Wisconsin landowners won’t give up more land to Enbridge without a fight, Rio resident Kevin Stoddard told the Columbia County Board last week.
Stoddard summarized for the board his experiences with the Canadian company’s oil pipeline that runs through his property in rural Rio, warning that possible pipeline expansions would “provide little (economic) benefit” to the people of Wisconsin while posing significant risk to the environment.
“There’s been 800 spills since 1999 in Enbridge’s pipes,” he told the Daily Register on Monday. “It’s something that happens a lot.
“For the next 50 or 60 years, Wisconsinites will have to live with the risk of those oil pipes breaking.”
Enbridge Energy Partners controls land running 80 feet wide for 300 miles across the length of Wisconsin, according to the website 80feetisenough.org. Beneath that land are three pipelines carrying more than 2 million barrels of oil a day and another pipeline carrying diluent pumped northward to extract oil from Canada’s tar sands.
And now “they want more,” Stoddard warns. Stoddard and other Wisconsin landowners on Friday will present their case to the Wisconsin Counties Association (WCA) Agriculture, Environment and Land Use Steering Committee. The meeting will be held at 10 a.m. in Wisconsin Rapids at Hotel Mead and Conference Center, 451 East Grand Ave.
Columbia County Supervisor Kevin Kessler is a member of that committee and will be in attendance. “I’m very concerned, and many others are, too,” Kessler said, noting Enbridge has yet to make expansion efforts official. Supervisor Nancy Long, while not a member of WCA’s committee, will also attend Friday’s meeting.
As residents gear up to oppose that potential expansion in Wisconsin, President Donald Trump moved swiftly to advance the controversial Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines elsewhere. On Tuesday, he signed executive actions to aggressively overhaul America’s energy policy and invited the Keystone builder, TransCanada, to resubmit its application to the State Department for a presidential permit to construct and operate the pipeline.
Enbridge built its three Wisconsin oil pipelines in 1968, later adding a fourth — Line 61, which traverses Columbia County — and is reportedly surveying for the possible installation of a “twin” to Line 61. Enbridge has a pumping station off Dumke Road near Portage.
“Enbridge is trying to sneak (expansion) through, calling it a change to their existing line. That’s (false),” Stoddard said. “They want more land. It’s a new pipeline.”
So far, Enbridge has not declared its intention to build the twin line.
“We have not received any information that, yes, they are proposing a pipeline and this is their timeline and this is what they are looking at — nothing like that,” Ben Callan, a water regulations and zoning specialist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources said in June. “All we’ve received is a letter in February 2014 that they intended to do surveying.”
The “ground work” for the expansion project, originally announced in October 2015, is finished, Enbridge spokeswoman Jennifer Smith said in June, though she said that the company has not yet decided whether it will move forward with construction of the Line 61 twin.
If Enbridge officially moves forward with a new pipeline project, the company will need DNR approval.
"If a decision were made to move forward with a new pipeline, the company would announce its plans to the public and provide landowners and other stakeholders with information about the project and opportunities for input," Smith stated in an email Wednesday. She added the "extensive regulatory process" involved would likely take many years to complete.
About six years ago workers came through Stoddard’s property within the 80-foot easement but took an extra 100 feet, calling it “temporary workspace,” Stoddard said. “So it’s more than what they want for the easement. It’s a lot more than that.”
When work is finished, Enbridge doesn’t have to restore anything back to normal, Stoddard said, as proven when workers cut down several of his 200-year-old oak trees. “They call it temporary. I call it permanent,” he said. “They destroyed my land.”
Stoddard’s wife, Darcy, said in addition to the wiping out of many trees, Enbridge drained a pond that left “fish flopping around in the dirt.”
“They were supposed to be here for three months, but they were here for at least six,” she said of the work crews. The family eventually planted several pine trees to obscure their view of the destruction.
At issue, Stoddard said, is Enbridge’s use of lobbyists who have convinced the state Legislature to change eminent domain law so that a foreign, for-profit company can “condemn more land.”
“I can’t even tell them no,” he said. When he tried to fight Enbridge — a company estimated to be worth $44 billion — Stoddard said he was threatened with an “$800,000-a-day lawsuit.”
‘A private entity’
Kessler said Stoddard and other area residents painted an “alarming” picture of the situation to the county’s Planning and Zoning Committee in September. “I think it’s something that needs to be further investigated,” Kessler said. “It sounds like there needs to be perhaps better restrictions on the use of eminent domain authority for private gain.
“This is not like an electric or gas utility or something for roads — this is something for the gain of a private entity. So I think we need to be very careful in using eminent domain for that purpose. It looks to me like the state statutes need to be strengthened in this regard.”
Kessler, vice chairman of Planning and Zoning, said he would like to see local ordinances strengthened in respect to oil pipelines and the committee is already working for such changes. “Present county ordinance does require conditional-use permit, but I think (adding) more detail about that is appropriate.”
WCA’s steering committee has its own lobbyists, Kessler said, so if there’s legislation introduced “this committee can take positions for or against it” and, just as importantly, can exchange information between counties. “It’s a complicated situation,” he said. The “safety” of oil pipelines is regulated by the federal government and the federal government alone, he added. The state also cannot regulate rates related to the pipeline.
Local power, then, exists solely in zoning, Kessler said.
Stoddard said stopping Enbridge from expanding begins with educating the public.
“This is tar sands oil and is so thick they have to mix it with stuff, and it actually sinks,” he said. “If we have a pipe break in a river or lake, that oil is just about impossible to clean up.” Stoddard referred to a big spill in the Kalamazoo River in Michigan in 2010 — “and they’re still cleaning it up” almost seven years later.
“The landowners don’t want to give them anymore,” Stoddard said.
The Kalamazoo River in 2014 was declared clean by both state and federal officials and fully re-opened to the public, Smith said, though the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported earlier this month that traces of the tar-like crude still exist on the riverbed.
Daily Register reporter Jonathan Stefonek and The Associated Press contributed to this report.