Remember how Enbridge says they treat landowners fairly and consistently? Well, we’ve got a story for you.
This is a very important post, one we’ve had in our back pockets for a while as we’ve tried, with no success and no small amount of frustration, to gather some reliable information about the matter. As many of you know, a longstanding concern for landowners on Line 6B has been the widely disparate treatment– from land agent responsiveness to compensation– landowners have received from Enbridge, despite their claims to the contrary. The subject of this post is a perfect illustration of this inconsistent treatment.
The whole thing is hazy and complicated. But the bottom line here is this: if you are a Line 6B landowner, especially along Phase One, Enbridge might owe you some money. As with most things Enbridge-related, it’s all a little convoluted, so we’ll provide both a short version and a long version. At the end, we also have some contact information in case you’d like to contact Enbridge to inquire about this matter– which we encourage you to do.
If you are on Phase One and were NOT taken to court in condemnation proceedings, you probably settled with Enbridge in 2012. However, there is a good chance that Enbridge should have come back to you at some point to make an additional payment based on a recalculation of the values you were originally paid. How do you know? Well, you’ll have to ask Enbridge. But one indication is this: did a land agent come back to you in 2013 and write you a check and give you a receipt? Did you receive a 1099 tax form from Enbridge this year for filing your 2013 tax forms? If not, you might be owed some money.
Now here’s the more detailed explanation of all of this. Please bear with us while we try to explain it, also bearing in mind that we are neither accountants nor attorneys. We’ll try to be as accurate as we can and hope that we don’t make any major mistakes. Again, it is our understanding that all of this pertains primarily, perhaps only, to Phase One landowners.
When you settled with Enbridge– again, assuming you did not go to court–you most likely received compensation, in the form of a check from Enbridge, for three things: (1) use of the existing easement (what was probably called an “Additional Pipeline Receipt”), (2) for the use of Temporary Work Space and/or Additional Temporary Work Space (TWS and ATWS), and (3) compensation for damages, including the value of trees (or timber) that were removed from your property. The amounts you were paid for the first two of those items were based on fixed values determined by Enbridge. Compensation for damages was determined by your negotiations with a land agent.
Now, the way in which those fixed values (for the easement and TWS) were determined by Enbridge has been in quite a bit of flux from the beginning of this whole project. For instance, when we were first approached, the per acre value that Enbridge was using to calculate the additional pipeline receipt was $6500 per acre. Some time later, we were told that that value had been increased (as if by magic) to $30,000 per acre. Then we learned that our neighbors were receiving even more per acre than we were for virtually identical properties. We’ve heard stories along the line of different values as well, some higher, some lower (what were you paid per acre, we wonder?). These various values have always seemed to us almost completely arbitrary– and certainly not consistent. In fact, during condemnation hearings in Livingston County, Enbridge all but admitted that they had no real basis for determining those values; it’s as if they were pulling numbers out of thin air.
As for the TWS, Enbridge calculated those payments according to the same values, but paid landowners 30% of that value. So, for instance, if they used 1 acre of TWS, valued at $35k/per acre, they would have paid you $10,500 (that’s 30 percent of 35K).
Finally, Enbridge may have paid you for trees. Trees are even more complicated and arbitrary. In some cases, Enbridge simply paid “timber value” for trees. But in many other cases, the value paid for trees was a matter of negotiation– somewhere between “worthless” (to Enbridge) and “invaluable” (to the landowner).
Now, as near as we can piece this together, here is what happened next (again, we’re being as scrupulously accurate as we can be based on information provided to us by various sources): at some point during the condemnation hearings, Enbridge agreed to pay landowners more than the amounts as described above. Specifically, they agreed to pay 125% of the valuation for the additional pipeline receipt, 50% (not 30%) of the per acre value for TWS, and 150% of the timber valuation. It is our understanding that, at the point, Enbridge decided that all landowners would be similarly compensated– both those who had not yet settled and those who had already been paid.
So here’s what all of this would look like. To make things simple, we’ll use the simplest values possible. (Please note that these numbers are purely fictional and unusually high; there is probably no one with a full acre of easement or TWS.) Let’s say Enbridge had 1 acre of easement on Joe and Jane Jenkins’ property, used 1 acre of TWS, and paid them $1000 for trees (timber). Here’s what the Jenkinses would have received– say, in the summer or fall of 2012) based on those original values:
$35,000 (for additional pipeline) + $10,500 (for TWS) + $1000 (for timber)= $46,500
However, after those condemnation hearings, Enbridge should have come back to the Jenkinses to pay them for the increases stated above. That would look like this:
125% of additional pipeline= $43,750
50% of TWS= $17,500
150% of timber= $1500
Now, subtract from that the $46,500 you were already paid and the Jenkinses should have received a check from Enbridge– probably by surprise some time last year– for $19,250.
Again, based on what we were told by our land agent, ALL landowners were to be compensated according to these rates. If you are on Phase Two, these adjusted/increased rates should have been built into your original payments. Check your receipt: were you paid 50% of the per acre value for TWS? By contrast, many Phase One landowners– those who were paid BEFORE these increases– should have received a surprise visit from a land agent to pay out the difference.
However, we know for certain this has not taken place. We know that some people in our neighborhood (we’re on Phase One) have been paid this difference and some have not. Why? We have no clue whatsoever. Partly, it may be because Enbridge has been flying by the seat of its pants since the beginning of this project. More likely, it’s because Enbridge’s land agents are, by turns, overworked, uncaring, hapless, or just not very well trained or informed by Enbridge’s not-terribly-efficient-or-effective land agent supervisors.
This is a matter of basic fairness and decency. We encourage you to contact your land agent– if, that is, you have any idea who your land agent currently is– to find out whether you are due this additional compensation. If we are able to learn anything more about this– though, honestly, we don’t know who is in charge or who might be willing to respond to our inquiries– we will certainly let you know. In the meantime, if you don’t know who your land agent is currently, you can try this number listed on Enbridge’s website for Line 6B landowners:
Or, if you prefer email, you can try this address:
We’re continuing our tardy news roundup, which we started yesterday. There, we called your attention to some recent news articles form Macomb County describing some residents’ concerns about Enbridge’s work on Phase Two, which is about to kick into high gear in the eastern part of the state.
This morning, another local article appeared, describing a recent open house hosted by Enbridge in Washington Township. We will say this much: it’s good to see that Enbridge is reaching out to residents to some degree. They certainly did no such thing in our part of the state prior to construction on Phase One. So this sounds like an improvement.
Having said that, we suspect that the Enbridge officials there didn’t spend much time explaining to landowners the realities of how the work will proceed: the poor communications they’ll likely get from Enbridge land agents, the noise and the mess and the mistakes they’ll have to endure, the need to remain vigilant so that construction agreement violations don’t go unnoticed and unrectified, and much more. Instead, Enbridge surely painted a very rosy picture, one that doesn’t bear much resemblance to actuality.
What makes us say this? Well, not just experience– though that experience speaks volumes, we think. Also, it’s because of a couple of the remarks of Enbridge spokesperson Jennifer Smith. First, Smith digs up this old chestnut:
“Overwhelmingly a good majority of landowners are understanding and we have good relationships with them,” she said. “But there is always going to be concern.”
Regular readers of this blog may recall the time that Jason Manshum said the same thing (you’ve got to hand this much to Enbridge, they are disciplined about staying “on message”). And when he did, we wrote to him asking for some actual evidence to back up that claim– but that was back when he was not replying to our emails. Another time, we ourselves actually tried to generate some data on this question, but concluded that it’s almost impossible to really know. The point here is that (a) Jennifer Smith, no more than Jason Manshum or Tom Hodge, really doesn’t know whether “a good majority of landowners are understanding.” This is just a pleasing story Enbridge likes to tell itself and the public; and (b) this odd talking point makes it seem as if, like a political candidate running for office, Enbridge only cares about winning over a simple majority. Evidently, when it comes to landowner satisfaction, they like to set the bar extremely low.
The other troubling remark from Jennifer Smith– well, not so much troubling as rather astonishing in its complete disregard for facts– is this:
Smith said safety is the main concern for those in and around the project, and for workers on the project itself. She said Enbridge has been sensitive to ordinances and regulations every step along the way.
We won’t quarrel with the point about safety (although we could). But the second point, about Enbridge’s sensitivity to local ordinances and regulations? Well, that is simply a clear, plain, demonstrable untruth. In fact, it’s so untrue, that Matthew Fahr, the reporter on the story, or his editor ought to issue a correction. We’ve spent the better part of two years discussing Enbridge’s disregard for and evasions of local ordinances, laws, and regulations. In fact, in our post just yesterday, Brandon Township Supervisor Kathy Thurman herself provided a very clear example of how Enbridge was absolutely NOT “sensitive” to one of Brandon’s ordinances:
“There have been a lot of concerns,” she said. “There have been some issues. We ended up shutting them down at one point, because they were in violation of a woodlands agreement.”
We think that most people will agree that “in violation of” is very different from, perhaps even the opposite of, “sensitive to.” So either Jennifer Smith simply has no idea what happened in, say, Brandon and Howell Townships or– and we hope this isn’t the case, because it would be much, much worse– she DOES know and is therefore willfully and deliberately misleading people in a shameless attempt to pacify them. In either case, we are sad to say that the good people of Washington Township were clearly not always accurately informed. So while it’s good that Enbridge is holding these open houses, they still appear to have plenty of work to do to ensure that those open houses are genuinely and honestly informative– and not just spin sessions.
We are currently working on a very important post about a deeply troubling matter that might affect a number of Line 6B landowners. Please stay tuned for it in the next couple of days. As we await some more information– as you know, we strive to be accurate– we thought we’d begin our long overdue and ever-growing news roundup. It’s going to take a few posts.
Now that spring is here (knock on wood!) and the ground has begun to harden a little, Enbridge is getting back to work to our east, putting in the remaining section of pipeline that will run from Ortonville to Marysville, Michigan. Unsurprisingly, that means unhappy landowners. We’ve found some of the local news coverage so far quite interesting:
Over at the Macomb Daily, reporter Lara Mossa quotes our hero Brandon Township Kathy Thurman in an article about Enbridge’s return to work in that area. In her typically restrained way, Thurman recalls some of Brandon’s troubles last year (see our archives) and even talks a little tough:
“There have been a lot of concerns,” she said. “There have been some issues. We ended up shutting them down at one point, because they were in violation of a woodlands agreement.”
Oxford Township Supervisor Bill Dunn, on the other hand, neither reports nor foresees any problems. But his remarks about Enbridge are hardly a ringing endorsement:
“I know they have had problems in other townships, but, for the most part, they are going through very large parcels of land,” he said, adding that much of it is old gravel mines. “It’s not like they’re going through subdivisions. I have not had any complaints. Enbridge has been somewhat cooperative.”
In Bruce Township, according to another Macomb Daily article, residents are (understandably) unhappy with Enbridge’s planned destruction of a number of very tall trees near the Ford test track. Weirdly, Macomb County Road Commissioner Bob Hoepfner thinks that Enbridge’s offer to replant twice as many crappy little trees as the mature ones they’re cutting down is “generous”:
Hoepfner said Enbridge was more than within its rights to do the work on that designated portion of land and offered the county a “two for one” deal to replace all trees that would be removed immediately rather than do their work and see the trees die later.
“They showed us what needed to be done and we agreed with them,” said Hoepfner. “It was a generous offer. Cutting the roots would kill them and the right thing to do is to have them removed.”
But residents and Township Supervisor Richard Cory (no, not that Richard Cory!) think otherwise and say not-so-fast:
“None of us will ever live long enough to ever see those trees provide enough shade over the road like it has now,” said one resident of the proposal to replace the mature trees with new ones after completion of the project.
Cory later asked if residents wanted to fight to have the trees remain intact; the overwhelming response in unison was “we want the trees to stay.”
What the township will base its fight on is a letter Cory read aloud at the meeting from attorney Benjamin Aloia to Enbridge representative Mike Ashton.
Cory said the letter, dated March 10, 2014, was apparently in response to a proposal from Enbridge to remove the trees.
“The Road Commission did not approve or authorize any work whatsoever within the Road Commission’s 36 Mile Road statutory 66-foot full-width right-of-way under this permit,” Cory read to the residents. “The removal of trees was not expressly permitted by the Road Commission with the three-mile stretch of 36 Mile Road in question.”
Finally, from Marysville, the Times Herald reports on some landowners feeling abused by Enbridge. Despite a rather insulting headline– “People Gripe About Enbridge”– the article gives a fair hearing to the concerns of some landowners who appear to have received the same sort of treatment we’ve documented here exhaustively.
What’s the takeaway here? We imagine Enbridge and/or Enbridge apologists would dismiss all of this by saying that any large project is going to run up against some complainers (a notion that, unfortunately, the last story’s headline seems to enforce). But those so-called “gripers”– Brian St. Clair, Thomas Leen, and Judy Robertson, not to mention all those concerned Bruce Township residents– have an awful lot of company. What this says to us is that Enbridge still, after all this time, hasn’t learned anything or is simply incapable of changing its ways.
As some of you know, we were fortunate enough to participate in a forum about tar sands oil development in the Great Lakes Region a couple of weeks ago. Organized by our friend, fellow Line 6B landowner, and Notre Dame University professor Patricia Maurice and hosted by the John J. Reilly Center for Science, Technology, and Values.
Patricia and I were joined by MSU’s Steve Hamilton, who has been a consultant on the Kalamazoo River cleanup, and Beth Wallace, who you surely know by now. Each of us presented for 15 or so minutes and then we took questions from a wonderful and wonderfully-engaged audience.
We thought the event was a smashing success. The room was full and the audience interested, each of my fellow panelists was smart, passionate, and informative. We were even able to meet some people face to face whom we’ve only interacted with through the magic of the internet. It was wonderful to put some faces to some names. Our only regret (but not a surprise), no one from Enbridge attended. Still, the forum went so well that we are hoping to reprise it elsewhere in the months to come. Stay tuned.
In the meantime, you can watch the whole thing online, thanks to Prof. Greg Madey for filming and to Notre Dame’s engineering pubs/graphics crew for getting it posted online:
Thanks, finally, as well to all who attended and, especially, for Patricia for her warm hospitality and her hard work bringing everything together.
When T.S. Eliot wrote that “April is the cruellest month,” he was not speaking metaphorically. It’s been plenty cruel in Michigan generally and certainly here at our place (we won’t bore you with details), which is much of what accounts for the lack of output here at the blog. We’ve got a major news roundup coming your way soon, among other things.
The big Line 6B story, however, is that Enbridge has announced that they’re going to fire up the new Line 6B– that is, the sections of it that have been installed– on May 1. We’re sure they’re quite giddy about this, since it means they get to double the capacity of what the line carries and rake in lots and lots of dough. The great David Hasemyer of Inside Climate News has the story, which focuses mainly (and appropriately) on safety concerns, about which our old friend Larry Springer is on hand with some predictable assurances. Our favorite part is when he says this:
“Enbridge is part of an energy pipeline industry that is committed to the highest safety standards in the construction and operation of our facilities,” Springer said in an email…
Of course, such hollow cant from a corporate flak surely doesn’t reassure anybody. But we do have to give Springer some credit here: generating a bunch of words without actually saying anything really is an art. Perhaps not a very useful or honorable one, but an art nonetheless.
Far better than Springer’s are the remarks of our friend Beth Wallace, who as always is right on point. Beth directs her criticism toward PHMSA for giving Enbridge such a free pass:
“There has been very little progress made toward strengthening rules and regulations since the spill four years ago,” Wallace said. “So allowing them [Enbridge] to nearly double the size of their pipeline before critical rulemaking comes out of PHMSA is putting the cart before the horse.”
One final point. As much as we admire the great work of Hasemyer and Inside Climate News– and this article is no exception–there is one serious omission in this story that we’d like to point out. While Enbridge is firing up the line so that they can start reaping enormous financial rewards from this expansion, hundreds of landowners, including us, are in limbo, waiting and wondering when and how and whether their devastated properties are going to be restored. The priority here is clear: it’s profits, not people.
In a rational universe– that is, one in which a decent respect for the lives and rights of landowners, the people who have no choice but to take on ALL of the risks of this pipeline project, are more important than the financial bottom line of a multinational corporation– in that sort of universe, Enbridge simply would not be allowed to start up the new line until every single property owner along the route is completely satisfied with the restoration of their property. If, for instance, the MPSC were really interested in serving the public interest, this would have been a condition of their approval. After all, it’s not as if the world would run out of fossil fuel in the meantime. And it’s not as if Enbridge would be hurt by such a stipulation; they just wouldn’t gain by it.
Instead, here we are, staring out at our denuded waste land of a property, digging out the dead plants from our garden (killed by Enbridge’s careless work), looking over the bare patches of earth left by the half-assed seeding job of Enbridge’s restoration crews, wondering if and when we’ll ever get those trees Enbridge has promised, waiting for a phone call or email from whatever new Enbridge land agent is currently in charge of matters on our parcel.
We wonder if anyone from Enbridge will think of that– or of all the other landowners who have it just as bad, and in many cases much worse– on the evening of May 1st when they clap and cheer and toast the startup of the new Line 6B, pumping all that diluted bitumen through our blighted backyards.