July 09, 2014 - Like any property owner, Bruce Downey wants to be able to exercise his basic right to use and enjoy his land.
Oxford Twp. resident Bruce Downey doesn't want the Rover Pipeline, a proposed natural gas line, to take more of his 10.5-acre property away from him. He already has two easements (shown behind him) for the Enbridge crude oil pipeline, plus an easement for the DTE Energy high-voltage electric lines that run overhead. He wants to build a pole barn where that mound of dirt (to the left) currently is, but he won't be able to do that if the Rover Pipeline uses that area for an easement. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
That's why he is prepared to fight tooth and nail to stop a proposed natural gas pipeline from potentially taking more of his 10.5 acres on Meadowbrook Ct., just north of Granger Rd., in Oxford Township.
"I'm not going easy," said Downey, a U.S. Navy veteran. "They may get away with it, but it's going to come at a high price. We're going fight this one. They're going to have to force it out of me. I'm not going to just let them take it."
Downey doesn't wish to give up another inch of his land for yet another easement (or right-of-way). He already has three of them.
He also doesn't want to lose the only space available to him to build a pole barn.
His message to the folks proposing to build the new Rover Pipeline is simple – "Find an alternate route or use (an easement) that's already there. We've already had enough destruction."
Downey recently received a letter informing him that his property is part of the tentative route for the proposed natural gas pipeline and inviting him to attend one of three open houses in Michigan (see Page 1) to learn more about the project and give his input.
"I was kind of stunned," he said.
The Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) is proposing to build, through its Houston-based subsidiary ET Rover Pipeline, a pipeline that would transport natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica shale areas in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio to various markets in the United States and potentially, Canada.
The project calls for nearly 600 miles of pipeline including approximately 365 miles of mainline pipe running through Ohio and Michigan, plus an additional 15 miles of mainline pipe that would extend across the U.S./Canada border to the Union Gas Dawn Hub in Ontario. The proposed pipeline could be as large as 42 inches in diameter.
In Oxford and Addison townships, the proposed Rover Pipeline appears to run parallel to Enbridge's Line 6B, a 285-mile pipeline that transports crude oil from Griffith, Indiana to Sarnia in Ontario, Canada. ETP Spokesperson Vicki Granado previously told the Leader, "Our whole line doesn't parallel (Enbridge's) line, but some parts of it do."
In the letter Downey received from ETP, it mentioned how the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) must issue a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity in order for the project to move forward.
A Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity is a permit issued by a public body that is charged with the supervision of public facilities such as utilities. It authorizes the holder of the permit to operate a public facility within a particular area.
In addition to federal approval, the Rover Pipeline must also be approved by state agencies. Local municipal governments do not play a role in the approval process.
Granado previously stated that nothing concerning the Rover Pipeline, from its route to its diameter, has been finalized or approved.
Downey has already contacted ET Rover Pipeline and sent an e-mail to FERC explaining his situation and expressing his concerns.
A FERC representative is expected to visit his property next week and Downey plans to attend the July 14 Rover Pipeline open house at the Fenton Township Hall. "I'm hoping somebody's going to listen," he said.
Downey is troubled by the proposed natural gas pipeline because he already has three easements running through the property he's lived on since October 2012 with his wife, two teenage children and four dogs.
Two of the easements (or rights-of-way), which total 60 feet in width and run the entire length of Downey's property, are for Enbridge's Line 6B, while the third is for the DTE Energy high-voltage power lines that run overhead between large, steel electrical transmission towers. "They've kind of got me pinned in here," he said.
Enbridge has had his front yard torn up for about 10 months now as part of its replacement of the existing Line 6B. When the project is done, Downey will have two pipelines running through his property – the new Line 6B and the old Line 6B, which will be deactivated, cleaned and left in place.
But Enbridge isn't the only company that's been working on Downey's land.
DTE Energy came through about a month ago and tore up the back of his property.
"I have already endured a year of heavy equipment and semi-trucks driving through my yard," Downey wrote in his July 1 e-mail to FERC. "We purchased this home in the country because of its trees, wilderness and how peaceful it was. So far, we have had companies chopping trees down and it has been anything but peaceful."
Downey is fearful the Rover Pipeline, which is proposed to run parallel to Enbridge's Line 6B through Oxford and Addison townships, is going to require a brand new 60-foot-wide easement across his property.
Such an easement could not go on the north side of the existing Enbridge easements because he said it would go "through the middle of my house."
A new easement would have to run along the south side of the Enbridge easements. That would, according to Downey, "basically take it all the way to my neighbor's property."
"This additional easement would ensure that more than half of my 10.5-acre property would be under easement," he wrote to FERC.
A new 60-foot easement for the Rover Pipeline would, according to Downey, put the kibosh on his plan to build a pole barn in that area of his property.
Permanent structures cannot be built within an easement.
"(If) they go 60 feet, they're all the way into (the neighbor's) property and there's nothing left for me to build on," he said. "That would take up the last piece of my yard."
Downey explained in his e-mail to FERC that "with the other easements already in place, there is not enough dry area to place (a pole barn on) so the property I purchased can't be used for what I need."
Woods and wetlands make up about 4 to 5 acres of Downey's property. He has some open space in front of his house, but he can't build on it because that's where his septic system is located.
Downey needs a pole barn for his personal storage needs and to build an indoor/outdoor kennel for the purpose of training dogs. He currently trains both hunting dogs and rescue dogs.
"My goal is to help any rescue (group) out there rehabilitate dogs," he said. "It's something I like to do and I'm pretty good at it."
For the last eight months, Downey and his wife have been active volunteers with the K-9 Stray Rescue League in Oxford.
"Pretty much every weekend, we're there," he said. "Sometimes Saturday and Sunday."
With his own kennel, Downey said he could do much more to help rescue dogs who need one-on-one attention and would benefit from training in different scenarios.
As this point, Downey's concerns about the pipeline are based on the limited information that's available and speculation.
When asked if the proposed Rover Pipeline would utilize existing Enbridge easements or require the acquisition of additional right-of-way as Downey fears, Granado replied via a July 3 e-mail, "While we have a proposed route for the ET Rover pipeline and we are talking with landowners along that route to obtain permission to survey the area, the final specifics will be determined by the results of the Open Season, which is currently underway."
Open season, which began June 27, is the period during which natural gas shippers contract for capacity on the pipeline. The number of shippers who sign on determines how much natural gas will flow through the pipeline and the size of the pipe needed to accommodate that flow.
What would Downey find acceptable?
Whether the Rover Pipeline uses existing right-of-way or obtains new easements, either way, property owners must be compensated.
"Landowners will be paid for any right-of-way on their property," Granado wrote.
But Downey made it very clear he's not willing to voluntarily sell ETP a new easement across his property.
"I'm not interested in the money," he said.
In his mind, there are only two ways to satisfy him. One, the proposed Rover Pipeline doesn't go through his property at all.
"It's easement after easement. I've given enough to growth," he said. "I think they need to seek an alternate route and find (property belonging to) somebody else to go through . . . Maybe take it down the road. I don't understand why you can't take it down the side of the road – (it offers) easier access if you have to work on it."
The second acceptable option to Downey is for ETP to use one of the existing easements for its pipeline.
"If they have to come through (my property), if there's no other choice. Enbridge already has an abandoned pipeline there, or they will shortly, with an easement. (ET Rover Pipeline) can use that easement . . . or go through the (DTE Energy easement). That's back there, too. That's already wide open," he said. "Don't destroy anymore wetlands or woods, or take any more of my property, so that I can't build on my own property."
Ready to fight if necessary
ETP could try to take a portion of his land through eminent domain, a legal process through which private property can be taken for public use, but the owner must receive just compensation.
But Granado indicated "ETP views the use of eminent domain as a last resort."
"It is our priority to try to work with each landowner to arrive at an agreement without the use of eminent domain," she wrote.
"Basically, they're going to try and take it, if we don't allow them to come through," Downey said. "I understand they have to give us money if they decide to use it, but you're basically telling me I don't have a choice (as to) what I'm going to do on my own property."
There's a world of difference between understanding something and letting it happen. And Downey's not about to let anything happen to his land without putting up a fight.
"If they're looking at taking the rest of my land, if they're looking at touching any more wetlands or trees, make no mistake, they'll have a huge fight on their hands," he said. "I'm not going easy."
If the ETP is successful in securing another easement across his land, Downey plans to leave. "Honestly, if they take off the last piece of property, I'm going to go," Downey said. "I didn't sign up to be a utility yard. I came out here to live in peace and quiet in the wilderness and they're taking all that out."
A safety concern
Property rights and country scenery aside, Downey admitted he's not thrilled about the prospect of having a 42-inch gas pipeline running through his yard for safety reasons.
"If that blows, we're all dead," he said. "It's too close to my home for me to sleep at night. I'm fully aware they don't usually blow, but (if it did), there would be nothing left of the house or anybody in it."
But Granado wished to assure the public that "underground pipelines are the safest way to transport natural gas and the safety of the community, the environment and our employees is our top priority."
"We are a highly-regulated industry with many requirements around safety," she wrote. "Our pipelines are monitored 24 hours a day, seven days a week via manned control centers. Our pipelines are also inspected on the ground and from the air on a regular basis."
Granado indicated ETP has "not experienced" any incidents in which a pipeline has exploded and destroyed a nearby house.
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.