Today, we’ve been dissecting the letter Enbridge published– well, the ad they paid for– in yesterday’s Detroit Free Press. In our last post, we focused on just one sentence, the (perhaps purposefully) opaque one where Vice President for Major Projects Execution Mark Sitek says, “There has been much discussion involving information from various sources that are not necessarily familiar with the pipeline industry or our projects, so over the next four weeks we will use space in this newspaper to share project updates and to address some of these questions.”
Now let’s finish that paragraph. Here it is in full:
There has been much discussion involving information from various sources that are not necessarily familiar with the pipeline industry or our projects, so over the next four weeks we will use space in this newspaper to share project updates and to address some of these questions. We will expand on the purpose of the projects and what community members can expect from us. We will present our process for reaching right-of-way agreements with landowners. We will also provide insight into the regulatory process and requirements guiding the projects’ development.
So Sitek says that Enbridge will now–at this very late stage in the game, after they’ve reached agreements (many of them unhappily) or gone to court with most landowners in phase one and after they have begun construction– provide the public with some information. This causes us to wonder: who, exactly, is the audience for this letter? After all, those of us on the pipeline route, the people who have been dealing with Enbridge for as long as 8 months, don’t need to be told “what community members can expect from” Enbridge. We certainly don’t need to be told about their “process for reaching right-of-way agreements.” In fact, if anything, we suspect that WE are the ones who could teach Mark Sitek some things about those two subjects. However, we have our suspicions that he might not want to be so educated.
Let us explain that last point with a quick semi-personal anecdote: Long time readers of this blog may recall that way back in July, on our way to vacation, we found ourselves driving through downtown Superior, Wisconsin. On the spur of the moment, we decided to make an impromptu visit to Enbridge headquarters in the hopes of giving them a bit of feedback on their treatment of landowners in Michigan. We were able to speak to an assistant there, who, in fairness, was patient and seemed receptive. And because we pride ourselves on being fair and reasonable, we approached that conversation with the assumption– and at the time, we sincerely believed it– that it is entirely possible that the people in the corporate offices in Superior (and elsewhere) really are unaware of what happens “in the trenches,” that they just don’t always know what ROW agents say to landowners, and that in the absence of negative feedback they have no reason to think that landowners who have settled are unhappy, defeated, and feel abused. We patiently and civilly explained all of this. She assured us that our concerns would be addressed.
Yet there was no follow up– and this began to change our mind. We began to think that maybe they DO know about shabby treatment of landowners, that they do know about their ROW agents tactics, that they do know that people settle even though they feel they’ve been treated unfairly; they’d just rather not confront the unpleasant facts. And this impression of ours has only been confirmed by what’s happened since that attempt of ours at opening up some genuine dialogue: we tried to follow up, since Enbridge did not. We contacted the person we sought in the first place: Lands and Right-of-Way Project Manager Doug Aller. After repeated attempts, Aller finally responded with an email, promising a phone call. But days and weeks passed and no call. Since that time, we have sent three more email reminders to him. Still no call. We’ve even reminded him of Enbridge’s stated corporate values of “taking the time to understand the perspective of others” and “follow[ing] through on commitments.” But still no call. We can only assume that this means he just doesn’t want to hear it.
Which brings us back to Mark Sitek. We suspect he doesn’t want to hear it either. Like others at Enbridge, rather than listening, he’d prefer to do the talking. That’s why we’re seeing ads, rather than, say, public forums.
The thing is, though, that we could save Enbridge all the trouble (and expense) of those splashy ads. This blog has already spent a great deal of time describing what community members can expect from Enbridge, their process for reaching agreements with landowners, and insight into the regulatory process and other requirements (requirements they have tried to flout at every turn!). You don’t really need Enbridge for all of that. Indeed, we’ll even go so far as to say that they may not be the best possible source for that information.
Up Next: PR campaigns