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Local View: Enbridge's proposed pipeline could hurt Carlton County farms

My family's farm is celebrating its 20th season of providing weekly boxes of fresh organic produce to local families. Food, community and responsible stewardship have been the focus of the past two decades on the Food Farm, and we are thrilled to be joined by new farmers whose produce graces dinner tables each night in the Duluth area.

People are discovering that knowing your farmer not only results in better food but revitalizes our farming communities and supports an ethic of stewardship. Consumers become invested in the health of the land that grows their dinner, and farmers feel a responsibility to grow the healthiest produce because it goes to people, not just a system.

It's no accident the farms providing the majority of local produce for the Duluth area are in Carlton County. This area is blessed with prime farm land that is the most productive in the region -- and we need all of these farm acres to satisfy the growing demand from restaurants, institutions and families.

What farmers do on a daily basis is the slow and steady work of investing in the health of our land. Northern Minnesota does not have the deep, rich topsoil that much of the state enjoys, so we appreciate the value of good soil.

The proposed Enbridge Sandpiper crude oil pipeline would cut across hundreds of acres in our county, decreasing the productivity of forage and row crops, destroying woodlots and maple-sugar operations, and making production of sensitive fruit and vegetable crops impossible ("Proposal for Enbridge's Sandpiper line route surprises landowners," Aug. 18).

We learned our land could be affected by this project only recently, and the process seems to be moving very quickly. The project is technically in early stages, but Enbridge has said it plans to file a Certificate of Need with the Public Utilities Commission as soon as this month. I understand that once the route is sent to the commission it is very difficult for landowners to make significant changes without costly legal representation.

Unfortunately, there seems to be no avenue for public comment on the project at this stage. My neighbors and I have requested to meet with Enbridge to make our concerns clear. Unfortunately, the company's officials will not meet with groups of landowners or discuss our concerns comprehensively. They instead seem to prefer to single us out and only discuss our small pieces of land, not the route as a whole.

Lacking what we would consider effective official avenues to address the issues directly with the company, we have formed a group called the Carlton County Land Stewards to publicize our concerns. Enbridge has been too cavalier regarding the unique importance of the farmland and forests that provide food and protect water quality in the Duluth area.

The potential impact on our individual farms varies from disheartening to devastating, yet our overall concern is the tragic effect on the growing local-foods economy and the health of Lake Superior and its tributaries.

Personally, I feel that the six crude oil pipelines that already run through our county should be enough, and it would be better for all communities to be more deliberate in developing new oil fields. The chaos and crime in boomtowns like Williston, N.D., stand in sharp contrast to the steady, responsible investment taking place in our farming communities of Wrenshall, Carlton, Barnum and elsewhere.

However, if this pipeline must happen, Enbridge could take care not to disrupt what we so carefully have built by following existing pipeline corridors or abandoned railway lines that run just a few miles from my family's farm. Many of our township supervisors, county commissioners and members of our Soil and Water Conservation District agree.

We sincerely hope Enbridge will listen to the advice of this community.

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