Property Rights

Enbridge helps to changes Wisconsin's eminent domain laws in for private gain.

In the summer of 2015 the Wisconsin legislature's Joint Finance Committee, through the obscure Motion 999 process, changed Wisconsin's eminent domain law to allow Enbridge to take private land through condemnations. The excerpt of that clause can be reviewed below:

51. PSC-Condemnation Authority for Oil Pipeline Companies. Delete the reference to "corporation" and substitute "business entity" in the current law provision which conveys the authority to condemn real estate and personal property to corporations that transmit oil or related products in pipelines in Wisconsin and that maintain terminal or product delivery facilities in Wisconsin, subject to the approval of the Public Service Commission (PSC) upon a finding by the PSC that the proposed real estate interests sought to be acquired are in the public interest. include a reference to a business entity having condemnation authority in the current law provision concerning Building Commission approval of privately owned or operated facilities on State-owned land, and replace references to "corporation" with references to "business entity" under the current law provision concerning rights of abutting (land) owners.

The Joint Finance Committee also used the 999 process to prohibit towns and counties from imposing insurance requirements on operators of intrastate hazardous liquid pipelines (Enbridge):

55. Limitation on Town and County Actions. Prohibit any town or county from imposing requirements that are expressly preempted by federal or state law as conditions for approving a conditional use permit. In addition, prohibit any town or county from imposing insurance requirements on an operator of an interstate hazardous liquid pipeline if the pipeline operating company carries comprehensive general liability insurance coverage that includes coverage for sudden and accidental pollution liability.

Source: Motion #999 - Budget Modifications (Senator Darling; Representatitve Nygren) [PDF]

NPR reports that Enbridge helped craft these laws.

"A staffer with Assembly Speaker Robin Vos's office requested Enbridge Energy attorneys speak with drafters on a language change affecting who has power to take private property for public use.

Among proposed language changes, the provision would change the wording from "corporation" to "business entity" regarding who would be able to take private property for public use. Enbridge Energy is considered a limited partnership, which doesn't have the same legal definition as a corporation under the law.

In an email exchange between Enbridge lobbyist Bill McCoshen and Thomas Pyper with Enbridge's legal counsel, Pyper wrote: "The (language) change needs to be made. The (Public Service Commission) is not like a court. A finding in one contested case has no binding precedential value for another contested case."

Pyper was referencing a prior PSC decision in a 2008 Enbridge case where the commission determined a "corporation" could be construed to mean a "business entity." In the email, Pyper wrote that the decision "provides no certainty" to Enbridge.

Elizabeth Ward, program director for the Sierra Club -- John Muir Chapter, said the change would make it easier for Enbridge to obtain private property if approved by the Public Service Commission.

"It's a policy item that has no fiscal impact, so there's no reason for it to be in the budget unless they were trying to sneak it in there," she said.

In a prepared statement, Enbridge stakeholder relations manager Jennifer Smith said, "The amendment reflects an update to outdated language and better reflects today's more modern business models."

The speaker's office didn't immediately return a request for comment."

You can read the correspondence about draft changes to these laws between Bill McCoshen (the Enbridge lobbyist in Wisconsin) and Wisconsin legislative attorneys by clicking here.



Property owners who stand their ground against Enbridge may wind up feeling as if they’ve fallendown a rabbit hole, at least until the jury arrives. Jeremy Engelking of Superior, Wisconsin was out enjoying a late November morning in 2009 when he noticed an Enbridge crew setting up along the massive pipeline corridor bisecting his land. He informed the workers that he’d never agreed to nor accepted payment for any expansion of the original 1949 easement from Enbridge, and therefore the crew had no right to install any new lines on his property. In all, four Enbridge pipelineswere crowding in on the family’s land, and now the Canadian operator was preparing to add two more. Just as he was turning to leave, Mr. Engelking told the Superior Telegram, an officer from the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department arrived, and pointed his taser directly at him. The officer “ordered me to ‘get down on the ground, now!’” Engelking reported. When the officer informed him he was being arrested for trespassing, Mr. Engelking attempted to clear up the matter by explaining that they were standing on his own property. “It doesn’t matter. You’re going to jail. You can tell it to a judge tomorrow,” the officer told him. Mr. Engelking offered no resistance, yet was handcuffed and taken to the Douglas County Jail, where he was required to post a $200 bail bond, and face the Alice-in-Wonderland charge of trespassing on his own property.

Fortunately the story doesn’t end there. In June of 2014, a Douglas County Jury found that Line 4,which Enbridge installed in 2002, and also Lines 67 and 13, added in 2009, had indeed been installed on the family’s property illegally. Rather than JeremyEngelking, Enbridge and their pipelines were the real trespassers. The Jury ordered Enbridgeto pay the Engelkings $150, 000. Enbridge said they would appeal.

Additional Documents:

Things to Consider Before Signing a Pipeline Easement

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