We’ve been doing a little math.
You see, we were more than a little flummoxed by yesterday’s article in the Lansing State Journal— the one where “Enbridge executives address local homeowner opposition.” There’s a lot that’s baffling about the article: Why are Enbridge executives talking to the paper’s editorial board? Why all of a sudden does Tom Hodge appear to be taking the role of spokesperson? Why did Stephen Wuori emerge out of nowhere? Why doesn’t he have anything to say in the article? And most baffling of all, as our friend Donna Taylor has pointed out, why aren’t these two talking to directly to landowners themselves instead of to a newspaper in Lansing? Wouldn’t that be a more appropriate way to “address” our concerns?
But of course, they aren’t really addressing our concerns. Instead, they are addressing what they would prefer to describe as “opposition”– taking a page out of Larry Springer’s book and pretending (or insinuating) that all of us who are speaking out “oppose” the project, even though, as we’ve said over and over and over, we do not oppose the project. We simply object to the ways Enbridge has conducted itself throughout the project, to the way it has flouted local and state ordinances and laws, to the way it has treated landowners.
So how do these execs “address” this “opposition”? Well, here is Project Manager Thomas Hodge, who we thought was a straight shooter (oh, how naive we were back in September!):
Thomas Hodge, the head of Line 6B replacement project, said he’s never seen the kind of organized homeowner resistance that the company has faced here in Michigan, likely because of simmering distrust over 2010 spill.
“I’ve been in the pipeline business for close to 30 years,” Hodge said. “I’ve never seen the scrutiny, the level of concern or the organized opposition as we’ve faced in getting this pipeline replaced.”
Now, it is almost certainly true that much of the scrutiny this project has received is attributable to “simmering distrust” over Marshall, though it’s not clear whether Hodge recognizes or would concede that such distrust is entirely unsurprising, totally warranted, and completely reasonable. But what is equally true is that that is only one of many reasons why this project has received such scrutiny and caused such a high level of concern. This blog has been devoted to explaining the myriad reasons why landowners are– and should be– deeply concerned, why we continue to have trouble trusting Enbridge.
A ramble through our archives will provide plenty of specific examples of those reason. For now, we’ll give just one. It’s one we’ve mentioned over and over and over. More than two months ago, Thomas Hodge looked Supervisor Kathy Thurman and the other Brandon trustees right in the eyes and promised, like a good neighbor, to get them answers to a handful of perfectly reasonable questions. To date, he has still not gotten them answers. Does that sort of action foster trust? neighborliness? respect? honest communication?
Which gets us closer to the math. We got pretty worked up when we read this:
Most homeowners agreed to the company’s compensation offers for the land or for restoration of damaged property, but more than 70 in Ingham and Livingston counties refused for various reasons. Enbridge took those homeowners to court through a process called condemnation to force them to give up their land.
Hodge said some homeowners were never going to be happy with the company’s offer, no matter what Enbridge did.
“We will do everything we can to work with individual homeowners, as long as they’ll talk to us and let us on the property to tell them what work space we need,” he said.
This is the sort of thing we’ve heard from Enbridge reps before. One of their favorite tactics is to pretend that anyone who expresses any sort of concern is unreasonable, “a special interest group,” someone who is “never going to be happy” After all, those sorts of people are much easier to dismiss. And further, those folks are just a fringe element, unlike “most homeowners” who aren’t unreasonable troublemakers. (And we have to say, it is deeply disappointing to hear Tom Hodge playing this card.)
Even worse, Hodge seems to think– or so he would have readers of the Lansing State Journal believe– that there’s a bunch of landowners out there who are simply refusing to allow Enbridge to come and talk with them. Maybe he even really believes this. Whatever the case, here is something we believe: we believe that Thomas Hodge doesn’t have the faintest idea of what goes on in private negotiations between landowners and ROW agents. If he did– and if he were willing to take landowners seriously, rather than dismissing them, and if he were willing to take a cold, sober look at those agents’ practices and tactics– he might well experience a genuine awakening. He might come away with a very different picture of the relations his company cultivates with landowners.
That picture comes into focus with a little math. Here’s what we did: we went to the MPSC and found the list of homeowners to whom Enbridge sent the original MPSC “Notice of Hearing” on phase one. This is the list of potentially affected landowners along the pipeline route. We then counted up the number of those landowners who live in Livingston and Ingham counties. That total, according to our search, is 317. Of those 317, according to the newspaper article, 70 landowners were taken to condemnation by Enbridge. That’s 22 percent of landowners– a very high number in our view. That percentage is even higher when you consider that a significant number of the homeowners on the list aren’t actually affected at all by the project– there’s no easement of workspace on their property; they’re just close by (like our next-door neighbors). So let’s say, conservatively, that that’s 10 percent of the list. That gets us to 25 percent of landowners who were taken to condemnation. So is Tom Hodge saying that a full one-quarter of the people on the pipeline route in Livingston and Ingham counties are just unreasonable, are people who will never be happy with Enbridge no matter what? Is that really his view of the good people of the state of Michigan?
And what happens if we add to this number all of the people (like ourselves) who are mightily displeased by the way Enbridge has treated them personally and conducted itself publicly? People who reached agreements but who are nevertheless unhappy. How high would the percentage of dissatisfied landowners then be? Enbridge’s portrait of “most” landowners might well begin to look very different.