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Oil pipeline proposed through Cass townships

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Enbridge Energy, a Calgary, Alberta, based company, is proposing the construction of an oil pipeline through McKinley, Bull Moose, Pine River and Barclay townships in Cass County.

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The proposed line, called the Sandpiper, would stretch 610 miles from Beaver Lodge, N.D., to Superior, Wis. The proposed route of the buried pipeline follows already established highline corridors in many places and crosses Highway 371 near mile marker 67 north of Pine River. The line would be a minimum of 24 inches wide and could transport 225,000 barrels of petroleum products per day.

The proposed route crosses mostly pasture land and forest land and follows current easements held by power companies with high lines, though it does cross under the Pine River north of Norway Lake.

Lorraine Little, senior manager of U.S. Public Affairs with Enbridge, said the project timeline involves contacting and notifying landowners in 2013 and 2014 as well as filing proper permits and refining the route. The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission must approve the route before any work can be done.

If approved, construction could start in late 2014 and be complete in early 2016.

Little said 2,400 landowners along the route (more than 95 percent across three states) agreed to allow surveyors on their property. Contract negotiations have not begun.

Pine River Township residents Jim Coffland, Bruce Eveland, Duane Eveland and Cory Borman are just a few local property owners along the proposed route.

“It doesn’t bother me. Whatever works out best for our community,” said Coffland. “I talked to them not too long ago. At that time it wasn’t too sure or anything like that. They’ve been corresponding but it hasn’t been too serious. They told me it would be 2016 before the oil would start flowing through.”

“If they get the gas cheaper, I’m more than glad to,” said Bruce Eveland.

“It’s fine with me if it will help us get more oil,” said Duane Eveland. “I don’t think it’s going to bother me any.”

Borman would prefer if the Sandpiper wasn’t necessary, but he doesn’t oppose the pipeline because everyone depends on petroleum product in their daily lives.

Area residents contacted hope the pipeline would contribute to lower fuel prices and increased jobs in the area during construction and upkeep of the pipe.

“I think it’s progress,” Coffland said. “We have to accept that it’s something they are going to do, something they have to do and we’ll do it.”

At a recent presentation at Happy Dancing Turtle, Marty Cobenais of the Red Lake Band of Ojibwe, member of the Northstar Chapter of the Sierra Club and recently a member of the Indigenous Environmental Network of Bemidji, talked to approximately 15 residents about the environmental impact of pipelines constructed and operated by Enbridge. Cobenais shared a list of Enbridge-owned pipelines that he said have ruptured.

One example of an Enbridge Pipeline leak is the 2010 tar sands spill into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River. This resulted in a leak of 800,000 gallons of tar sands, according to an article by National Public Radio.

In spite of this, Little said Enbridge has a safety record better than 99.99 percent.

Cobenais contended pipelines like the Sandpiper would not decrease fuel costs. He said local refineries are already at capacity and wouldn’t likely be able to accommodate crude from the Sandpiper, suggesting that the crude would be sold on the world market, which would not likely reduce fuel costs.

Little disagreed, saying there isn’t enough oil in America’s existing pipelines to meet demands from U.S. refineries, and Enbridge does not “own, produce, refine or sell oil on the world market.”

Construction of the pipeline would be beneficial to the area by creating temporary jobs for workers from the area assisting in design, surveying, environmental assessment, project planning and welding, as well as equipment operators and truck drivers.

Cobenais said only about 10 percent of workers on the Alberta Clipper and Keystone pipelines were recruited locally and expected the same for the Sandpiper. Little said that number would be more like 50 percent recruited from local union halls.

Before construction of the pipeline can take place, Enbridge must receive approval from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (MNPUC) in the form of a certificate of need and a route and site permit. Enbridge filed for a certificate of need Nov. 8. Dan Wolf, MNPUC assistant executive secretary, said Enbridge’s application will be examined over the course of the next year.

Items the MNPUC considers include: whether the project is necessary, where the pipe would run and under what terms and specifications, whether the project has approval of local government and support of local landowners, and whether the project would pose a threat to the environment.

As part of the permit process, Enbridge met with Cass County Board committee members Sept. 9. Enbridge gave a presentation at the annual Cass County Association of Townships meeting Oct. 3. The county board took the position Sept. 17 that it was not the board’s place to endorse or oppose any route proposed by a private utility company. The board directed concerned citizens to make their concerns known to the MNPUC.

Along the route, Smoky Hollow Township in Cass County agreed Sept. 17 to “respectfully decline endorsing any pipeline route and report the same to Carlton County and Enbridge Energy, LLC.”

The Cass County Board noted that landowners who do not want so sell easements to Enbridge could have their property taken through condemnation or eminent domain.

The progress of the MNPUC applications can be followed at www.puc.state.mn.us. The docket numbers are 13-473 for the certificate of need and 13-474 for the route and site permit.

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