Enbridge is up to some dirty tricks.
Before we explain, we need to share something positive. A few months back, we had some fairly serious problems on our property related to pipeline construction that needed to be addressed. After more phone calls and emails than should have been necessary, we finally touched base with our land agent, who took up our concerns, called in the restoration contractors to see what could be done to resolve our problems, and followed through on resolving the issues. Because of those contractors in particular, it turned out to be one of the best, if not the best, experiences we’ve had with Enbridge since this project began.
That new restoration contractor is Bowman’s Excavating. A while ago, we’d heard some good things about Bowman’s from some of our fellow landowners. We’re glad to report that we, too, think they’re doing excellent work and that, unlike Enbridge’s previous contractors– careless outfits from Wisconsin and Idaho–we believe that the crew at Bowman’s genuinely wants to do right by landowners and therefore treats them with respect and works hard to makes sure they’re well taken care of. We’re sure such care and responsiveness has a lot to do with the fact that Bowman’s is a local company. And unlike Enbridge, the good people from Bowman’s really are our neighbors. Honestly, based on our dealings with Bowman’s, we can’t say enough good things about them.
The sad part, however, is that they may be stretched a little thin, since they’ve been tasked with RE-DOING pretty much ALL of the restoration work along Phase One– because the “work” done by Enbridge’s first contractor was so bad, so shoddy, and so terribly sloppy. Because Enbridge hired such thoughtless, hurried contractors the first time around and allowed them to get away with a bunch of half-assed work, Enbridge is now paying a new contractor to do it all over again. How’s that for efficiency and good business? We’ve heard tales that those other crews are still around working on Phase Two, though we’re not certain. But we will offer this bit of advice for Phase Two landowners: if you see trucks from Indianhead Pipeline (they’re from Wisconsin) or Blue Sky Construction (from Idaho) in your area, contact your land agent and tell him or her that you’d rather have Bowman’s doing restoration on your property.
Now to our main point: while this latest interaction was for us, on the whole, a very positive one, it was very nearly spoiled when our land agent asked us to sign a document releasing Enbridge from further restoration obligations as a precondition to settling our outstanding problems. We had heard some stories that Enbridge was pulling this trick with other landowners. So we weren’t altogether surprised. But we were taken aback, particularly since the problems we were settling had nothing to do with restoration; they were about damages to our property. For that reason, the demand that we sign off on restoration sounded to us like some kind of extortion tactic, an attempt to strong-arm us into releasing Enbridge from further obligation– and that’s exactly how we responded at the time. Fortunately, the agents backtracked before we really blew our stack. And while we have great confidence that Bowman’s has done a great job restoring our property, we have not signed off on restoration nor are we under any kind of obligation to do so–now or ever. Neither is any other landowner, despite what a land agent may tell you. You may choose to sign one of those waivers, but you do NOT have to.
But here’s the bigger problem: we know that Enbridge has been employing this tactic with lots of other landowners as well: withholding restitution owed for damages and other things (like those makeup payments) until landowners agree to sign off on restoration. We think almost anyone would agree that this is wrong, unfair, unethical, and certainly unneighborly. We can’t help but wonder if Enbridge’s senior executives know about this or whether it’s some scheme cooked up by the land services department. More importantly, we can’t help but wonder whether this coercive little ploy is even legal. Perhaps some of our readers from the law firm of Fraser Trebilcock Davis & Dunlap can look into that question and let us know. In the meantime, we’re going to see if any of the journalists we know can find that out. We’re also going to ask the Consumer Protection Division of the Michigan Attorney General’s office what they think about it.
We’ll let you know what we learn. In the meantime, we would recommend that you not allow Enbridge to pressure you into signing any documents releasing them from further restoration obligations if you do not feel completely, totally, 100% comfortable doing so. Enbridge has a legal obligation to restore your property to pre-construction condition and to compensate you for damages incurred during construction– and that obligation is NOT contingent upon you signing any documents whatsoever. Don’t let your land agent tell you otherwise. But don’t just take our word for it. If you’re not sure what to do, contact an attorney.
The news from Enbridge in Michigan this week is that they’ve finished installing the new Line 6B, wrapping up construction work in the eastern part of the state and beginning restoration. As those of us on Phase One learned, to Enbridge, that pretty much means they think they’re finished: all that matters to them is getting the new pipe in the ground and pumping as much oil through it as possible. That’s where the money is. But Phase Two landowners need to be vigilant about restoration and make sure that it gets done right and to their complete satisfaction. It could take a very long time. We also recommend that landowners not be duped by Enbridge land agents into signing any paperwork releasing Enbridge from its restoration obligations. Believe us, they’ll try.
The truth is that, to Enbridge, everything other than getting the new pipe up and running is just an afterthought. You don’t have to take our word for it. Just ask these Phase One landowners. And these landowners. Enbridge more or less abandoned them.
They also abandoned a number of landowners to whom they still owe make up payments, as we reported to you quite some time ago. We’ve heard from some landowners who have asked about this matter, but they’ve gotten nothing but the runaround from Enbridge. To make matters worse, virtually everyone from Enbridge, from executives to land agents, who were around on Phase One (falsely promising us, according to the fictional corporate script, that they’d be with us to the bitter end) have vanished.
The one person who does remain is Jason Manshum. And unfortunately, he’s not finished saying outrageous and offensive things. This week, he’s giving reporters (and the public) a terribly distorted account of the reality of the Line 6B replacement project:
Manshum said the replacement in St. Clair County has been smooth compared to other spots along the replacement route through Michigan.
“There have been individuals or groups of people that have voiced their opposition to either the project or the industry,” Manshum said, adding that in a few instances the opposition has become a threat to the safety of the protesters or Enbridge crew members.
“We’ve unfortunately experienced that in a few places along our Line 6B replacement project, but not in St. Clair County that I can recall at this time.”
Once again, Manshum and Enbridge want to pretend that the problems they’ve had on this project have been with a handful of protesters, rather than a whole bunch of justifiably irritated landowners. After all this time, they still refuse to acknowledge what everybody knows is the truth: that Enbridge mistreated many, many people very badly on this project–and we’ve spoken with enough people involved over the past couple of years to know that even Enbridge, privately, knows this to be true. Enbridge simply doesn’t have the integrity to face up to this truth publicly and take responsibility for its actions.
As if to demonstrate that point, the other Enbridge news this week is that they’re launching a major new ad campaign– because they continue to believe that their problems have to do with public relations, rather than their (bad) behavior. And the premise of the new campaign? Astonishingly, it’s the same insulting, condescending line we heard from the erstwhile Joe Martucci three years ago at the very beginning of the Line 6B replacement project: that “Life takes energy.” You see, because Enbridge believes we are all so very stupid that if they just remind us that petroleum powers our cars and gas heats our homes, we will simply ignore all of their deplorable actions and behavior. After all, it’s a whole lot easier to pay some slick ad agency to try and repair your damaged image than it is to stop doing the things that make you look bad in the first place.
A “debacle,” a “one-sided show and tell,” a “well-orchestrated disaster“– this is how attendees at the latest round of ET Rover open houses have described the events, which have provided landowners and concerned citizens with very little helpful information and served only to stoke suspicion and create even more frustration and resistance. Energy Transfer is proving to be even more hapless in cultivating good relations with Michiganders than Enbridge. That’s an extraordinary feat.
The recent round of meetings has garnered a fair amount of press attention this week, which we’re glad to see. Unfortunately, those news reports mainly just note how unhelpful Rover’s informational meetings have been. They don’t really do much to correct the information deficit. Partly that’s because journalists, like local officials and landowners, appear not to really know where to turn for reliable information.
For example, Eric Dresden over at MLive turned to the Michigan Public Service Commission (you remember them, right?), an agency that has no authority or oversight whatsoever over this project. But of course, that didn’t stop MPSC spokesperson Judy Palnau from offering up this pointless, vapid, wrongheaded, industry-minded bit of claptrap: “The market does what the market does,” she said. “Generally speaking, it will increase supply and usually an increased supply means a better price.”
Reading the press coverage of ET Rover, we’ve encountered all sorts of other inaccuracies, large and small. According to another MLive article, for instance, ET spokesperson evidently told reporter Ben Freed that the FERC pre-filing process, which includes these open houses, is “optional.” That, too, is false.
So where to turn for accurate information? State representatives don’t appear to know much, although it is heartening to see them attending these meetings and (possibly) taking some action in facilitating public forums. The same goes for township supervisors, who also want to organize public forums that might be more productive that Rover’s pointless open houses. However, they’re also not sure where to turn. Atlas Township Supervisor Shirley Kautman-Jones (who is showing excellent Kathy Thurman-like leadership) is thinking of bringing in reps from the Michigan DEQ, for example. But as we learned recently, that’s a terrible idea. Just this week, a DEQ rep demonstrated that he has no idea what he’s talking about when it comes to these matters: he told one of our readers that “It is unlikely that eminent domain would be invoked for this commercial purpose”– a statement that is outrageously and absurdly false (see the comments section).
Even those who are trying to help landowners are full of misinformation. Down in Ohio, for example, a couple of attorneys have been holding open forums encouraging landowners to know their rights and act accordingly. We think that’s very important and also recommend hiring an attorney (when that time comes). But it’s also disturbing to see these attorneys running around telling landowners that ET Rover already has the power of eminent domain (which they do NOT), among other minor inaccuracies. It’s bad enough that ET Rover’s information can’t be trusted. Those on the side of landowners ought not to compound the spread of misinformation.
Similarly, another otherwise helpful resource for landowners, Curtis Talley at the Michigan State Extension recently responded to a reporter’s question about how Rover might affect property values by saying, “It probably won’t affect land values, but it possibly could, based on someone’s location,” he said. But that is far from clear. There’s good evidence to suggest that natural gas pipelines DO negative effect property values. Here, for instance, is a right of way attorney making that case (of course, that was before Enbridge hired him and paid him to start saying just the opposite; but that’s another story). The truth of the matter is, the question of pipelines and property values is murky and unclear. Nobody knows for certain– a fact that should not bring comfort to landowners.
All of this is why we are here. We work hard to provide clear, factual, accurate information. If you’re new to the site, start with this post, which has important links that explain the process. And we will continue to try, both here and over on our Facebook pagem to correct false or misleading information wherever we encounter it.
Lastly, we’d just like to say that it’s been inspiring to watch residents in townships north of Oakland County– those along the “new” ET Rover route– step up their efforts to inform themselves and one another. Many of those residents are commenting here and we applaud and admire their efforts, which are yielding results: already, two new townships, Hadley and Atlas, have passed formal resolution opposing the project. Atlas Township has also filed its resolution with FERC. It appears (or so we hope!) that others townships are going to follow suit. Please contact your local officials!
As the ET Rover route has (apparently) shifted to the north, we’ve noticed lots of new traffic at the blog, likely seeking more information– since ET Rover doesn’t appear to be providing much. We are happy to try and offer whatever little bit of assistance we can for those seeking to learn more. So here are a few links and bullet points that might helpful by way of some basics about the project:
We’ll start by laying our cards on the table: we here at the Line 6B Citizens’ Blog oppose the ET Rover project. We don’t just oppose the proposed (or formerly proposed) route. We oppose the whole project. If it is approved, it will mean the taking of private land for corporate profit. It will bring very little benefit to Michiganders because most of the gas it will transport is destined for Canada (and elsewhere). Finally, it is not a “public necessity,” as Energy Transfer and FERC themselves both agreed just last year.
Secondly, it’s important to understand how the approval process for a project like this works. That information is available at the agency responsible for regulating interstate natural gas pipelines, the Federal Regulatory Energy Commission (FERC). Right now is what’s called the “pre-filing” stage. ET Rover won’t officially file their application with FERC until January. Review of that application will take time: probably about two years. So this pipeline isn’t going to be built tomorrow.
Thirdly, in addition to understanding the process, landowners need to know their rights in case the project is approved. FERC provides a citizen’s guide with some basic information. An even better resource for landowners is available from the Pipeline Safety Trust.
Finally, citizens have a voice in these proceedings. If you are opposed to this project (for whatever reason) or if you are in favor of it, for that matter, you can file a comment with FERC. Instructions on how to do so are here. You can also read the comments of others.
In addition to those resources, we would also offer (humbly) a few quick words of advice based on our own experience as landowners with a pipeline on our property:
- Don’t trust land agents. We’re sure some of them are honest and professional. And many of them are perfectly pleasant people. But their interests are NOT your interests. Their job is to tell you pleasing things. But those pleasing things often do not correspond to reality. Be skeptical. Protect yourself.
- Understand eminent domain. They can’t (and don’t want to) take your house or your whole property. They only want to access a portion of it. If they do get that easement, they do not own that part of your property. You do. Their are restrictions on what they (and you) can do with that portion of your property.
- Money isn’t everything. A certain monetary offer for easement rights might sound appealing. But keep in mind that there are many, many more things that come with the installation of a pipeline on your property. The stress, strain, disruption, destruction of your property, and potential accidents might well make whatever dollar amount you are eventually offered seem not so great in retrospect.
- Lastly, if it does come down to negotiating an easement (though again, this is probably two years away), consult an attorney with experience in this area. There are dozens of things that the ordinary landowner would never think of that could be a potential problem. Just ramble through our archives (like these posts) and you’ll see what we mean.
Oh, and one additional thing: we will keep up with events as best we can and post information here. But sometimes it’s easier and faster to post updates on our Facebook page. Please join us there if you are on social media.