order to do inspections and maintenance and the local firefighters are trained by Enbridge operations personnel "to make them aware of our roles."
While the pump station would not have an employee continually on site, the station is monitored electronically 24/7 from another location. Jones said a leak would be detected due to a drop in pressure and personnel in Marysville and Howell could respond within an hour.
Another pump station is located in Howell, and others are existing or planned in Stockbridge, Mendon, Van Buren and St. Clair.
The company's current fencing plan calls for encompassing the township's pump station with a 6-foot fence for security purposes, without barbed wire topping it, as that is prohibited by township ordinance.
"This line is supposed to be up and running by April of next year, the pump station, too," said Jones. "We move in and move out. There is an end. After April, there will be restoration work."
While two pumps are needed due to demand, Enbridge forecasts they would run about 60-70 percent of the time, but potentially, they could run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
"In two years, there will probably be only one pump running," said Jones. "Distant forecasts don't show a pump being added."
The pumps have electric motors, not diesel engines, and the loudest component of the operation is the ventilation system.
Noise is just one of many concerns of neighboring residents, who protested the pump station in no uncertain terms at the planning commission meeting.
"When all is said and done, regardless of what you do, you will go home and not see a decrease in property value," said Larry Newton, a Cook Trail resident. "Everything I have is tied up in my home. This 35 to 40-foot structure and lights is gonna look like an industrial complex. If a gasket fails, it will be contained, but a rupture in the pipeline is gonna make a mess… We're screwed and anyone who sees it any other way isn't looking."
Greg Penn, his neighbor, agreed. He has put his house up for sale.
"This is gonna kill us," he said. "These are $300,000, $500,000 homes. We don't need a goddamn pole barn."
Jones said the intent of Enbridge is not to put an industrial-type building on the site.
"We have not decided how it will look, we are open to discussions to make it more palatable, we could make it more like a barn."
That might be just what they are asked to do. The planning commission suggested making it look like a horse barn.
Leroy Rogers, another Cook Trail resident, said he wouldn't be opposed to a barn appearance, but had other concerns.
"Just because the light pollution is on a switch doesn't mean they will turn it off," he said. "What they have now stays on all the time."
"To notice a pressure leak would mean it was a helluva leak," Rogers continued, addressing the commission members. "You need an engineering study to understand how much of a leak can be detected. Don't listen to (Enbridge), they turned it back on (the oil flow after the pipeline ruptured in the Marshall disaster)… A clay pan ain't gonna hold that crap. With two pumps running with that PSI, there is no small leak. Protect the environment. Protect us. This won't just be a burp, it could be a major catastrophe."
The planning commission's motion at the end of the meeting was to postpone preliminary site plan approval to Enbridge pending completion of a noise study, answers to issues contained in letters from both HRC and Carlisle/Wortman, berm calculations and until architectural design concerns are addressed.
Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville