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Guest Commentary: Pipeline forums were meant to inform, not incite

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I am writing to clarify points made in last week's guest commentary by Enbridge Energy's Lorraine Little about the Carlton County Land Stewards and our activities to engage the public about the proposed Sandpiper Pipeline.

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The recent "Democracy in Action" forums were organized by the UMD Geography Department and students from the MN Public Interest Research Group. The intent of these forums, and the focus of the presenters, was the impact of pipeline construction and maintenance on sustainable agriculture, the importance of democratic participation and, most importantly, to give the public clear information on how they can engage in the permitting process. There are many facets to this issue, and these events were never meant to be -- or promoted as -- a comprehensive discussion of the costs and benefits of pipelines. We purposefully stayed away from negative and controversial aspects of this issue, much of which has been well documented in this newspaper. Issues such as use of eminent domain to take private property, global warming, domestic energy production, other oil transportation options, the state of pipeline safety regulations and management, etc. are important and deserve their own forums, but were beyond the scope of these events.

As we have spoken with homeowners on the proposed Carlton County route, we have found that only 10 percent are in favor of having this pipeline cross their property, and most feel that crude oil pipelines have a different land use impact than other utilities. We understand that Enbridge will be changing their preferred route through the county, and we welcome improvements to the route. Our position all along has been that if a new pipeline is determined to be in the public interest, that it should follow Enbridge's existing route to the greatest extent possible, rather than cutting a new path through private land, as the initial route proposed. These forests, wetlands, and farmlands are valuable natural resources and ought to be protected from new crude oil pipeline construction. Based on the deal negotiated with the county, Enbridge now appears to agree with this concept, with the result being the forthcoming change to the preferred route for the eastern part of the county.

We need to make sure that the Public Utilities Commission, not just Enbridge, receives all of the input that the public has given over the past few months. The PUC is the ultimate authority in routing decisions, and comments must be entered into their official record during the appropriate comment periods for them to be considered. This PUC process is only just beginning, and our hope as a group is that we can help people understand what can be a confusing and drawn-out process so their input can be as effective as possible. In order to make this information available to those unable to attend these forums, we will be posting video of them in the coming days on our website, www.carltoncountylandstewards.org.

We have a number of Enbridge employees and contractors who are members of our farm, and my interactions with Enbridge staff working on this project have for the most part been quite cordial. Our group has never sought to demonize Enbridge employees or the company, rather we have done our best to inform the public about the project, its impacts, and the proper channels for the public to give their input. We would like to thank all of the concerned residents and the hundreds of other members of the public who have signed on to support us, and we hope that Enbridge takes our continued participation for what it is: a genuine, positive effort to ensure that this process leads to an outcome with the greatest possible public support.

Janaki Fisher-Merritt lives in Wrenshall where he and his family run Food Farm. He's also a member of the Carlton County Land Stewards.

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