Apparently, “fuming” Line 6B landowners made for the fifth biggest story of the year over at the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus. We will say this much: Christopher Behnan stayed on the story like few other local reporters (Susan Bromley and Eric Lawrence excepted). And the story made hardly any impression at all over at The Oakland Press, which is one of the great mysteries (and travesties) of the year in local journalism as far as we’re concerned.
But the Daily Press headline does have us wondering one thing: have we been fuming? Do we fume here at the Citizens’ blog? (Privately, it’s another matter altogether…)
As we mentioned a few days ago, construction crews were pretty busy on our property over the past few weeks. Specifically, they were pulling a string of pipe about 500 feet long beneath the road just to the east of us. Our property was the staging area for this activity. And if it weren’t for some potentially frustrating line list violations, we kind of enjoyed watching the fascinating process and learning about it from the workers, a generally nice bunch of people. (For the record, we’ve spoken with more than 20 workers on our property. So far, we’ve met only 3 who are from Michigan. We don’t know whether that’s a representative sample, but it does cause one to be a little skeptical of all of Enbridge’s claims of creating lots of local jobs.)
Anyway, we took photos and video of the process and thought some of you might be interested. So here’s a slideshow. Click on the first image to start it:
And then they start pulling. It took a few hours to pull it all.
And finally, you might be as shocked– shocked!– as we were at the remarks of some local emergency manners down there in Indiana, who appear to trust Enbridge implicitly. We can’t decide whether they’re naive, ignorant, overconfident or all of the above. What we can tell you is that they don’t inspire much confidence. And we can all but guarantee they haven’t read the NTSB report on Marshall. Get a load of this:
Emergency managers in three of the Indiana counties the pipeline will cross told InsideClimate News they are satisfied with the company’s emergency response plans for the current 6B and believe the new pipeline will be safe. Although they haven’t been provided response plans tailored specifically for the unique conditions a dilbit spill would create, they said they have universal procedures that can cover a multitude of scenarios.
“You have to ask yourself the question: ‘Is it [a spill] going to happen?'” said Russell Shirley, director of the Department of Emergency Management in Porter County. “Anything is possible, but it is probable?
“I don’t think it’s probable.”
The emergency managers said they get most of their information from an annual meeting held by about two-dozen pipeline companies, including Enbridge. The meeting satisfies a federal requirement that pipeline operators make representatives available to local officials.
Shirley said he hasn’t seen Enbridge’s response plan, hasn’t met with an Enbridge representative and has never engaged in any drills with Enbridge. But he said his 20-member hazmat team could quickly confront a spill and that he could call 40 additional hazmat responders from adjoining counties.
Jeff Hamilton, director of LaPorte County’s hazmat department, said that outside of the annual meeting, he has only sporadic contact with Enbridge, although a company liaison is always available for calls.
We hope all of you who celebrate Christmas had a lovely day yesterday– well, actually we hope everyone had a lovely day yesterday. We are currently in our hometown hunkering down and watching a blizzard develop.
A week or so ago, we promised you a semi-positive tale, which in the spirit of Christmas it seems appropriate to share with you now:
As we’ve mentioned before, from what we’re hearing, our parcel appears to be about the only property along the Line 6B route where any construction activity at all is taking place. In fact, our property has been a staging area for a lot of pipe that’s going into the ground on adjacent properties (nobody ever told us about this beforehand, even though it’s a fact that might well have affected our negotiations). Here’s what our backyard has looked like the past couple of weeks:
Last week and the week before, construction crews were busy at work on our property. They bored a hole and pulled some 500 feet of pipe underneath the road just to our east. We confess that it’s a pretty fascinating process and we kind of enjoyed learning about it from talking with and watching the construction crews at work. (We’ll post a slideshow of the process later today.)
At any rate, it was a good thing we were watching and talking with the construction crews: a week ago last Saturday, when it looked like they were about to begin pulling the pipe, we went out and asked when they would get started (because we wanted to capture some video). We were told that they probably wouldn’t start until “tomorrow.” It took a minute, but we quickly realized that “tomorrow” happened to be Sunday. And according the construction line list agreement we made with Enbridge, there would be no construction work on our property on Sundays (except in emergencies). So we called our ROW agent. He answered, seemed surprised, said he’d look into it and call us back. In an hour or so, he did call back and assured us the crews had been notified that they cannot work on Sundays; they’d re-commence Monday morning.
Now, this may not be quite the sort of responsiveness that you get if you’re a fancy doctor all decked out in hunting gear, but our ROW agent was plenty responsive. And we’re grateful for it. In fact, it’s only fair to say that in general, our ROW agent has been (from what we’ve heard) much better than most when it comes to attending to landowner concerns during construction.
Of course, if this moderately positive story (we don’t want to go overboard with praise; after all, we’re really just talking about somebody doing his job) was Enbridge’s Christmas gift to us, we also have to note that it was wrapped up in some pretty crappy paper. For one thing, if we hadn’t been out there talking to construction crews ahead of time, we never would have known of their plans to work on Sunday. Chances are they would have worked on Sunday.
And then, a few days later, there was this little episode: we happened to notice the back-hoe operator digging a big hole on our property and taking bucketsful of dirt over to the neighbor’s property. Here it is:
Again in fairness, the construction foreman was very nice (as almost all of the construction workers have been), responsive, and apologetic; he acknowledged that the backhoe operator shouldn’t have been dumping the sludge onto our property and put a stop to it.
But in both of these instances, what if we hadn’t been home? What if we hadn’t been watching? What if we hadn’t been vigilant? It makes us wonder what happens on our property when we’re not there? It makes us wonder what happens on your property.
The Northwest Times of Indiana reports this morning that Enbridge won’t break ground on phase two of the project until this summer, pending IDEM approval. The reason for the delay? Citizens advocacy and the fantastic work of our friends at Save the Dunes and other organizations. At least that’s what Tom Hodge says:
Hodge said he believes the project would have remained on schedule for a year-end completion “if there hadn’t been any voices of public opposition raised,” pushing the IDEM public hearing process.
Just one little note for Tom Hodge (we hope he’s reading): we really wish that you and your Enbridge colleagues would stop referring to the raising of legitimate concerns, the reasonable calls for caution, and the asking of questions as “opposition.” As the article puts it,
a coalition of environmental groups issued a joint statement of concern about the project, urging the state to take extra steps to ensure Lake Michigan and its tributaries will not be compromised by the project or a breach of the pipeline.
A “statement” of concern asking for reasonable safeguards and safety measures is not “opposition.”
Anyway, it appears (or so we hope) that IDEM is taking citizen concerns seriously and plans to deliberate carefully before issuing permits. We applaud them for their prudence.
Despite the most recent Enbridge construction newsletter, which provides little valuable information (although it does feature Enbridge’s rugged Michigan poster-boy “Dr. Michael Milan” all decked out in his hunting camos), we know a lot of you are wondering where all the construction crews have gone as you stare out at the forlorn stretches of steel pipe lazing around in your yards. We wondered the same things for weeks until activity picked up on our property very recently. Well, rest assured that we still try hard to keep you all informed, so we wrote to Project Manager Tom Hodge and asked why nothing was happening in so many places. He was traveling when we asked (to Hobart, where he appears to have won the hearts of local residents), but he did respond quickly (although he hasn’t followed up as we also requested; if we learn any more, we’ll let you know.). Here’s what Hodge said: “our difficulties securing right of way have led to much more moving around than normal and resulted in crews leaving work unfinished in multiple locations between Stockbridge and Ortonville.”
Looking around our own neighborhood, that fact is quite evident. Two parcels to the west of us, not an inch of soil has been touched, even though it’s been mayhem on our own. In fact, here’s a taste of what they did this week; they bored and pulled nearly 500 feet of pipe underneath our road (more pics and video of this activity coming soon):
Okay, well, we aren’t quite as back as we thought we were. Turns out, there were a few more end-of-the-semester duties to deal with this week and then a bit of holiday travels. We’re back in the the land of our childhood and can steal some time to do a bit of catching up. There are all the pictures and videos of the past week’s construction activities to share and there’s a semi-positive tale to tell. In addition to that, we (perhaps like you) received Enbridge’s latest construction newsletter and were amused to see our old pal “Dr. Michael Milan” smiling up at us from the glossy page; as you can imagine, we’ve got some things to say about that.
In the meantime, there are some interesting news articles to share if you haven’t seem them yet. Down in Indiana, the Department of Environmental Management held a hearing last week on the Line 6B project. The hearing was requested by our friends at Save the Dunes, along with the Hoosier Environmental Council, and the Porter County Chapter of the Izaak Walton League. From what we’ve heard (we were unable to attend, shackled to a desk by student writing!), the meeting went well and the speakers, nearly a dozen of them, raised a number of important questions eloquently. Best of all, the meeting has gotten an excellent amount of newspaper coverage. (and more and more). The groups put together a joint statement that smartly describes a number of reasonable measures that can be taken on the project to ensure safety and environmental protection. We will, of course, be following this story very closely.
Also last week, Enbridge reps were down in Indiana making nice with the good people of Hobart. Somehow, they managed to garner this astonishingly favorable coverage. Don’t get us wrong, we’re very happy that Jack Schwerin was able to get Thomas Hodge out to our property and that Hobart Mayor Brian Snedecor is so confident than Enbridge really does “care about the community.” But we hope they don’t become complacent. They may yet have cause to revise their assessment of Enbridge’s behavior (though we hope not).
In national news, we were struck by a referendum recently called for by the forward-looking citizens of Burlington, Vermont. They’re not too keen on the idea of Enbridge shipping more dilbit through their backyard, so they decided– not unlike the brave leaders in Brandon Township– to take action. We love it when local municipalities step up, though unfortunately, as we’ve learned here in Michigan, they’re being forced to do so by torpid, unimaginative state and national officials. At any rate, the Burlington action could be a model for others (including us here in Michigan!).
Down in Texas, the fight over Keystone XL rages on, led in part by our tenacious friend Chris Wilson. For months, we’ve been telling anybody who will listen that what’s happening here with Line 6B in Michigan is totally related to Keystone (and a few members of the press have gotten it). And that’s exactly what the awesome, irrepressible Michelle Barlond-Smith told the House Energy Resource Committee this week. The Texas Observer reports.
A forthcoming federal report on pipeline safety has found that members of the general public are more likely to identify oil and gas spills than the pipeline companies’ own leak detection systems.
Of course, those of us familiar with Marshall already understand this. As we’ve said here on the blog countless times, technology was never the problem; human error was the problem. And of course, Enbridge has been running around for months telling everyone about all of the great technology that’s going into the new Line 6B– as if that alone is supposed to quell any concerns. The new report– that, and the experience of Marshall– remind us yet again that we should not be seduced by the pipeline companies’ claims. We’ll give our friend (and hero!) Carl Weimer the last word. From the article:
“It has been clear for years that these computerized leak-detection systems don’t work,” said Carl Weimer, executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust and a member of the pipeline agency’s hazardous liquid technical advisory committee, which has reviewed the draft report. “The question for me is why have regulators continued to allow the pipeline industry to keep selling the public on leak detection systems that don’t work as advertised?”
Over the past several days, we fought and clawed and wriggled our way out from under a mountain of student papers. It wasn’t easy and at times a little painful, but we got through it and we’re finally breathing fresh air again. You will be happy, or perhaps completely indifferent, to know that some students actually seemed to learn a thing or two.
At any rate, our burden has been lifted and we’re feeling free.
There is a little bit of news to catch up on. There’s been a lot of construction activity on our property the past week or so (and absolutely none in a lot of places). And we’ve got lots of pictures and video to share with you, hopefully today. In the meantime, here are a few items of note:
The Groveland Township fire department received an Enbridge grant, which they used to buy a new gas detector. We’re glad to hear this (especially since we told the Groveland Fire department way back in August that they should be applying for these grants. Every other township on the route should be doing the same!)
To the extent that Enbridge gives any thought to us here at the Line 6B Citizens’ Blog (and they probably don’t think about us very much), we would guess that they find us rather antagonistic, combative, overly-critical, possibly even unfair. But the truth is, we’re trying to help them. We’re not joking. This has been the case ever since we popped into the Enbridge corporate offices in Superior, Wisconsin to have a chat about how they treat landowners. In fact, just yesterday, we offered some helpful suggestions about how they could improve their public relations efforts. We honestly believe it wouldn’t be that hard for Enbridge to win us all over: they just have to do what they say. We offered the same advice to them at the Pipeline Safety Trust conference last month.
Why are we thinking about this sort of thing now? Well, because the latest news out of Brandon Township has us once again shaking our heads. It demonstrates– yet again–how Enbridge’s actions actually work at cross-purposes to their own objectives. You see, last week, they were in a MAJOR hurry to reach an agreement with Brandon Township; they did everything but turn cartwheels to ensure that that happened. Nevertheless, Jeff Axt and myself cautioned the Board, asking them to exercise a bit of prudence and not allow themselves to be rushed into an agreement. (Caveat: we weren’t urging them not to reach an agreement, only to take their time.) Enbridge was having none of that. They said that waiting just one more week for the Trustees to give the agreement a careful reading would give them heartburn.
What happened next? Well, the Trustees voted to approve the agreement that night pending some adjustments to its language and Enbridge almost immediately went back to work in Brandon Township— which is all they ever really wanted to do anyway.
But here’s the important part: they went back to work despite the fact that they did NOT have a signed agreement with Brandon Township. This, to put it kindly, is a bit presumptuous. And sure enough, at this week’s meeting, the Trustees were not at all happy with the final version of the agreement. Nor were they happy with the fact that Enbridge had commenced construction in the township without a signed written agreement. So now Brandon has once again asked Enbridge to halt its construction activities in the Township.
So what did all of Enbridge’s pressure on the Brandon Trustees last week gain them? Nothing. They’re right back where they started. In fact, they now might have to endure further delays, since the Trustees are probably feeling a little bit disrespected and are likely much more inclined now to be circumspect. It could be another week, or two, or more, before the Trustees are ready to sign the agreement.
If Enbridge had only allowed the Brandon Trustees to take their time; if only they had acted in the spirit of reaching an amicable agreement, rather than acting (selfishly) according to their own desperate desire just to get back to work; if only they’d done that, they’d be back at work. Now, it appears they have to wait even longer. And, as always, they did it to themselves.
We hope that Hodge and Curwin and Asthon have some Tums.
Bishop’s argument, challenging whether tar sands oil (or “dilbit) is in fact “crude oil” as defined by Texas and federal law, put us in mind of a not-dissimilar argument some clever folks advanced here in Michigan a few months back. We wrote about it at length here.
And our friend Anthony Swift of the National Resources Defense Council has a new post about the Texas decision. It reminds us of Anthony’s coverage a few months back of how the IRS handles the question of whether dilbit is different from ordinary crude. Check it out.
Then we got sidetracked. Other matters intervened and we never quite got around to the last of these ads. That’s a shame, because the last one is a real piece of work. We’re pleased to return to it now, at long last. First, take a look. Apparently, this camouflage-clad hunter-guy thinks Enbridge is “Respectful, Responsive, and Fair”:
But that’s not the best part. It turns out that this is no ordinary landowner. No, this is “Dr. Michael Milan, a 24-year Michigan resident” who “has worked extensively with Enbridge over the past three years.” Yes, that’s right, he is a doctor! Evidently, we’re supposed to find this pretty impressive, as if we all recognize that a doctor’s view of Enbridge’s behavior is going to be a lot more credible than all of those unreasonable average-joes. And of course, as an added bonus, Michael Milan is no ordinary doctor; he also exudes a certain authentic Michigan rugged outdoorsiness. Just look at him: he’s wearing a camouflage jacket and a hunting cap and everything!
We don’t know about you, but we find this more than a little insulting. Don’t get us wrong, we’re glad that things have gone smoothly for Michael Milan out there on his “scenic 20 acres,” where he has “received information on pipeline safety and visits from [his] Enbridge land agent” over the course of “five maintenance digs.” We’re also glad to hear that his “land agent stops by regularly just to make sure things are okay.” In fact, we’d like nothing more than for everyone to have such a pleasant experience. And we’ve certainly never denied that plenty of landowners have had perfectly pleasant experiences with Enbridge. But if trotting out this guy, dressing him up like Ted Nugent, and making sure we all know he’s a doctor is somehow supposed to mitigate all the stories of Enbridge’s disrespectfulness, lack of responsiveness, and unfair treatment of landowners– well, that’s just plain offensive.
In fact, for every “Dr. Michael Milan” Enbridge can produce who says Enbridge is “respectful, responsive, and fair,” we could probably produce a landowner whose experience demonstrates precisely the opposite. In fact, we can even produce one who is actually Michael Milan’s neighbor– and we don’t mean a metaphorical Enbridge neighbor either; we mean one who lives in very close proximity to Milan– not to mention one whose Michigan bona fides are at least as impressive as the good doctor’s. Let us introduce you to:
William Aldrich, an electrical engineer for one of the Big 3 automakers and a lifelong Michigan resident:
Since 1981, I have worked to ensure that native trees were allowed to thrive on my property by performing selective pruning and tree removal. I have planted additional native trees not represented and removed many invasive species. Over 30 species of Michigan native trees and shrubs are represented in area designated by Enbridge as Temporary Workspace. I have made it a point of pride to be able to name and protect and enhance the diverse species of plants that reside on my property. I have expended significant time, effort and money to achieve these ends. For months, I attempted to work with Enbridge to minimize the amount of unnecessary damage and return the property to its current mix of diverse native species of plants.
In order to minimize the damage to this native flora, I attempted to work with my land agent to provide a Temporary Work Space that would preserve as many trees as possible while giving Enbridge an additional 200 square feet of workspace. I also reached an agreement with my land agent specifying that the stumps of trees that must be removed in the TWS be left in the ground to allow them to resprout. Yet Enbridge ignored my win-win proposal for modifying the TWS, disregarded the agreement not to remove stumps (tearing them out of the ground anyway), and clear cut numerous trees clearly desgnated by my ROW agent as “do not cut,” some mere inches from the Temporary Work Space boundary line.
In short, my dealings with the designated Enbridge right-of-way representative have been incomplete, contentious, sporadic, unanswered and in many cases violated. Enbridge’s own actions consistently contradict the Enbridge right-of-way representative’s assertions and agreements.
No sooner had we finished up our latest post about Enbridge’s apparently congenital inability to deal with stakeholders straightforwardly than we were provided with yet another illustration of the phenomenon in the form of the latest news from Brandon Township. Sadly, it doesn’t surprise us.
The Brandon Trustees held another meeting last night, where they were expected to sign and finalize their agreement with Enbridge. We took the night off and did not attend the meeting, though we’ve received a report of it. And just as we predicted, things did not go smoothly. Therefore, no agreement has been signed.
There are a couple of sticking points: understandably (in our opinion), the Trustees are concerned about the limited scope of the oversight granted to the township’s inspector (we thought the same thing when we read the proposed agreement). And secondly, apparently Enbridge did not want to put anything in the agreement about their environmental stewardship program. In our view, this is especially disturbing since these are the two elements of the agreement that will be most important to other townships. Given that fact, however, it’s not so surprising that Enbridge would hedge about them. And to make it all worse, Enbridge has apparently re-started construction in Brandon–without a signed agreement. This is, in our view and the Board’s (as we understand it), not only presumptuous, but a slap in the face.
For now, we’ll just say this: it gives us no great joy to say “I told you so.” But all of this is exactly what we told the new Brandon board two weeks ago. As we reported then, we told them:
Based on [our] experience, what will happen is fairly predictable: Enbridge will show up, smile, talk about working together and being good neighbors; they’ll say lots of pleasing-sounding things; they’ll try and make it look like they really do want to work with the Township; they’ll also patronize and condescend (because they can’t help it)– and then they’ll leave and continue to try and do whatever it is they want.
And this is exactly what has happened. Jeff Axt saw it coming, too. It’s why both of us pleaded with the board at the last meeting to proceed cautiously, despite Enbridge’s pressure to hurry them up. But then, everybody has to learn their own Enbridge lessons. We trust that the new Board– now that they’ve seen Enbridge thumb its nose at them, just as they did the old board– has learned theirs.
We begin this installment with a correction. You see, unlike Enbridge we do not like saying things that are not strictly true. And it appears we’ve been slightly wrong about one thing:
On numerous occasions during the month of November, we mentioned that Enbridge had still not answered any of the questions they promised to answer at the Brandon “workshop” back in September. However, we learned last week that Enbridge did, in fact, provide some answers to the Board at the very end of October or early November. So while we said that it had been more than two months without any answers, it appears that Enbridge provided answers after about six weeks. We regret that we said otherwise.
Of course, we’ve since seen those answers and we can tell you that they’re not terribly thorough. Nor did they answer all of the outstanding questions from the workshop. And the “answers” did come, curiously, right before Brandon filed their intervention in federal court. And also, Brandon did have to ask Enbridge for them more than once. So the general point we’ve been making about this matter for a long time– that it simply illustrates the lack of respect and candor Enbridge has displayed in its dealings with Brandon (and other stakeholders)– still stands. But we were evidently wrong on some of the details.
Which brings us to the subject of this post. This little matter– these minor things gnaw at us because we think the truth is vitally important– got us thinking: why didn’t someone from Enbridge point out our error? After all, we know they read the blog (at least occasionally); they’ve told us they do. So here was a chance for them to prove us wrong; they could have made the case that we’ve been criticizing them unfairly. And we would have had no choice but to concede the point (on this little matter). Or at the very least, they just could have let us know what the truth is, thereby demonstrating that it means as much to them as it does to us. We’d have given them credit for correcting us. But they didn’t.
You may be wondering what this has to do with the Brandon-Enbridge agreement. Well, as we noted in our previous installments, we had a little encounter with the three Enbridge representative at the meeting on Monday. It took place during the Brandon Trustees’ arduously long closed session. There wasn’t much to do while we waited– and there were only about six of us there. Mostly, we just sat around gabbing. But not with the Enbridge contingent. Mark Curwin, Thomas Hodge, and Michael Ashton spent that long break outside.
It may be that they just wanted to enjoy the cool air; it was an awfully nice December evening. Or maybe they thought it would be a little awkward to stay in the same room with myself, Jeff Axt, and reporter Susan Bromley. Whatever the case, we figured that the separation– “us” in there and “them” out there– was equally awkward, or at least weirdly conspicuous. It seemed to us an opportunity to have an actual conversation (Hodge and Curwin had no trouble talking with Tony Amico at the meeting). And anyway, we’re all just human beings; surely we can have a civil chat. So we went outside to try.
Now it may have just been our own impression, but we thought the reception we got from the Enbridge reps seemed a little chilly. At any rate, we mentioned the blog and they said that they knew who we were and knew about the blog. We also mentioned to Hodge our interest in (what we’ve been calling) his recent Road Show and how lots of us landowners have been wondering why Hodge and Wuori were talking to the press, rather than to us. Then we asked Hodge if he’d be interested in doing a Q&A for this blog. And this is where things got a little weird.
First, Mark Curwin stepped in immediately and said (a little paternalistically) that he didn’t think that would be appropriate. But when we asked why he didn’t think it was appropriate for Hodge to talk to landowners, he said he didn’t think it was the right time or place. Evidently, he thought we were asking Hodge to do a Q&A right then and there– which we certainly, obviously, were not.
Once we got past that odd moment, however, Hodge did not accept our offer. Instead, he and Curwin talked about how they’re trying to find the “right person” to talk with us. Their explanation for this was that rather than having us go from one person to another, receiving various answers to various questions, they thought it might be best to have just one person who could answer all of our questions. But they also said they hadn’t quite figured out who that person is yet. Now, in fairness, Tom Hodge did give us his card and he and Curwin said we should feel free to send along some questions and they would get them to this yet-to-be-discovered person who could get us some answers. So we guess that’s at least something. But it’s not much.
But let’s consider some of the myriad problems with this response to our simple request for a Q&A with Tom Hodge:
As we said in an earlier installment, if we have questions that we’d like to ask Tom Hodge, then the “right person” for us to talk with is quite plainly Tom Hodge. In the same way, when we have questions for, say, Doug Aller, then we think the right person for us to talk with is Doug Aller. Or, when we want clarification from, say, Jennifer Smith about something that Jennifer Smith said, then it seems to us that the right person for us to contact for such clarification is Jennifer Smith herself. This seems like a rather simple and uncomplicated principle of ordinary communication to us.
But Enbridge appears not to operate according to ordinary principles of communication. Rather, what Curwin and Hodge were really saying to us, we think, is that we somehow need to be managed, handled carefully, dealt with through some kind of controlled message-coordinating apparatus.
Of course, as we’ve been saying for months, this is the whole problem with the way that Enbridge communicates with stakeholders. They seem to think that everything has to be managed and controlled, PR-style. They simply CAN’T– evidently as a matter of either company policy or longstanding practice–just communicate openly, honestly, and straightforwardly. That’s all I was trying to do: I walked outside, looked Tom Hodge in the eye, offered my hand, and asked him a simple, straightforward question. I gave him an opportunity to be open and honest with me. What I got in return was a needlessly complicated, un-straightforward, committee-generated reply. As a result, instead of typing up how much I appreciate Tom Hodge’s candor and his willingness to walk the walk and have a frank, respectful, productive exchange with a landowner– a critical landowner, no less– I’m typing this.
What’s so strange about this is that Enbridge’s approach in this regard isn’t even good PR. After all, if they want people like me to go away or shut up or stop criticizing them, then this is a very poor way to accomplish any of those things. In fact, it only makes matters worse. If they want people like me to tell others that Enbridge really does mean it when they say they are committed to open and honest dialogue, or that they really do take seriously stakeholder feedback, then not engaging in open and honest dialogue and not taking stakeholder feedback seriously is a very poor way to accomplish that as well. It seems absurd to have to say this, but if what you want is for people to trust you and to believe that you are honest, transparent, and straightforward, then the best thing you can do is be honest and transparent and straightforward. Otherwise, people might not trust you.
In other words, for some reason we still cannot fathom, Enbridge simply can’t see that the best kind of PR would be sitting down with homeowners, hearing them out, agreeing to fix problems and make things right, then fixing them and making them right. This would effectively solve most of their PR troubles.
Or to put this yet another way: Enbridge still hasn’t figured out that they are largely in control of what we write here at the Line 6B Citizens’ Blog. We would have no choice but to shut up if they didn’t continue to provide us with so much material.
We know it’s been a few days since we’ve posted anything. That’s because it’s end-of-the-semester crunch time when things get crazy. In fact, we’re about to be buried under a frightening avalanche of student papers. But we’re trying to steal away some time to provide some updates. We just today procured a copy of the final Brandon-Enbridge agreement, so we’ll be writing about that. We’re also well into an account of our frosty chat with Mark Curwin and Tom Hodge at last week’s Brandon meeting.
We also haven’t forgotten that we STILL haven’t posted on the last of Enbridge’s Freep ads (and we’ve got a good counter-narrative for that one). And we also STILL haven’t wrapped up our PS Trust conference series. We want to tell you about the great environmental panel.
But to tide you over, we’ll offer a few things (and beg patience):
Our friend Peter LaFontaine of the National Wildlife Federation has an nice blog post about the excellent Tar Sands report he recently published. Check it out. Please read the report also. It’s vital.
News outlets over in Macomb county are starting to pick up on the story of phase two of the Line 6B project. Here’s one account. The article is a reminder that all of this is far from over. We hope to provide whatever help and information we can for our neighbors to the east.
Lastly, we don’t know what’s happening around your home, but activity in our immediate neighborhood has picked up considerably in the past week. We’ll take and post some pictures as soon as we have time.
Over at the Brandon Citizen, Susan Bromley, who has covered this story like no one else, has an account of Monday’s Brandon meeting and a bit more detail on the agreement. Much of it covers the items we mentioned in the second installment of this series. But we did learn from Bromley that Enbridge is footing the bill for the legal costs Brandon incurred during this process– and that’s excellent news.
The article also includes plenty of hollow statements from Enbridge spokesperson Jason Manshum, the same sort of boilerplate remarks we’ve heard from him for months. (We’ll grant him this much: the guy stays on message.) Honestly, after all that has happened these past few months, after all we’ve learned, all we’ve documented here on this blog, and all we have experienced, we fail to see how once again saying, “”We value our relationships with all those who live and work along our pipeline right-of-way and will be working hard to minimize the impacts on the community and the affected landowners,” is even remotely helpful to anyone. As we’ve said before, just repeating something over and over and over doesn’t make it true.
Anyway, Bromley’s article also captures nicely some of the drama of the meeting, drama which took place mainly at the very end. We’ll quote a bit of that in just a moment, but we’d also like to provide just a tiny bit of setup:
It became clear by the end of Monday’s meeting that Enbridge wasn’t going to leave without an agreement. Why? Well, our theory is this: t once federal district court Judge Cleland sent the case back to state court, Enbridge felt a renewed sense of urgency. Originally, they thought dragging the POLAR lawsuit into federal court would sink it. When that didn’t happen, they needed to scramble to ensure that Brandon did not intervene again– because a state court would be far more likely to take interest in the statutory and constitutional argument put forth by both Brandon and POLAR (and the MTA). In order to prevent further delays (not to mention to risk losing!), Enbridge needed to reach an agreement with Brandon– which explains why they were so much more agreeable last Monday than they were back in, say, August.
That’s mainly speculation on our part, though we suspect it’s reasonably accurate. Whatever the case, it was obvious that Enbridge thought matters were pretty urgent at the Brandon meeting on Monday. And that induced in us a bit of déjà vu. After all, this is pretty much how our private negotiations with Enbridge went. For months, Enbridge dragged their feet. Weeks would pass by without any word from our ROW agent. But then all of a sudden, six months in, Enbridge decided that matters were urgent. They were suddenly in a big hurry and needed to reach an agreement immediately. So they snapped into action, pressured and threatened. They were determined to get their agreement. And they did.
And this is what it was like at the Brandon meeting. Here’s Bromley’s account, which picks up after the board returned from their closed session and discussed amendments to the agreement:
When Trustee Ron Lapp said he wanted to see the finished document before he approved it, Rumball, Trustee Dana DePalma and Clerk Candee Allen all agreed. But near the end of the meeting, after Cooney spoke in support of the agreement, the board had an apparent change of heart.
“I have complete confidence in Stuart (Cooney),” said Lapp, who then addressed Curwin, Enbridge Project Manager Tom Hodge, and the Enbridge attorney, asking: “Is it going to give you heartburn to wait seven more days?”
In unison, the Enbridge representatives answered “yes,” and Axt expressed disbelief that the board was expediting the process on behalf of Enbridge rather than the township residents.
The board then unanimously approved settlement, clearing the way for phase one of the project in the township to proceed.
This was a pretty dramatic moment, to which we’ll add just one little detail. When it appeared that the board members were going to ask to see a final document before approving it, Enbridge attorney Mike Ashton jumped up, approached Stuart Cooney (who was sitting right next to us), and asked if they could finalize the language of the agreement “right now.” He and Cooney then walked out. It was after this little tête-à-tête that Cooney spoke to the board.
Now, we should be clear: we’re not suggesting something nefarious went on here, just that Enbridge put on the full court press– and it worked. Yet just like in our own negotiations, the delays that caused Enbridge to become so impatient and so desperate to reach an agreement with Brandon were always of their very own making.
There’s just one last story to tell in this series until we see the final agreement: our conversation that same night with Hodge, Curwin, and Ashton. That’s coming soon…
We just got off the telephone where we participated, along with a bunch of other really smart people, in our first-ever telephone press conference. It was an odd new experience and we hope we didn’t sound like a blithering idiot. We’ll see.
The topic of the conference? A fantastic new report from the National Wildlife Federation on tar sands oil and the companies (like Enbridge) pushing for its increased production and transportation through the United States. Peter LaFontaine, the report’s author, has done some important and first-rate work here. We encourage you to take a look (and a listen, as the audio recording of the telepresser is now available; the link is at the bottom of the page).
We’re still awaiting details on the final agreement between Brandon Township and Enbridge; it’s probably going to be several days at least before its language is finalized and the document made available to the public. Yesterday, in our first installment of this new series, we provided as much detail as we could– and we hope other townships were paying attention. In fact, we encourage you to contact your township supervisor and insist that they also get an independent construction supervisor and that they know about Enbridge’s environmental stewardship program. After all, Enbridge insists that they treat stakeholders “fairly and consistently.” Let’s make sure they do.
While we’re waiting for the finalized agreement, we thought we’d bring you some other stories from Monday night’s meeting, where the agreement was reached. It was, to to say the least, quite interesting. Of particular interest were the stories that a couple of landowners shared with the trustees. We’ll tell the story of landowner Bill Aldrich in a different post some time in the coming days. This morning, we want to tell you about Tony Amico.
Prior to Monday night’s meeting, we’d never met Tony. He is a landowner in Brandon Township near the Line 6B route. Enbridge has no easement on his property, although they did need to use a portion of his land for temporary work space. Like most of us, Tony was perfectly willing to work with Enbridge; he had no plans (or desire) to obstruct the project. Tony was simply concerned with minimizing the number of trees– very old, very large trees– that Enbridge removed from his land. So he struck an agreement with a ROW agent (whom Tony trusted): prior to any construction activity on his land, a construction manager would meet with Tony to discuss, among other things, which trees would or could be saved. Now just imagine Tony’s surprise when he arrived on his property one day to find that Enbridge had already, without any such meeting, cleared a swath of his land, taking down some 75 mature and valuable Black Walnut trees (among others). When Tony contacted his ROW agent about this violation of what he thought was a good-faith agreement, he more or less just got a shrug of the shoulders in reply. And that was it.
Like so many landowners, Tony was unhappy, frustrated, and angry– and had no idea where to turn. Tony’s experience shows clearly that despite what Thomas Hodge has told the MPSC, landowners absolutely do not “know they have an avenue to escalate the issue if they are not getting satisfaction from the land agent that they are dealing with.” In fact, landowners generally have no idea where to turn once trust with their land agent has been broken. And often (as in our personal case), even when they try to move “up the chain” (as Hodge puts it), they are ignored or dismissed.
Which is why, after weeks (maybe months) of anger and frustration, Tony came to the Brandon board meeting to tell his story. And what was so interesting about this is that during the break in the meeting (a coffee and cookie reception for the newly sworn-in board), Tom Hodge and Mark Curwin were all over Tony. They wanted to hear his story. They gave him their cards. They made an appointment to meet him at his property the very next morning. They seemed to want to make things right.
Now, in fairness, we think that is a very good thing. And we’re not going to doubt the sincerity of Hodge and Curwin when they say they want to make things right with Tony Amico. We don’t believe– nor have we ever said– that people like Hodge and Curwin (ROW agents may be a different story, however) don’t care about landowners or aren’t willing to be responsive. In fact, if anything, what we’ve said–not about Hodge and Curwin specifically, but about Enbridge executives generally– is that they don’t care; we believe they just don’t know about all the Tony Amicos out there. And we’ve further said that they also seem to us rather unwilling to acknowledge just how many Tonys actually are out there. And the sad fact is that if Tony didn’t just happen to be at that meeting where Hodge and Curwin had no choice but to hear his story (in public!), Tony would STILL be angry and unhappy.
It shouldn’t have to be this way.
So once the meeting resumed, we wrote down the remarks we planned to make during public comments. We wound up saying other things– for reasons we’ll describe in a different installment of this series (stay tuned!)– but here’s what we wrote:
For every Tony Amico or Bill Aldrich who is here tonight where Enbridge can make a public show of their responsiveness, I can tell you first-hand– because I’ve heard their stories– that there are dozens more landowners along the Line 6B route who feel abused and mistreated, who feel like they have no recourse or voice, nowhere to turn, who feel helpless and alone and who have NOT been made whole, as Enbridge promised they would be. So my question for Enbridge is simply this: how many stories like Tony’s does Enbridge need to hear before they are willing to squarely and honestly face the fact that there is a serious problem with the way they have dealt with landowners on this project?
As we reported yesterday, the Brandon Township Board of Trustees voted to approve an agreement with Enbridge at the end of a very long meeting Wednesday night. The agreement, the precise language of which has yet to be finalized, puts an end to any litigation against Enbridge on the part of Brandon. We attended the meeting– all five exhausting hours of it. And while we have not seen the agreement document, we can provide some details based on the information presented and discussed at the meeting. But since there’s so much to report, we’re launching it as a new series. This is our first installment.
The Enbridge representatives who attended the meeting were Project Manager Thomas Hodge, attorney Mike Ashton, and General Counsel Mark Curwin. We were struck by the absence of any of Enbridge’s public relations representatives (what ever happened to Joe Martucci, anyway?), which was a pretty clear indication that at this meeting, Enbridge meant business– and also perhaps an indication that in previous meetings with Brandon, Enbridge did not really mean business. After a brief presentation to the Board by Tom Hodge restating the basics of the project, the new Board was sworn in. They then conducted their regular business and then convened a closed session– which lasted nearly two hours!
(Teaser: It was during this break that we introduced ourselves to Curwin, Hodge, and Ashton; we’ll make that encounter the subject of another installment of this series.)
We assume that during the closed session, the township attorney walked the board through the terms of the drafted agreement. It is our understanding (based on discussions that proceeded when the Board returned) that the agreement is based on a “Sample Enbridge agreement” that has been circulated to townships by the Michigan Townships Association. We happen to have a copy of that document. It’s not clear whether the MTA created it or initiated its creation–it reads to us as if it were written by Enbridge– or why the MTA would want to create such a thing, especially given that a month ago they filed an amicus brief in federal court in support of POLAR’s attempt to enforce the Michigan Constitution’s “consent” requirement. Whatever the case, the sample agreement says this:
WHEREAS, the Township of ____________, (hereinafter referred to as the“Township”), a Michigan municipal corporation whose address is _______________ asserts that pursuant to Article 7, Section 29, of the 1963 Michigan constitution and MCL 247.183 consent to cross certain roads and/or public rights-of-way within the Township for purposes of installing underground pipelines is required to be obtained from the Township (hereinafter referred to as the “Consent”), which Consent is not to be unreasonably withheld by the Township…
But then a little farther down, it says this:
WHEREAS, Enbridge asserts that the provisions of Article 7, Section 29, of the 1963 Michigan Constitution and MCL 247.183 do not apply to Enbridge’s Line 6B pipeline system, nor the Project; that to the extent Township consent is required that consent was given to Enbridge upon initial construction of the pipeline in 1969; and that the Township has waived any right to assert these requirements at this time.
So what we have here is a document that evidently has townships giving consent even though the document does not insist that Enbridge is actually required to seek that consent. Of course, one could argue that this is a nice compromise measure; we would imagine that this is what Enbride would say. However, the obvious problem with that is that most of us don’t get to craft compromises when it comes to complying with the laws of the state; we just have to comply.
Aside from making it clear that Enbridge is NOT agreeing that they are legally required to seek consent, the agreement doesn’t really do very much. It says Enbridge will pay the township a thousand bucks, will have insurance, and will behave during construction. And that’s pretty much it.
We don’t know how closely the Brandon agreement adheres to the MTA’s sample document. We don’t know, for instance, whether the Enbridge-asserts-it-does-not-need-consent clause is included in the Brandon agreement. What we do know is that Brandon insisted upon some modifications and amendments, which Enbridge agreed to. These are as follows (again, as best as we can piece together from discussion without having seen the final document itself):
As a settlement with regard to the Brandon Woodlands Ordinance, Enbridge will pay the township $10,000 in addition to supplying replacement trees (80 trees per acre) for the estimated 6 acres of clearing on the township. We’ve got some things to say about this tree replacement program also, but we’ll save that for another post.
Enbridge will post a bond in the amount of $5ok for road restoration; this seems like a very good thing, especially since the laughable bond required by the Oakland County Road Commission is for a mere $5000.
Enbridge agreed to the use of a construction supervisor or inspector, hired by Brandon but paid for by Enbridge, whose job it will be to oversee compliance with construction agreements with landowners. This is, we think, a stroke of brilliance– something that’s been needed in Livingston and Ingham counties (and elsewhere) for a long time. Every single township should insist on the same. Brandon deserves ENORMOUS kudos for coming up with this measure as a way of helping to protect its citizens.
Lastly, Enbridge said they were rolling out an “environmental stewardship” program that would make funds available to every township along the line. The amount has yet to be determined and it will evidently vary depending upon township population and other factors. But the money can be used for a variety of measures and perhaps even for local groups as long as it meets certain criteria for environmental stewardship. This, too, we are happy to say, sounds like a great idea. Yet– and this seems to be Enbridge’s specialty–the program is soured somewhat by the fact that Enbridge didn’t just do it in the first place, months ago. It would appear that Enbridge only acts like a good neighbor after they’ve been challenged, sued, had their construction activities halted, and received a fair amount of bad press.
Without knowing all of the final details, we would say that this is not a bad agreement for the citizens of Brandon and, perhaps, for landowners all along the route, assuming that other townships step forward and insist that they be treated similarly. Whether one is disappointed that Brandon won’t push the legal questions any further, we think that everyone owes Supervisor Thurman and the trustees genuine thanks.
We’ll fill in details as they become available to us. We hope that we haven’t got anything wrong here; we’ve had to piece these things together based on what we witnessed at the meeting. Stay tuned for more in this series– including further descriptions of our brief chat with the Enbridge reps and more details of some of the drama (and there was drama!) that unfolded during the meeting– as soon as we can get to it.
Major news out of Brandon Township: at the end of a very long and exhausting meeting last night, the new Brandon Township Board of Trustees voted to approve a (not quite finalized) agreement with Enbridge. Full details are forthcoming and we will, of course, write about them once they’re available. But this agreement effectively ends any further litigation (assuming Enbridge complies with all of the agreement’s provisions) on the part of Brandon. They won’t intervene in the POLAR suit again.
A lot happened at the meeting and there were some interesting new developments. On the whole, we’re ambivalent about this turn of events (perhaps because we don’t have all the details yet). It’s good in some ways and perhaps not so good in others. But one thing is for sure: it’s going to take a series of posts to get through it all. Right now, we can only offer a few teasers:
We heard a couple of new ugly landowner stories. Interestingly, Enbridge hopped right to it with one of them. We hope to follow up to see whether and how the situation gets resolved.
Other Michigan townships should take note: Enbridge agreed to take some very positive steps that should also be taken with regard to EVERY township along the route. You can bet that we’ll be contacting some township supervisors.
Speaking of those positive steps, we’ll spend some time asking the obvious question: why didn’t Enbridge just do these things way back in July or so?
Finally, we approached Tom Hodge during a break in the meeting and asked if he’d be willing to do a little Q&A with us for the blog, since he’s made himself so available to the media of late. He did not jump at the opportunity. Instead, he and Enbridge General Counsel Mark Curwin said that they’re trying to figure out who the right person is for us to talk to. We’re not sure exactly what that means, but we’re pretty sure that if we have questions we’d like to ask Tom Hodge that the right person for us to talk to is… well, Tom Hodge. We’ll see what comes of this.
Oh, residents and landowners of Brandon Township: get ready for the dozers. We suspect they’re fired up and chugging already this morning.
The new Brandon Township Board of Trustees is meeting tonight. On the agenda is a “presentation” from Enbridge– on what we don’t know, though we suspect it’s going to be a (frustrating) Line 6B “replacement” 101 for the new board members–and a closed session to discuss further litigation.
It is our understanding, however, that Brandon and Enbridge have recently been in talks, trying to negotiate some sort of agreement. Talks and agreements, we suppose, are good things. But it still irritates us to an end that Enbridge can treat a set of legal requirements– gathering permits, complying with local ordinances and state laws– as things that are negotiable. Perhaps we’ll try to negotiate with our township the next time they want us to get a building permit…
At any rate, the meeting is at 7 pm tonight at the Brandon Township offices. We’ll be there and we encourage you to attend as well. It could be interesting. Plus, it’s a rare opportunity for ordinary landowners to actually gaze upon the elusive and exotic creatures known as Enbridge executives. Ordinarily, they only show themselves to newspaper editorial boards.
Given enough time, we could probably hold forth at at much more length about the remarks of Stephen Wuori and Thomas Hodge during their editorial board stops last week. Wuori’s attempt to waive away concerns about the transportation of dilbit, for instance, is ripe for some serious scrutiny, though we’ll just refer you to this recent piece by our friend Anthony Swift, which speaks almost directly to Wuori’s remark about tar sands and corrosiveness.
We’ll let the rest pass for now. But not without a brief final thought or two:
Firstly, we’ll echo a point our friend Beth Wallace made this week: if Wuori and Hodge were serious about addressing concerns citizens have had about this project and serious about having real conversations about Enbridge’s practices, they could have taken their road show down to the Pipeline Safety Trust conference in New Orleans last month and faced landowners, pipeline safety advocates, regulators, and some of their (more responsive) industry peers. But they did not. Instead, unlike almost every other company at the conference, Enbridge sent only a pack of PR sloganeers– a revealing fact, we think.
Secondly, while here in Michigan last week, they also could have taken the time to meet with some real landowners, rather than talking about the easily-dismissed imaginary ones they’ve conjured in their heads. We would have been more than happy to round up a whole bunch of decent people affected by this project for a sit-down conversation. But then Wuori and Hodge would not have been able to control the message the way could in their little newspaper meetings. They would have had to face some of the realities of how their company and its representatives have conducted themselves in Michigan since 2010. And that, we have said time and again, appears to be something Enbridge is completely– stubbornly, intractably, steadfastly– unwilling to do.
As we mentioned this past week, we finally received a response from Enbridge regarding their claim that certain features of the new pipe exceed federal regulations. We are very grateful to Enbridge’s Terri Larson for getting us a reasonably thorough answer. Terri strikes us as genuine and reliable.
But federal regulations are a complicated affair, which makes scrutinizing Enbridge’s claim fairly tricky. We’re working on it. In the meantime, we thought we’d link to this excellent and very important article at ProPublica by way of providing some context for the discussion that’s to come. Plus, you get to read the remarks of one of our heroes: Carl Weimer, the Executive Director of the Pipeline Safety Trust. You don’t want to miss Carl saying this:
Given the limitations of government money and personnel, it is often the industry that inspects its own pipelines. Although federal and state inspectors review paperwork and conduct audits, most on-site pipeline inspections are done by inspectors on the company’s dime.