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Enbridge, county come to agreement on pipeline proposal

It seems that Carlton County, Enbridge, and the Carlton County Land Stewards have come to something of a truce -- at least for now.

At the regular session of the Carlton County Board on Tuesday, County Coordinator Dennis Genereau informed commissioners that Enbridge officials met last week with Board Chair Bob Olean. At that time, Olean made it clear that the county's preferred routing for Enbridge's proposed Sandpiper Pipeline is along existing utility corridors in Carlton County rather than across private lands as originally proposed by the utility giant.

"It seems to me that it's the best for everyone concerned to follow an existing corridor," said Olean.

Under time constraints to file a route proposal and application for its certificate of need, Enbridge submitted a proposal to the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) last Wednesday that included both the existing pipeline corridor as well as the route previously objected to by landowners in the county who didn't want the pipeline to cross private lands, wetlands and forests. Talks continued with the county, however, as well as with the Carlton County Land Stewards group and State Representative Mike Sundin of Esko, all of whom urged Enbridge to reconsider the latter proposal.

Now, Enbridge is saying it is willing to revisit the idea of routing the pipeline along as many of the existing utility corridors as possible and will submit a supplemental plan to that effect with the PUC. 

"I think there's a route on the table now that takes advantage of the existing utility corridors to the extent practical," stated Enbridge public affairs spokeswoman Christine Davis. "We've taken to heart all the suggestions and conversations that have been shared with us by a variety of people."

The new route would take the Sandpiper line along the originally proposed route as far as I-35 in the vicinity of Mahtowa, where it would then deviate northeasterly through the eastern part of the county, following existing utility corridors as much as possible.

And though the newly favored route is a significant improvement over the previously proposed route, there are still some landowners will likely be impacted. 

"As a next step, we will complete a construction and environmental assessment and contact and work with newly identified landowners impacted by this route," stated Jim Crawford, project supervisor for the Sandpiper Pipeline Project, indicating that work may take a few months.

Enbridge told Carlton County officials that, based on the result of that study, their intent is to notify any new potentially affected landowners via the PUC process and then prepare a supplemental filing to the PUC that will include the new route as the company's preferred route in Carlton County.

Crawford explained Enbridge will need to wait for the PUC to rule on the completeness of the company's current application before they can file the supplemental filing, indicating it will likely be in early 2014. 

The Carlton County Board then voted unanimously to send a letter to the PUC in support of Enbridge's amended proposal. 

"We are very, very happy with the way Enbridge has been willing to work with us," said Olean after the meeting. "When we first met with them back in October, they told us, 'If you don't like what we've proposed, work with us to come up with something better.' That's just what we did, and they listened to us."

At the conclusion of Tuesday's meeting, several members of the Land Stewards group stood to applaud the actions taken by the county board in helping to steer the Enbridge pipeline plan in a new direction.

"We're feeling pretty good about it," said Land Stewards spokesman Janaki Fisher-Merritt, whose sustainable farming operation originally stood to be impacted by the pipeline, along with many others. "Our properties are off the route now and we're very pleased about that. It's huge."

Fisher-Merritt said the Land Stewards are nonetheless planning to proceed with a planned series of letter writing sessions throughout the area in coming weeks to encourage residents to voice their thoughts and concerns about the pipeline. 

"The PUC needs to know about any potential damage that could result and what the reasoning is to support it," he said. "In the end, the PUC can do whatever it wants, but in the meantime the role of our group is to keep people informed. We aren't backing off this thing. We will stay vigilant."