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Parade on the Pipeline near Rio reminds residents of oil risks
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Parade on the Pipeline near Rio reminds residents of oil risks


Charlie Biddle holds a model showing the size of the pipeline carrying millions of gallons of oil through the ground on his property between Rio and Doylestown during a protest parade on Saturday afternoon.

RIO—In the midst of fair season, one parade was shorter than usual and with a few devoted supporters, but with a clear message from start to finish.

Members of the Sierra Club and Wisconsin Safe Energy Alliance (WiSE) came together on Saturday to celebrate a Party for the Planet capped with a Parade on the Pipeline.

“This weekend there was a statewide day of action to stand back and appreciate the places that are at risk from the pipeline,” said Elizabeth Ward, Conservation Programs Coordinator for the John Muir Chapter of the Sierra Club. “In Rio it is a lot of agricultural land that is threatened, and families and communities, so they decided to pull together a picnic and just a fun family event.”

The Enbridge Line 61 pipeline carries oil from Superior to the company’s Flanagan Terminal near Pontiac, Illinois. The line, which is in the last stages of ramping up to full speed, carries 1.2 million barrels of crude oil per day across the state, including through Marquette and Columbia counties, with one pump station north of Portage on Dumke Road.

Activists have opposed an as-yet-hypothetical “evil twin” which would run parallel to Line 61, bringing together a diverse coalition of those making a point to fight for water quality, against climate change and those in opposition to eminent domain. One group organized by landowners along the path of the line chose the self-explanatory name of 80 Feet is Enough, referring to the 80-foot wide strip of land used by Enbridge.

“Anecdotally, there is substantial indication that 200 feet is what they are talking about internally. We know this from pipeline workers,” said George Ferriter, a former president and current trustee with the village of Doylestown. Enbridge staff have been in the area, he explained, surveying and posting stakes along the path.

“It makes sense, because if they’re going to plan long-range, the additional 200 feet would allow them to abandon lines in place and replace all these lines eventually,“ said Ferriter.

At the picnic, in an Otsego field, just between Rio and Doylestown, the owner of the property, Charlie Biddle, had mowed stripes coming down a hill leading to a camp, marking the 80 feet of the original easement and the 200 feet that is anticipated as a next step.

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Along with enjoying snacks and ice cream, the group shared advice, experience and literature on the subject.

Biddle had brought his tractor out to the site with a hay wagon to give a ride to the top of the hill where Enbridge had replaced the soil over the pipeline after repair, in what he described as one of the roughest places.

“And that’s just a small problem of the problems we have with it,” said Biddle. “My thinking is that Line 61 was put in in ’68, so that’s over 40 years old. They’ll just abandon it, because there is nothing in the contract that says they have to take it out. They only have to repair it if it leaks.”

At 1 p.m. the group of a dozen or so activists organized for their parade, as Phyllis Hasbrouck pulled out a long, painted blue tarp symbolizing a river with holes cut in the middle. Volunteers poked their heads through the holes, putting on intricately painted cardboard hats that looked like a beaver, a cat fish, a painted turtle, a song bird, and a loon.

Another six participants took the corners so the river kept flowing, but wasn’t carried away by the building winds. The river flowed uphill, followed by Biddle with his tractor and wagon of supporters.

After about 100 yards, they stopped at the top of the hill where Ferriter came out of the river to point out the path of the oil, the returning path of the diluents, and on the other side of the highway, the small church and forest of tall dark pines that would be in the way of any expansion of the pipeline.

During an interview in Madison in April, Enbridge’s Trent Wetmore, transitioning into the position of director of Superior Region operations, said that concerns of an “evil twin” installation were unfounded, in part because of changes in market conditions.

The company had done surveying in 2014 and 2015, but he pointed to the cancellation of the Sandpiper Project to bring oil from North Dakota to Superior. During the interview Wetmore emphasized Enbridge as an energy company as opposed to being an oil company, highlighting pivots in investment to renewable energy.

“Although that’s what they’ve been saying, we don’t really trust it unless they cancel the Line 3 project, then it is unlikely that there will not eventually be a plan build a pipeline this way,” said Ward. “And in the meantime, the groups are saying there are certain things for this to happen that shouldn’t happen, like allowing eminent domain for a pipeline.”

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