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A group of environmental advocates and property owners are seeking to stop an energy company’s attempt to reroute an oil pipeline in northern Wisconsin.
The pipeline is owned by Endbridge, a Canadian energy company. According to the company’s website, the line was built in 1953 and transports as much as 540,000 barrels of oil a day.
Last year, the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa sued Enbridge to remove the pipeline that runs through their land. Mike Wiggins Jr., the chief executive of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, says Enbridge has no right to be on their land after the tribe refused to renew the company’s lease in 2012.
“Our tribal council rejected the renewal of the expired lease, thereby sending Enbridge into a situation where the expired lease called for the decommissioning and removal of the line,” said Wiggins. “Part of Enbridge’s response has been to try to reroute their line outside the boundaries of the reservation but still inside the watershed and hydrological connectivity of our tribal homeland.”
Enbridge now has to reroute the pipeline, but the new route would cut through private land, and Enbridge is asking the state’s Public Service Commission to allow that to happen. According to Patricia Hammel, a lawyer who argued against Enbridge in a previous case, that presents its own problems.
“In order to do that, they’re going to have to cross some private property and they’ll try to get landowners to agree to give them easements or sell them property. If they’re not successful this is a procedure they can use to force a private owner to accept their project,” said Hammel.
According to Brian Jorde, an attorney for landowners who live near the proposed route, allowing this project to go through would mean giving private property to Enbridge.
“Enbridge proposes that it takes my clients’, your neighbors’ lands and property for their benefit so they can increase their executive compensation and satisfy their shareholders,” said Jorde. “My clients are members of the public, and it is not in their public interest nor in the public interest of any other citizen in Wisconsin for this type of trampling of their constitutional rights to move forward.”
Jorde says the company would use a process called eminent domain to do this. That’s the process of taking private property from landowners. But eminent domain comes with some caveats: it must be for public use, and landowners must be compensated for their land.
While Enbridge is a private company, a 2005 supreme court case found that economic development counts as “public use,” which could give the state grounds to allow Enbridge to take private property.
But property owners are not the only concerned parties. The nonprofit advocacy group, Midwest Environmental Advocates, is also filing to prevent the company from building the new line. Tony Gibart is the executive director of Midwest Environmental Advocates. He says that the groups they are representing believe that the project wouldn’t be worth the downsides.
“The groups that my organization represents-Midwest Environmental Advocates-are five separate environmental and advocacy groups who believe that the harm that line 5 poses to the climate, to the water, to the ecology of northern Wisconsin, and to the great lakes far outweighs any benefits that Enbridge could promise,” said Gibart.
Meanwhile, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has just begun an overview of the project. According to Ben Callan, a program manager for energy project permitting at the DNR, the agency will study the project and draft an environmental impact statement. But that comes later. Right now, he says, they’re just checking over the paper.
“The department has received the applications for the waterway and wetland regulatory authority that requires us to make a determination regarding whether or not that application is complete,” said Callan. “We are very near to making that completeness determination. And then, once we’ve determined that the application is complete, we would reach out to the public, set up a public information hearing to solicit comments on that application and the scope of the EIS.”
Callan says he believes the public hearing will take place in June.