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Activists walk length of Wisconsin to protest oil pipeline expansion

Millions of dollars worth of oil flow through Columbia County via pipeline every day en route to Pontiac, Illinois.

A group of protesters is walking the length of the pipeline north through the state, protesting the expansion of Line 61 and its planned “evil twin.”

“Apparently Enbridge has been calling people to warn them about me, ‘hey, look out for an Indian guy walking around with a stick’” said Bill Greendeer, of the Ho-Chunk Nation, originally from the Tomah area. “I guess they’re worried about me.”

A small group of environmental activists are hiking from the Illinois border to Superior for “33 Days on Twin #66,” referring to the twin line to Enbridge Energy’s Line 61, also called Line 66 at times, having set out on June 8 and planning to arrive July 10.

On Thursday night they were making camp at the home of Paula Cooper outside Wyocena. Cooper just found out about the walk online, but is very familiar with Enbridge.

“I’ve been fighting them for 25 years,” Cooper said. “They were supposed to be here six months and two years later they’re still doing work here.”

Cooper described not only open-ended work schedules, but generally suspicious situations, like finding people on her property at 2 a.m., then going out to ask what they were doing, to be told it was surveying.

Her home happens to be adjacent to a clearing with tall grass and wildflowers that belies a structure of historic proportions.

Line 61, which includes a pumping station north of Portage, off Dumke Road, is planned to reach a daily volume of 1.2 million barrels per day of tar sand oil from Canada, 30 percent more than the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline. TransCanada is pursuing a lawsuit in federal court following President Barack Obama’s denial in November of a permit for company’s development of the line.

During a protest against a proposed taconite mine in northern Wisconsin, retired pipefitter John Endrizzi learned about the Enbridge pipeline and that it ran 3 miles from his house, south of Nekoosa in Adams County.

Over time speaking and lobbying, calling for re-visiting of environmental impact studies, Endrizzi met Juliee de la Terre, then her partner Greendeer, and three of de la Terre’s siblings, and together, they put together the walk to bring attention to the Enbridge line.

“In May 2015 there was a report to investors in which they referred to a “Line 61 twin,” and I don’t know where the name ‘Line 66’ came from, but it is something people have been calling it for a while,” said Mary Beth Elliot, a former University of Wisconsin professor specializing in pharmacology, with the environmental group 350 Madison, the local chapter of the international 350.org.

“The one that is currently up and running, was approved for 400,000 barrels per day, but they want to ramp it up to 1.2 million barrels per day and I have not been able find another pipeline in the world as big — there’s one in Russia that might be bigger, but I don’t know if it is operating,” she said.

Enbridge does have plans for increasing daily shipment up to 1.2 million barrels per day, however the there is no official confirmation of plans to put in another pipeline.

“In the corridor going through Columbia County we have four pipelines, one of which is Line 61 and most recently we have upgraded Line 61 and we are on the tail-end of the project,” said Enbridge spokeswoman Jennifer Smith referring to the targeted 1.2 million barrels. “In addition to that, we have been exploring the potential for a new pipeline. We notified landowners along the corridor and worked with them to survey along the corridor in 2014 and 2015. At this point Enbridge has not made the decision to move forward with a new pipeline. The ground work is complete and we have gathered the data, but a decision of whether to build a new pipeline has not been made.”

“We’ve asked, but Enbridge will not say which side the easement will go on and will not say how much they will take. And there’s lots of rumors flying around,” said Mark Borchardt, who lives near the line in Marshfield and co-founded the property-owners organization “80 Feet is Enough.”

“When they did the survey on my property, it was absolutely stunning. My wife and I couldn’t believe how much they were going to take and that’s when we founded ‘80 Feet is Enough.’”

The survey, Borchardt, said involved an area along the line on the order of 300 feet, which would eliminate a wooded area on his property, and encroach even further on homes further up and down the line.

“This was in the Wall Street Journal and Forbes Magazine, and you don’t make an announcement to investors unless they’re going to do it,” said Borchardt. “And then they also spent the money to do the surveying, and they also took the trouble to change the eminent domain law.”

Drafting files from the 2015 Wisconsin State Budget showed that staff for Assembly Speaker Robin Vos conferred with Enbridge attorneys to revise “outdated language,” allowing eminent domain to apply to a private company, which was then adopted as part of the budget.

Columbia County does not collect any property taxes on the parcels occupied by Enbridge along Line 61. In lieu of property taxes, Enbridge, as a utility company, pays an ad valorem tax, “utility payment.” This is paid directly to the state, which is then bundled with other ad valorem income and disbursed to applicable counties.

In 2015 Columbia County received $2,370,621.21 in “shared revenue” according to documents from the Department of Revenue. However, the breakdown of that figure is not readily available. The state statutes regarding taxpayer confidentiality cover per-utility figures, which are available upon request, but according to Department of Revenue Communications Director Stephanie Marquis, the figure provided represents “liability” and does not show what an individual company paid or had deducted.

Enbridge is much more open regarding non-tax investment in counties and municipalities, as outlined in its corporate social responsibility report.

“We have a Safe Community Program where we provide grants to help the emergency responders to get additional training or equipment that will help them with their needs,” said Smith. “And we have our technicians go out and meet to promote that program and to deliver those checks.”

“They fund soccer teams and softball teams, they gave a truck to Waterloo, they do things like give money to fire departments and so forth, but in my mind, you’re talking pennies versus millions,” said Elliot. “And I don’t blame any police department or fire department for accepting something, because money is so tight, so how can you fault somebody for taking an offer.”

If or when Enbridge submits permit applications for additional development, there are varied perspectives on the possibility for outside opinions affecting that process.

“Once that determination is made that Enbridge would like to build another pipeline, there would be a number of ample opportunities for notification and public participation,” said Smith. “As I’m sure those regulating permitting processes would have public comment periods and things, so we anticipate from time of announcement to actual construction could be two to four years, and that’s just an estimate.”

“I don’t know if there is any hope for local governments or county governments,” said Borchardt. “The state government will just work around it — that’s what happened in Dane County.”

Dane County fought Enbridge on accident liability and in April 2015 required the company to have accident cleanup insurance before obtaining a conditional use permit. The state budget later included a provision stating that companies like Enbridge could not be required to carry such insurance.

Enbridge is not arguing in court to have any references to environmental impact insurance removed from their contract with the county, though the clause is already voided by state law.

As a bonfire crackled and a jam band covered Stevie Ray Vaughn, Greendeer explained how he was set on this mission by a sand mine started dropping waste on his family’s land.

“Nobody goes there to pray anymore,” Greendeer said. “That’s why I’m walking, it isn’t about me. I want there to be something for my grandchildren’s children.”

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