Evidently, Enbridge still isn’t finished thumbing its nose at Brandon Township. According to the latest from ace reporter Susan Bromley at the Clarkston News, Enbridge has been disregarding a township ordinance limiting hours of construction operation. Enbridge, true to form, says that the ordinance doesn’t apply to them– a tune they’ve been playing for a very long time.
Of course, in the scheme of things– that is, compared, say, to a spill– starting up noisy construction vehicles might not seem to be a big deal. But this little incident illustrates a number of points we’ve made around here ad infinitum:
Like it would kill them to just wait until 7 am to start up their trucks. Sigh.
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.
We have always said that we’ll give credit to Enbridge if and when it’s due. It’s not our fault there’s more bad to report around here than good. But this morning, we’ve got something good to report.
Yesterday, we went for a walk at one of our favorite places nearby: the Shiawasee Basin Preserve in Davisburg. A couple of weeks ago, we noticed that they were installing some nice new limestone paths. That work appears to be complete now. And these signs have appeared:
You remember the Environmental Stewardship Program. Enbridge announced it almost a year ago during their settlement agreement with Brandon Township. It’s a very good program, offering $10-15,000 dollar grants to all townships and municipalities all along the Line 6B route for “green” projects. The go-getters in Springfield Township have already put (at least a portion of) that grant money to good use. The path looks great.
So thank you, Enbridge.
Of course, we should also thank Brandon Township Supervisor Kathy Thurman because without the stand Brandon took last year, we don’t think there would be an environmental stewardship program.
Anyway, your own local officials should know about this. In fact, please contact them and ask if they’ve got any plans for that money– and then let us know. (We’re writing our own Township Supervisor this morning.) It’s our understanding that residents are eligible to apply for it as well, as long as the use benefits everyone and is related to a green project. In fact, we would very much like to make this a new series: how municipalities are utilizing these funds. Heaven knows we could all stand to see some good things come out of all of this.
That would be a series even Enbridge would like!
While Enbridge works hard this week to woo the press (much more on this coming up later), they’re also taking some lumps. Comstock Township, like the EPA last week, has considered Enbridge’s request and then told them “no.” Late last night the Township Planning Commission voted unanimously to deny Enbridge special zoning for a dredge pad as they continue to clean up the Kalamazoo River. Lindsey Smith at Michigan Public Radio has the story. Evidently, residents and Bell’s Brewery owner Larry Bell were mighty pleased with the outcome.
Because we don’t know enough about the issue, we never really took a strong position on the dredge pad matter, except to say that in general we think it’s good policy to defer to local authority and community desires on such matters. We’re pretty big fans of local autonomy when it comes to the protection of landowners and natural resources. In fact, Enbridge’s callous disregard of local authority and concerns has been one of the major themes of this blog for more than a year. With that in mind, we’ll indulge in one little observation:
It now appears that Enbridge is going to have real trouble meeting the EPA mandated deadline for this latest round of clean up. And they probably think it’s all Larry Bell’s fault. But they have no one to blame but themselves. This dredge pad situation is a nearly identical replay of what happened on phase one of their project. They tried (despite their stated values) to take the easy way out and circumvent local ordinances. And what happened? Just like in Comstock Township, some brave local officials and concerned citizens cried foul, causing Enbridge to slow down, then scramble to make nice so they could resume their work after some long and painful (to Enbridge) delays. The result? The whole thing took far more time and created far more acrimony and bad feelings than it would (or should) have if Enbridge had simply gone about it thoughtfully, respectfully, and cooperatively in the first place.
In this context, the Comstock Township just demonstrates yet again that Enbridge appears incapable of learning from its mistakes.
A busy week at our day job– papers! midterms!– prevented us from blogging last week; we’re sorry for the silence. We’re also planning to play a little catch-up around here regarding Line 6B matters over the next several days. And in case you are not caught up, we might be so bold as to remind you take a peek– and share– our recent post about the way Enbridge has effectively rewritten important Michigan state regulations. Oh, and if you didn’t see the recent unfortunate, uninformed and misleading remarks of some of Enbridge’s landowner-supporters (how disappointing that they wouldn’t support their real neighbors!), that’s worth a look, too. So is Lisa Song’s excellent recent piece over at Inside Climate News.
More immediately, we’ve got more to report about our recent chat with Kathy Thurman over at Brandon Township, where we learned some interesting things– like the fact that Enbridge has already violated the agreement they signed back in December. In the meantime, while we’re working on that and a couple of other things, here’s a slideshow of pictures we took on a quick tour through Brandon Township following our meeting with Supervisor Thurman:
The last time we saw any Enbridge representatives– Mark Curwin, Thomas Hodge, and Mike Ashton, to be precise– they were primed for action. This was at a Brandon Township Board of Trustees meeting last December where Enbridge was bound and determined to finalize an agreement with the township. The matter was clearly of the utmost urgency to Enbridge and they made it clear that there was no way they were leaving that meeting without an agreement. Waiting just one more week to sign the agreement, they said, would cause them “heartburn.”
Well, the agreement they reached that night (well, actually, they didn’t actually finalize it that night) was signed by Mark Curwin (on behalf of Enbridge) on Dec. 13 and by Supervisor Kathy Thurman on Dec. 17, making it official and legal. Why are we telling you this? Well:
Because Enbridge has already violated that agreement.
Yes, you heard that right. You see, as part of the settlement– specifically with regard to Brandon’s Woodlands Ordinance, Enbridge agreed to pay Brandon Township $10,000, a payment, the agreement states, which “shall be due and payable 21 days after the execution and delivery” of the agreement. That means that Brandon should have received this payment about the second week of January. But it’s now a month later than that and they STILL have not received that payment, even though Brandon has reminded them about it. Twice.
Now let us be clear about something here (speaking for ourselves, not Brandon Township). This isn’t about the money Enbridge promised. In fact, we’re not even suggesting that Enbridge will not eventually pay that money. We have no doubt that they will. And who knows what sort of large corporate bureaucratic accounting labyrinth something like this has to go through in order for a check to get cut somewhere up in Canada. We certainly have no idea. But that’s not the point and that’s no excuse. Rather, in addition to once again disrespecting Brandon Township, the point here is this:
When Enbridge wants what it wants, they act with tremendous haste and urgency. They turn up the pressure and throw their weight around and they get exactly what they want. They did it to the MPSC, they did it to the Brandon Trustees, they did it to us. But when it’s something of importance to others and not to them, like a paltry $10k to some tiny township, they drag their feet as if they just don’t care– even if that means failing to abide by a settlement contract they themselves have signed. We have said for months, that Enbridge makes it very difficult for anyone to believe the things that they say. And here we have a simple and clear illustration of the point. Enbridge signed an agreement that said they would do X– an agreement, mind you, that they were in a tremendous hurry to reach– and, despite the terms of that agreement, they still have not done X.
And they wonder why people don’t trust them.
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.
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.