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Homeowners Wary of Massive Pipeline

Mar 3, 2016

Marshfield News Herald 3/3/2016 By: Jonathan Anderson, USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

LINCOLN - Rich Hansen and his wife have spent decades perfecting their homestead on the outskirts of Marshfield, a place that, at least to them, borders on the sacred: It’s where they raised a family, meticulously landscaped the yard and hope to retire.

They could lose all of it.

Canadian oil company Enbridge Energy, which operates a set of pipelines cutting through the Hansens’ backyard, is considering plans to build another pipeline, and if it does, the Hansens fear they could be forced out of their home.

“We’d be heartbroken about it, just because of all our memories here and everything we’ve put into this place,” Rich Hansen said.

Hansen was one of nearly 200 people who packed the Lincoln Town Hall Thursday for a forum about Enbridge’s pipeline systems, which cross the state from Superior to the Illinois state line.

The existing system includes four lines that already carry more than 2.1 million barrels of crude oil per day; three of those lines transport oil from Canada south, while a fourth line carries oil mixed with a thinning agent from a Chicago refinery back to Canada.

The potential new line would be up to 42 inches in diameter and could carry an additional 800,000 barrels of crude, while Enbridge is already expanding capacity in one of the existing lines from 950,000 barrels per day to 1.2 million — making it the largest tar sands oil pipeline outside of Russia when completed, according to Elizabeth Ward of the Sierra Club, one of the forum's panelists.

"That is a lot of risk they're asking landowners to assume right now," she said.

All told, the pipeline system would carry more than 2.9 million barrels of oil each day if the new line is installed — over three times more oil than would have been in the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which was intended to carry 860,000 barrels of oil from Alberta to Nebraska. President Barack Obama rejected the Keystone pipelinein November, citing environmental concerns.

While an Enbridge executive told investors in October that the company was developing a plan to add the new line, Enbridge engineer Mark Willoughby said Thursday that the idea still is being considered and the company has not officially decided to pursue the project. If it does, Enbridge will need to seek approval by the state Department of Natural Resources.

"The people in this room would be some of the first to know before we move ahead," Willoughby said. "People are jumping the gun in assuming this is going to go forward."

Willoughby said the company wants to work with property owners to reach mutually satisfactory agreements should additional easements be needed. Legal action, such as seeking to force pipeline easements, would be a last resort.

Even so, a change in state law that Enbridge sought last year makes it easier for the company to use property through the eminent domain process. Records show an Enbridge lawyer and lobbyist helped draft language in the state's 2015-17 biennium budget that expands what kinds of pipeline operators can acquire property or easements through the condemnation process when in the public interest.

Enbridge representative Scott Suder, a former state legislator, claimed the law change did not give the company any new power nor change the regulatory process.

About 20 percent of all petroleum imported into the United States flows through Enbridge's primary pipeline system from Canada. Enbridge contends that pipelines are the safest and most efficient means to transport oil — as opposed to rail and trucks — and cites increased demand from refineries for North American oil as a key driver behind the potential new pipeline.

Uncertainty remains

Five panelists gave presentations at Thursday's forum: Willoughby of Enbridge; Ward of the Sierra Club; Mark Borchardt, who leads a citizen's group opposing Enbridge's potential new pipeline; state Rep. Bob Kulp, R-Stratford; and an attorney who specializes in environmental and energy law.

Attendees asked about leaks in the pipeline, including one in the Marshfield area, as well as the kind of chemicals in the pipelines, how oil pumping stations are monitored and how residents' property rights are affected by Enbridge's plans.

The forum lasted more than two hours and was largely a civil affair, with attendees and panelists being respectful of one another. A sheriff's deputy stood in the back of the meeting room for much of the night.

Should Enbridge seek to proceed with the new pipeline, it likely will need to get more easements from property owners, which entails paying the owners money for a right to dig the pipeline underneath their property. That's where Borchardt sees an opportunity: His group is seeking to persuade property owners to reject offers from Enbridge for the easements.

“The end game is no pipeline," Borchardt said in an interview before the forum. "There just needs to be enough people that say no, they’re not going to give up their land, and I guess Enbridge would have to take a thousand homeowners to court.”

For Hansen, 63, and his wife, Enbridge's possible new pipeline comes as the two are preparing to retire. They have spent the last few years updating their home inside and out, and they're unsure whether any offer Enbridge might make for the property would reflect those upgrades.

But even more fundamentally, Hansen rejected the notion that he and his wife would truly have any options should an offer from Enbridge come, given the company's ability to take them to court to force an easement, which could potentially swallow their house.

“We wouldn’t have much of a choice," Hansen said.

Jonathan Anderson can be reached at or 715-898-7010. Find him on Twitter as @jonathanderson.