Happy 2015, everyone! We’re sorry we’ve been away for a while. Since before the holidays, we’ve been attending to some life-matters and over the past few weeks, we’ve been getting back into the swing of a particularly busy new semester.
We do have a bit of news to share, however. Interestingly, the always-excellent Dave Hasemyer at Inside Climate News had a new story out last week featuring our friend Dave Gallagher. The story’s focus is on the incompleteness of restoration on the Line 6B replacement, a good companion piece to Rebecca Williams’ excellent Michigan Radio report a couple months back. Unfortunately, Hasemyer’s story doesn’t really take note of the many and varied other lingering issues on the Line 6B project: it’s not just a matter of restoring people’s land: all sorts of other promises that are not dependent upon the growing season– payments for damages, payments for crop loss, those makeup payments, among other things– have yet to be fulfilled also.
The timing of the ICN story is especially interesting because on Wednesday, we spent about an hour and a half meeting with Steve Wuori, Enbridge’s Strategic Advisor to the CEO; Leo Golden, Vice President of Major Projects; and Jason Manshum. The purpose of the meeting was to address matters like the above– as well as Enbridge’s shabby treatment of landowners generally– in the hopes of getting someone, finally, to take some swift and unequivocal corrective action. As so many readers of this blog already know, Enbridge has shown not even the slightest bit of urgency in attending to these things. Instead, they’re still haggling, hassling, foot-dragging, nickle-and-diming, or just plain ignoring landowners and their remaining concerns. For years, Enbridge has been willing to pay $2000 in attorney’s fees to fight against paying a landowner $1000. It’s time this stops.
We said all of this and more to Wuori, Golden, and Manshum. We did our best to explain– calmly, but in detail– that the mistreatment of landowners on the Line 6B project has been unconscionable, widespread, systemic, and continues still after all of this time– more than 3 years for some of us! We did our best to impress upon them that it is well past time for somebody, anybody, to step up and take charge, since the hapless (or just plain uncaring) people who have failed to get the job done to this point cannot be counted on. As one small example of the current state of things, we described an issue with some landowners who are trying to get compensation they were promised for a fence that was promised but never built. But their land agent is haggling with them over a paltry sum, stalling, and evading. What we said to Wuori is this: “Why not just write the damn check and be done with it? Why continue to torture these people, to frustrate them, to make enemies of them? Just write the damn check.” If Enbridge really wants to begin to try and repair the relationships they’ve damaged, they need to just write the damn checks.
That statement goes for just about everything. People have written agreements stipulating payments for crop loss: just write the damn checks. People have legal agreements for replacement trees: just get them the damn trees. People have unfixed damages to their homes and properties: just fix or pay for the damn damages. Many of these things can be resolved now, immediately, so that everybody can just move on.
The (possibly?) good news is that Wuori, Golden, and Manshum listened very attentively, took notes, and asked questions. At no point did they engage in excuse-making, “explaining,” or justifying of any kind. Frankly, this was a completely new experience for us in our dealings with Enbridge– and a refreshing one. Of course, based on past experience, we have every reason to be skeptical about the assurances we were given. But if we’re being honest– and that’s always been our policy here at this blog– it was probably the best interaction with Enbridge representatives we’ve ever had. For that reason we have some reason for (cautious) hope. For the first time we felt as if we were talking to people who were willing to concede (and they did) that they have failed to live up to their rhetoric and their corporate values and willing to take steps to make things right. We are very grateful they took the time to hear us out.
Most importantly, Wuori and Golden said they were going to get on this; we even received a follow-up email re-stating that pledge. For our part, we vowed to hold them to it– and offered to help in whatever way we can. So if you’re a Line 6B landowner with some outstanding issues or unfulfilled promises, let us know and we’ll be happy to pass them along.
A couple of weeks ago, you may recall that Enbridge announced, rather triumphantly, that they’re done with Phase Two (the final phase) of the Line 6B replacement. At the time, we pointed out that while they may be finished with the only part of the project that really matters to them– getting oil flowing through the pipe– the project is far from finished as far as landowners are concerned. In fact, a great many landowners on Phase One are STILL waiting for restoration to be completed. And they’ve been waiting a very long time.
The fact is, if Enbridge cared even half as much about the lives and properties of landowners as they do about their profits, they would have treated landowner concerns from the start with the same sense of urgency with which they treated their pipeline installation. But restoration and “making landowners whole” has always been, at best, an afterthought.
This morning, we’re pleased to say that someone is finally paying attention to this sad fact. The always-excellent Rebecca Williams at Michigan Radio’s Environment Report has the story.
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.
Honestly, it gives us no particular pleasure to spend our time pointing out the untruths that tumble from the mouths of Enbridge p.r. hirelings. Quite the contrary. All we really want is for them– for Enbridge– to tell the truth, to be honest and forthright and transparent in the way that they say they are, in the way that their corporate values state they will be. Unfortunately, this seems to be very difficult for them.
So, to repeat, it gives us no pleasure to have to once again point out that the things Enbridge spokesperson Jennifer Smith says cannot be trusted (and more). At the same time, it’s not our fault that she continues to deal so very disingenuously with the public. The latest example of this comes from a new report in the Times of Northwest Indiana about yet another Enbridge pipeline project that will cut across a portion of northern Indiana (and Illinois), as part of Enbridge’s ever expanding tangled network of Great Lakes region pipeline projects.
According to the article, Enbridge is preparing to clear some land– some of it publicly and other parts privately owned– in Lake County to make room for their new Line 78 pipeline. This clearing will evidently include taking down quite a number of very large trees, some of them more than a hundred years old. This is understandably troubling to many of the locals and troubling to us as well (long time readers of this blog know that we are especially sensitive when it comes to the removal of trees; Enbridge, by contrast, just doesn’t care).
But even more disturbing is Jennifer Smith’s rationale for the removal of the trees. Her explanation is– to be frank– just plain b.s. From the article:
This fall, crews will start clearing a path for the new pipeline, which will run for about five miles in western Lake County. Enbridge also plans to soon start clearing land around its existing Line 62 pipeline in Dyer and Schererville, spokeswoman Jennifer Smith said. The company will remove mostly large trees, but also any brush, sheds or pools that encroach on the utility right of way because of federal regulations that require the land to be left open for maintenance and emergency response. [italics added]
Enbridge regrets trees have to come down, but is clearing the land for safety reasons and to comply with federal regulations and industry best practices, Smith said. The company is required to fly a helicopter over the pipeline 26 times a year to make sure there are no encroachments that could slow down response times in the event of an emergency.
Smith makes it sound as if Enbridge has no choice but to remove all those trees, as if Enbridge is doing it in order to comply with federal regulations. She also seems to suggest that federal regulations require Enbridge to fly a helicopter over the line 26 times a year. However, neither one of those things is true. Let’s be clear about this: there are NO federal regulations that stipulate trees cannot be in the right of way and there are NO federal regulations that require operators to fly over the right of way 26 times a year.
For clarity, we checked with one of the people who knows these regulations better than anyone: Rebecca Craven at the Pipeline Safety Trust. Rebecca pointed us to federal law 49 CFR 195.412(a):
Each operator shall, at intervals not exceeding 3 weeks, but at least 26 times each calendar year, inspect the surface conditions on or adjacent to each pipeline right of way. Methods of inspection include walking, driving, flying, or other appropriate means of traversing the right of way.
You see: operators DON’T have to inspect surface conditions by flying over; there are plenty of other ways to traverse the right of way, like walking or driving. You will also notice that there is not a word about trees in the right of way. In most cases, that is a matter addressed in easement agreements, many of which, we are quite certain, do NOT prohibit trees and other vegetation in the right of way. Ours didn’t, for example, even though we were told on numerous occasions that trees are not allowed in the right of way.
Of course, if we’re being generous, it is possible the reporter of the story somehow got Jennifer Smith’s remarks wrong– though we doubt it. It’s also possible that Jennifer Smith meant to say that these are not actually matters of federal regulation, but matters of “industry best practices.” But even in that case, “best” really only means “best for the industry,” not for landowners and communities. Further, what “best” actually means in matters like this– flyovers and trees– is “easiest” for the operator (that is, for Enbridge). It’s easier for Enbridge to work in a right of way that’s been decimated and cleared of trees. It’s easier for Enbridge to fly over a right of way in a helicopter than it is to inspect it on foot. Whether those things are “best” is another question altogether. Whether they are “required,” by contrast, is not in question at all. They are absolutely not required.
The bottom line: once again Jennifer Smith and Enbridge are not telling the good citizens of Indiana the truth.
Earlier this month Enbridge announced that they were ready to begin restoration work on the segment of line 6B between Griffith, Indiana, and Stockbridge, Michigan. That’s (semi) good news for all those landowners on Phase Two. But there’s just one problem: Enbridge hasn’t completed restoration work on Phase One. We’ve been hearing from some of our fellow landowners who are wondering what’s going on. We’ve been wondering the same thing ourselves, since this is currently what our property looks like. Trust us, that black silt fence is not of our own design and making.
Of course, nobody from Enbridge has taken any steps whatsoever to inform us or our fellow landowners of when, if ever, anyone from Enbridge will return to complete the job. Tired of waiting– and, frankly, increasingly concerned about all the troubles that barren swath of land is causing, from weeds to water runoff– we called our land agent yesterday to see if we could get some answers. Here’s how that phone call went (note: not an exact transcript, but very close):
Us: What can you tell us about when crews will be back to restore our property.
Agent: Well, I heard they were going to start restoration in June, but I don’t know where they’ll start or when they’ll get to you.
Us: What do you mean, “you heard”? Don’t you know?
Agent: Well, it’s what I heard.
Us: Heard from whom?
Agent: Well, that’s what Enbridge says.
Us: Who at Enbridge said that?
Agent: Well, I don’t know. The higher ups. I heard it from talking to construction crews.
Us: Construction crews? Wait. You’re telling me that Enbridge doesn’t communicate with you, the people who are supposed to communicate with landowners?
Agent: Well, I just heard they were going to start restoration in June, but I don’t know where they’ll start or when they’ll get to you.
So, after a 10 minute conversation, we knew no more than we did before we called. And that’s because Enbridge’s land agents, the people whose job it is to keep landowners informed, don’t seem to know anything and therefore cannot keep landowners informed. And that appears to be because Enbridge, bafflingly, doesn’t tell them anything. It is the most perverse system imaginable. We can only assume that Enbridge supervisors in charge of land agents are either utterly incompetent or simply hostile to landowners, the people with whom their office is supposed to cultivate productive relations. Beyond those possibilities, we have no idea what is to account for these persistent problems and, honestly, we’re tired of speculating. What we do know, however, is that those of us on Phase One have been dealing with this kind of poor communication and indifference from Enbridge for more than two full years now. And there appears to be no real end in sight.
If recent reports are accurate– and we have no reason to doubt that they are– the brand new Line 6B is up and running between Griffith, Indiana and Ortonville, Michigan, pumping ever-greater volumes of diluted bitumen across the region. This is great news for Enbridge and their customers; more profits for everybody!
Landowners on the other hand? Well, news is not so good for them. As we pointed out a few weeks ago, they are rather low on Enbridge’s list of priorities. We, for example, have been trying to get some basic information about perfectly legitimate matters regarding restoration and equitability— but we’ve been put off. Other landowners are in a similar holding pattern, wondering when they can expect to see their properties restored and their other concerns addressed. But landowners don’t know whom to call and Enbridge isn’t making any effort whatsoever to communicate with us. Clearly, Enbridge has more “important” matters to attend to.
Here’s just one illustration of Enbridge’s careless, neglectful attitude toward landowners. Just as it is through ours, oil is now flowing through our friend Dave Gallagher’s property. Enbridge was in a mighty rush last fall to make sure that happened. But the result of that haste, evidently, is a deeply insulting disregard for Dave’s property. Here’s how Enbridge has left it: not just unrestored, but littered with trash and refuse. We know Dave’s property is not the only one that’s been left in such disarray. If you’ve got pictures of your own that you’d like to share, please contact us. We’d be happy to document your discontent as well.
Not exactly our idea of neighborly.