Proposed pipeline alignment hits sore spot with some county residentsCarlton County residents have been quick to react to one of the proposed alignments for Enbridge Energy’s 610-mile, $2.5 billion Sandpiper pipeline, which would run from Beaver Lodge in northwestern North Dakota’s Bakken oil field to Superior.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
Carlton County residents have been quick to react to one of the proposed alignments for Enbridge Energy’s 610-mile, $2.5 billion Sandpiper pipeline, which would run from Beaver Lodge in northwestern North Dakota’s Bakken oil field to Superior.
County Land Commissioner Greg Bernu told commissioners at their adjourned session on Monday that he and land commissioners from Aitkin and Cass counties met with upper level Enbridge officials on July 22 to propose the energy giant consider aligning the new pipeline along Carlton County’s Soo Line Trail instead of through property owned by private landowners, as is currently on the drawing board.
Bernu said during his meeting with the Enbridge officials, he pointed out that the Soo Line is already being used as a utility corridor in addition to its primary use as an ATV/snowmobile trail.
“The Soo Line, after its entry into Wisconsin, directly accesses the Enbridge facility in Superior,” explained Bernu.
He added that the major benefit, in the opinion of the three land commissioners, is there would be a far smaller pool of landowners to deal with in planning and constructing the pipeline route if the Soo Line plan was adopted. In addition to the three counties, other landowners along the Soo Line Trail include the U.S. Forest Service and, to a lesser extent, Beltrami County, which owns the section where the trail leaves Clearwater County. The state of Wisconsin owns the Soo Line from the Minnesota/Wisconsin border into Superior.
Bernu emphasized that while there has been no formal action from the respective county boards to endorse the proposal, he and the other land commissioners hope that each board would agree to support routing the Sandpiper on the Soo Line.
Furthermore, Bernu told commissioners there would only be minimal wetlands impact along the Soo Line and there would be plenty of staging room along the trail for construction of the line, since it already follows a 100-foot corridor.
Bernu said Enbridge’s initial reaction to the proposal was that while the company “didn’t necessarily rule out” the idea of utilizing the Soo Line Trail, they believed it would be a more expensive alternative.
“One of the major rationales for not aligning along the Soo Line is that the trail does not provide a straight shot from Cass County into Superior and additional construction costs would escalate,” explained Bernu after the meeting. “The other major rationale was that the proposed pipeline route was more accessible from county/state roads than the Soo Line for routine inspections, etc.”
By way of background, Bernu explained that contrary to what many anticipated, Enbridge’s proposed route for the Sandpiper pipeline won’t necessarily run along the same course as the existing route, which already houses six Enbridge lines.
Instead, much of the proposed corridor would be along other utility lines. The balance would cross the property of private landowners — landowners such as Wrenshall resident Janaki Fisher-Merritt who said he was startled in recent weeks to get letters from Enbridge asking to survey his family’s Carlton County farm for the possible new oil pipeline route and said it came as “a complete surprise.” Several of his neighbors and adjoining landowners echoed Fisher-Merritt’s dismay.
Diane Felde-Finke, co-owner of Finke’s Berry Farm in rural Carlton, was in attendance at Monday’s board meeting. She told commissioners that she and a group of 8-10 families, including the Fisher-Merritts, have begun meeting as the Carlton County Land Stewards to discuss the Enbridge proposal, educate themselves and do some planning.
Felde-Finke said the originally proposed route for the pipeline ran right through their berry farm but has since been re-routed to a half mile further south. She shares the landowners’ dilemma, however.
“The impact on various landowners varies,” she said, “but it stands to affect all of us in the county. We are concerned about the pipeline’s impact on our locally grown foods and on our valuable watersheds. We want to learn more about viable alternatives — including not doing it at all.”
Felde-Finke acknowledged that the proposed route for the Sandpiper pipeline is subject to change anytime up until Enbridge files a certificate of need with the Public Utilities Commission.
County Coordinator Dennis Genereau stated there should be some means of gathering more input on the proposal, and Board Chair Bob Olean suggested there be a round-robin dialogue at the next meeting of the Carlton County Committee of the Whole, slated for Tuesday, Sept. 3.
“I have a feeling this [pipeline proposal] is going to be a big issue within this county,” said Olean.
The Sandpiper project is still in the planning stages and must clear regulatory agencies in Minnesota and North Dakota and pass an environmental review with state and federal natural resource agencies. Enbridge hopes to go the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission with an official plan later this year, with construction starting in late 2014 and oil running through the all-new pipeline by 2016.