We knew it would come to this. MLive is reporting today that Rover is suing landowners in Washtenaw over their right to survey. This is a matter we discussed in some detail months ago.
Rover’s actions here are bad enough: they continue to fail to cultivate good relations with landowners in Michigan. Just as bad, however, is Michigan attorney John DeVries, who seems to want to pretend that there is something unusual here, that landowners who are refusing to grant permission are extremists and outliers:
DeVries said the cases are a rarity in his career of about 40 years working on about 20 pipeline projects.
“This is the first time, on one pipeline project of many that I’ve worked on, where surveyor permission had been denied,” DeVries said.
Frankly, we’re not buying it. Either that or none of those “20 pipeline projects” are projects from the 21st century.
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.
Well, we were able to attend last night’s after all– though we’re not sure it was worth our time. Surprisingly, ET Rover representatives did show up– almost a whole six-pack of them! And they wound up doing most, nearly all, of the talking, though not very satisfactorily. What they said was boilerplate, nothing much new and certainly nothing that couldn’t be learned from other sources, including their website. Honestly, we thought their appearance was mainly perfunctory, evidenced most glaringly by the fact that they couldn’t be bothered to stay one single second past 7:30. Maybe they had a plane to catch or something. But one would think that if they were really serious about honest and open dialogue as they claim to be, that they would be willing to take as much time as necessary to address the questions and concerns of all the people who came to looking for answers.
ET Rover representatives
The press was there as well and a few news stories have been posted (and here and here). But the best account of the meeting we’ve seen comes from a friend of ours, attorney Kim Savage, whose impressions of the meeting are devastatingly accurate. Kim graciously agreed to let us post her comments here. So we’ll just shut up and turn it over to her:
by Kimberly Savage, Savage Law PLC
My thoughts on Rep. Graves’ Town Hall with Energy Transfer Partners, in a nutshell: It could have been a really good thing – a real opportunity to engage and connect with landowners – but it just plain wasn’t. Instead, it was frustrating to sit through, and part of me regrets that I made the drive.
Notwithstanding, I commend Rep. Graves and his staff for this attempt, and I’m glad they were able to bring the ET Rover folks to the table, truly I am. But, I am extremely disappointed that bringing ET Rover to the table seems to have come at a such a price. The bottom line: I think Rep. Graves, intentionally or not, sold out his constituents in order to get ET Rover to attend this meeting. In so doing, he underestimated the intelligence of his constituents – who know by now that the sort of “we will work with you” responses they received tonight are nothing more that pure BS, designed to lull landowners into signing easements. After all, as a state, we’ve lived through the Enbridge disaster and the subsequent “replacement” project, and we’ve heard the exact same things before, more times than we can count.
Here’s my take on the whole thing tonight: ET Rover was given all the time it wanted to sugar-coat the plain and simple fact that it is seeking to permanently take private land for a song and for purely corporate profit, and it was given a stage to try to put a different spin on that and to convince all of us that this project does in fact benefit us as Michiganians.
On the contrary, the ET Rover guy seemed to admit that our distribution utilities are not currently considered “customers” of the proposed project. If I heard him right, even though approximately 18% of the production of the Utica and Marcellus shale might flow through Michigan on its way to Canada, no Michigan utility has indicated a desire to purchase that gas. Instead, I think he admitted that it’s all going to Canada, after Defiance, OH. In fact, I think I heard him advise us to urge our local utilities to contact them, implying that they had not yet done that.
To me, it seemed that Rep. Graves’ office likely promised (in order to get the ET Rover people to come) that the “town hall” would not “degenerate” into a real public forum, where hard questions would be asked and the pipeline company’s answers considered. Rep. Graves’ staff person, whoever that guy was, protected the ET Rover spokesperson throughout the way-too-short meeting. He shut down every landowner attempt to ask the questions that so obviously mattered to landowners, and then, as moderator, he picked through the submitted questions, and only lofted the softballs. In short, he didn’t select a single question that addressed landowners’ rights, and I left feeling like I was misled by the announcement that “Rep. Graves is holding a public forum to explain landowners’ rights.”
I am undoubtedly biased, but it seemed to me that landowners were much more interested in learning about their rights as landowners, to either oppose this project altogether, or to have a real voice as to where it is sited, or to negotiate more favorable easement terms or compensation. It seemed to me (based on the shouted, but unanswered questions) that landowners were substantially concerned about the fact that Energy Transfer Partners will likely be granted the right to condemn their land for, let’s be honest here, private corporate profit. But as it was, “Mr. Staff Person” did not ask a single question about condemnation, at least as I recall. I am also admittedly cynical, but this does not seem coincidental. In fact, I submitted several questions personally on this topic, and none of my questions were selected to pose to the ET Rover spokesperson.
Regarding missed opportunities, ET Rover staff could have elected to stay and engage with impacted landowners. Imagine what it would have been like to have your concerns heard and noted. Had ET Rover stayed longer (and responded to all questions, not just the softballs), chances are they would have found a way through these landowners’ lands.
But, as with all early-on meetings with Enbridge, I was left with the sinking feeling that landowners (a characteristically non-litigious bunch) are truly are on their own when confronted with these projects. The MPSC admitted outright tonight that it really plays no role in projects like the ET Rover project. You should read that as, “we won’t be there when all the rosy promises fall flat”– for example, “we will restore your land to the same or better condition as existed prior to construction.” Heck, the MPSC wasn’t even there for landowners on Enbridge’s (supposedly) intrastate Line 6B project, when a long list of promises were ultimately broken. Nor will FERC be there when the time comes, I suspect. They didn’t even bother to show up tonight.
Once again, if they have any hope for relief, landowners will be forced into the ridiculously uncomfortable position of having to file lawsuits to receive only what they’re entitled to under the law, against a proverbial Goliath. To be crude, if experience holds, most landowners will simply bend over rather than file suit against such an intimidating enemy. The current system is not fair, nor does it do much at all to make landowners whole.
As my client and friend Carol said tonight, we need to change the laws. REPEAT, WE NEED TO CHANGE THE LAWS. In the meantime, we need to challenge this private corporation, and not be lulled into complacency, as our regulators and legislatures seem to have been.
Today in the comments section of one of our posts, a reader reports that ET Rover is or will soon begin making cash offers to landowners to acquire easements from them. We cannot verify this. But it’s not at all hard to believe. Pipeline companies acquire easement rights well before projects are approved all the time. In fact, it serves the pipeline companies quite well because– among other things– it lets them say to regulatory agencies that landowners approve of the project. Just look at how many easements we’ve already acquired!
It’s also a way for pipeline companies to take advantage of landowners, who may not really know what they are getting into. And let’s be honest, when someone says pleasing-sounding things to you and waves a check in front of your face, it’s awfully tempting. But this is why it is so very important that landowners inform themselves. To help with that education process, we recently posted some “basics” that landowners need to know about ET Rover along with some links to valuable resources. Please visit that post and those links. In it, we also provided some advice, based on experience, that we’re going to reproduce below.
We’ll just preface this advice by saying that land agents can sound persuasive. They can even be likable. You will want to believe them. But you really shouldn’t. The truth is that you simply cannot trust them. Their job is just to get you to sign an easement. Despite what they will tell you, they don’t really care very much about you or your property or your concerns– none of that is what gets them paid. Therefore, you should be very skeptical of everything they tell you, especially as it relates to time. There is NO rush for anyone to sign any agreements. ET Rover has not even filed an application with FERC yet. Approval, if the project is approved, is probably two years away. Even if you believe the project will ultimately be approved, it is important to understand that there is NO advantage to signing early. In fact, the opposite might very well be the case. Do NOT be pressured into entering into an easement agreement until you have a full command of the facts and implications of that agreement and are completely and totally certain that you are not being taken advantage of in any way. We beg you!
That said, here is the substance of our advice from the earlier post:
- 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. There 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.
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.
As we’ve said many times before, Enbridge just can’t seem to get even the simplest things right. Yesterday, we received our 1099 tax from from Enbridge– a form that was supposed to have been issued by Jan. 31st– only to find that the number reported on the form was wrong. Completely wrong. In fact, the number entered on the form appears to be completely random. We are receiving reports that other landowners also received incorrect forms.
Needless to say, this is a ridiculous situation. Enbridge’s handling of tax reporting is already a problem, since the way they report landowner payments does not distinguish between the portion that is taxable (the pipeline receipt and payment for temporary workspace) from the non-taxable portion (compensation for damages). Landowners are left to sort all of this out for themselves. And now, to make matters worse, Enbridge appears to have problems figuring out what they paid to whom. We’d like to know how this sort of mistake happens– bad land agent bookkeeping?
Whatever the case, please pay careful attention to the forms you receive. Enbridge is aware of the problem, but it looks like they’re not going to proactively contact landowners to alert them (big surprise!). We have been told that Enbridge will reissue inaccurate 1099 forms, but we can’t say for sure. If and when we learn more, we’ll let you know. In the meantime, please share this post with your neighbors. And if you want more information, call the number listed on your 1099.
Yet again, Enbridge appears to go out of its way to make things as difficult as possible for Line 6B landowners. It never ends.
If you want to see what distinguishes Pulitzer Prize-caliber reporting from what ordinarily passes for journalism, take a look at the latest report from David Hasemyer at Inside Climate News. Coinciding nicely with our latest series, Hasemyer’s piece tells the stories of landowners on the Line 6B route–all of whom you’ve encountered here, including our friend Dave Gallagher– whose homes are in close proximity to the pipeline. Gallagher’s situation, in particular, because it is so harrowing and the images so striking, has received quite a bit of media attention over the past couple of months. But few of those reports have provided any useful information about the matter. And some have been really appalling.
By contrast, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Hasemyer (showing once again why he’s a Pulitzer Prize winner) understands and presents to his readers some of the complexity of the situation. He provides some valuable and important context for what Gallagher and Marty Burke and Judy Tanciar have gone through while also remaining sensitive to their experiences. In particular, Hasemyer notes how the current regulatory environment– the laxity of rules and oversight from both PHMSA and the Michigan Public Service Commission– is what makes situations like Gallagher’s, Burke’s, and Tanciar’s possible, leaving them with very little recourse. Hasemyer states the matter succinctly in this powerful sentence, a nice encapsulation of everything we’ve said here on this blog for more than a year:
Without state or federal regulations to protect them, people who live along the 210-mile Michigan section of Enbridge’s new pipeline have been left to plead with a company many say is indifferent to their concerns.
We should have this sentence printed on t-shirts and coffee mugs, bumper stickers and billboards. Schoolchildren all across the state should memorize it and recite it in the morning after the Pledge of Allegiance.
Understandably (ICN is a national publication, after all), Hasemyer focuses a bit more on federal rather than state regulations. And indeed, one can’t stress enough just how weak, ineffective, and cowed by industry PHMSA really is. But as a result of that focus, the MPSC gets off way too easy. That body could have done something to prevent this nightmare, but instead as we discussed at length (and we urge you to read our series on the travesty of the Phase 2 proceedings; if the results of them weren’t so devastating for landowners, they’d be comical), it just rolled over and let Enbridge have its way. Or worse, it actually assisted Enbridge and, we would argue, smoothed the way for other pipeline companies in the future. We don’t mean to suggest in any way that this is a flaw in Hasemyer’s excellent article, only that there is even more (obviously!) to be said about the state regulatory environment and how poorly it served the landowners Hasemyer profiles.
Finally, we can’t fail to note the appearance in the article of our old friend Larry Springer, who shows up to say nothing at all of substance or value. In fact, we could have easily typed up his vapid comments ourselves and saved Hasemyer the trouble of having to track down anyone from Enbridge:
“Safety is our number one priority and in any construction situation our focus is to protect the public, our workers and the environment,” Springer said. “We work with landowners to minimize the impact to their property and to address their concerns through amicable agreement.”
Other than that bit of boilerplate, Springer keeps mum. For instance,
Springer said he couldn’t discuss the company’s dealings with Gallagher, Duman or Burke because those matters are confidential. Gallagher sent a note to Springer giving the company permission to disclose details to InsideClimate News, but Enbridge still declined to discuss his case.
Enbridge’s Springer declined to explain how the company decided to reroute around some houses and not others. The company also did not disclose how many times Line 6B was rerouted to avoid houses.
Of course, in fairness, this is probably a good thing, though not for the reasons of confidentially Springer uses as cover. The fact of the matter is that Springer simply isn’t qualified to discuss his company’s dealings with landowners, because as we’ve pointed out more than once, we don’t believe that he knows even the first thing about those dealings. We suspect he also doesn’t know anything about those other questions– about routing– that he declined to address. Then again, we do have to give him a little bit of credit here; it is generally good policy not to comment on matters you don’t know anything about. But if Springer were really devoted to “open and honest dealings,” what he would have told Hasemyer is “I don’t know how or why the company decided to reroute around some houses and not others. I will find out and get back to you.”
Anyway, all of this is just to say that Inside Climate News continues to do brilliant work. The citizens of Michigan and Arkansas– and everyone else– owes them a debt of gratitude for their continued devotion to thoughtful, informative journalism that serves the public interest.
Today, we are proud to launch our new series: “Landowner Stories,” which will bring you the reflections of Line 6B landowners along Phase One– in their own words! Our first installment comes from Marty and Patti Burke, who live in Oceola Township. Their house is among those in closest proximity to the new pipeline.
The three barrels on the right mark the location of the pipe next to the Burkes’ home.
By Marty Burke
When I try to express verbally or in writing what the last two years has done to us both as a family and or community I become mentally/emotionally paralyzed a bit.
Lets take a look at the negative impact. For me unfortunately there still is not a single positive impact I can see here.
What has Enbridge taken from me?
1) My family’s sense of well being
That intangible feeling you have in your home that this is your place – your save haven – your central command of well being if you will. The place where you have to think, but just feel that it’s your place and because you have pride in it and work hard to pay for it no one can take it from you.
2) My trust in all levels of government from my township to the federal government.
I still struggle to understand every single day how my government, the exact people that are there, paid by me to protect my rights, to protect me from a foreign invader like Enbridge, could have abandoned me in my hour of need. That they could completely turn their backs on me and allow Enbridge without check to take my land/condemn my home and steal part of what I’ve worked for, paid for the last 20 years. I’ve canvassed all levels of governing bodies and found out that not one including our State/county/city/TWP regulators have a requirement for minimum distance a dwelling can be from a high pressure oil pipeline. How can that be when even our lowest level of regulation (TWP) can tell you how far your pole barn has to be from your garage or how far a shed can be from a property line but they have no requirement as to how far your home must be from an oil pipeline? Well, it’s pretty simple if they are involved in setting precedent that could cost Enbridge money (i.e., buying homes that violate the req.) they will be sued by Enbridge and they will lose. So … you and I pay the price for it. . . sounds reasonable, right?
3) My trust in law enforcement and the court system.
When I heard on our local Livingston county radio station that Our Sheriff was allowing Livingston county Sheriff’s deputies to work during their off time as contract security for Enbridge while wearing county uniforms/carrying weapons/driving county vehicles all paid for by the residents of Livinston county I just couldn’t believe it. How was this ever even considered by our Sheriff’s Dept.? How could they possibly have thought this would be in the best interest of our community?
How could it be that when I called 911 to report criminal trespass (by Enbridge) on our private road (Sue Dr.) the Sheriff’s Dept showed up and called the prosecutor’s office? The Livingston County prosecutor’s response was we won’t press charges on behalf of the residents of Sue. Dr.; it’s a civil matter, and I quote “the same as someone on Sue Dr. ordering a pizza and a pizza boy driving down the road.” Yet this same prosecutor was willing to press charges against me for not allowing Enbridge on my property because the site plan they had approved in court did not match what they laid out on my property (which included temporary workspace that was 3 feet from the foundation of my home). The Sheriff’s dept came to my home three times in this time frame to convince me to comply. The last time they brought a 400 lb process server to let me know it was my last chance before I go to jail – he also reminded me that my wife could be arrested too. I complied …. props to Enbridge ..they never lose, do they? Enbridge’s response to my situation would be this – it’s a shame Mr. Burke didn’t comply with us – none of this would have occurred.
4) My Privacy
A year before Enbridge ever broke ground on the line 6B project it was a beautiful sunny afternoon when my daughter came in from our pool and said dad a couple of guys came out of the woods and are in our back yard (remember I live on ten acres – this is not a normal occurrence). I was obviously not happy with this situation and went out to confront them.
They told me they were a contractor to Enbridge hired to do 3D mapping of my property. They were two football fields north of the Enbridge easement. They were in my backyard; the line is in my front yard. This was just the beginning of an endless cycle of unannounced visits by Enbridge and their agents/contractors often times in areas of my property that they no have right to be in.
Fast forward to construction phase – after a lengthy standoff the construction on my property commenced. Enbridge with all their prestigious Engineering savvy came to the conclusion at the last minute that they couldn’t dig the trench as close at it was planned to be to my house so they counterbored underground parallel to the front of my house under my driveway. Now at this point if I sit in my living room to chat with family/watch TV/read/work I’m looking at Enbridge workers walking back and forth in front of my home maybe 10 feet from my windows. They can look in (and they do) and see myself and my family – heck they can see what we’re watching on TV.
Construction vehicles and workers just a few feet from the Burkes’ home.
When I leave for work in the morning they are coming up my driveway – when I come home they are still there working – I can hear their voices from my kitchen while my wife and I are making dinner or talking. The sound of their equipment running constantly is maddening then slowly becomes numbing over time. There is a constant resonance/vibration in my home now and I can’t stop wondering is this hurting the structure of my home?
When I go out in my garage to work on a project there are Enbridge workers outside my windows and multiple Enbridge trucks parked 5 feet from my garage.
When I try to hunt on my property Enbridge workers call the Sheriff’s Dept. and tell them I’m shooting at them. And the Sheriff’s Dept. pays me a visit once again.
When I look out any window of my home I no longer see the beautiful views that I’ve grown used to. I now see workers, equipment, trucks, construction debris, mounds of dirt, and large holes and hazard orange ….hazard orange everywhere.
5) My Sense of well being.
One of the most insidious and difficult things to explain to someone not directly living this nightmare is the toll it takes on your general sense of well being. Not feeling like you’re coming home to your place of solace, instead dreading on a daily basis seeing the state of disarray your home is in. Not knowing how all of this will affect you this month, next month, or next year. Knowing you’re helpless to stop it. Knowing it will have a negative impact on the value of your home in already trying economic times. While these things may seem small to some on a point by point basis it has a cumulative effect on a person. In general you don’t feel hopeful about the outcome. This gut feeling spreads to other areas of your life like work for instance or social scenarios or family issues or health issues. You don’t always feel it but it’s there nonetheless.
Even connections we have with our neighbors are different, some are settling with Enbridge – others are not. Other ancillary issues arise that need consensus from all in the neighborhood, but now this is hard to come by as the “Enridge Effect” has polarized some and alienated others altogether, so coming together as a community just seems to be fractured.
I think this one has to be in the Enbridge handbook on disorientate, alienate, conquer, and divide. Props again to Enbridge.
6) Last but not least ….
The value of my property. Think about this …When Enbridge first approached us to get us to sign off on the “Plan” they had for our property their good faith offer was $6,000.00 . They had lots of charts and monkey math to show why this was more than fair. Keep in mind we would be closer to the proposed pipeline than any other home in our area.
Within a month we started hearing that some neighbors were settling with them with zero impact to their properties other than losing trees for ten times what they offered us.
Good Faith???? Enbridge’s approach to justifying what they do or don’t pay you for loss of value to your property due to their taking and their deplorable reputation is what the industry refers to as the Utility taking of your home.
They actually told me the utility they were taking was relevant due to the fact that there was already a pipeline there. Of course, they own the pipeline that was already there and we were never compensated for taking if you will. What a strange and self convenient logic …kind of like saying I shouldn’t pay for smashing your car because, it was already smashed -never mind the fact that I’m the guy who smashed it in the first place and never fixed it.
Bottom line is I’ve watched my homes value plummet while all others in my area are back on the rise. I have a nice, well maintained home on a beautiful piece of property only one issue – the new Enbridge easement now encompasses the front of my home. My home literally interrupts the north side of the easement.
For Enbridge this becomes a kind of self-fulfilling cost-save prophecy. The longer they wait to settle the less my house is worth (because of them). So the less the value of the taking they eventually pay for. The courts already allowed them to postpone my hearing date from June of this year to Sept of this year. I fully expect the court to allow them to postpone it again. It’s sheer ludicrousy. How can it be legal? How can it be happening?
How can our legal system allow a company with annual sales in the tens of billions to systematically rob individuals of just compensation? Never mind the dehumanizing effect Enbridge has on thousands upon thousand of individuals and families. They even get to offset their costs of doing business on the backs of real people, families, communities.
It truly is numbing and it truly is a nightmare. How can it happen in America? Who would let such a thing happen to us?
Who would put themselves in our shoes?
In an earlier post, we (longwindedly) pondered the question: why can’t Enbridge do better when it comes to cultivating amicable, productive relationships with landowners? Over and over they fail to do the simplest of things that would go a long way to fostering such positive relationships and ending what must seem to them like a never-ending stream of criticism. In this post, we’ll consider several possible answers to that question.
Theory #1: It’s not them, it’s us. Unlike Enbridge, we’re capable of self-reflection, of taking a sober look at ourselves and taking seriously the possibility that we are the problem. So maybe it’s us. After all, this blog is primarily devoted to criticism. From Enbridge’s point of view, we must surely seem like people who just like to complain, who are always adversarial, who will just never be happy (as Tom Hodge once said of displeased landowners generally). So why should they bother cultivating good relations with us? We’re a lost cause. If we’re not notified of construction activity, if our agents can’t give us any clear information, if Enbridge reps– Doug Aller, Jason Manshum, Mark Curwin– ignore our emails, well, we’ve got it coming. That’s what we get for all of the negative things we’ve said here, in newspapers, and elsewhere.
It’s a plausible theory. But there are a few reasons it doesn’t quite hold up. For one thing, it’s not just us. We’ve heard (and told) far too many stories of Enbridge’s disregard for other landowners, landowners who have never uttered a peep of criticism publicly against them. For another thing, in our correspondence with Enbridge reps we have always been unfailingly polite and respectful (we have every single email; we can show them to you!). In our correspondence with Enbridge, we have never given anyone any cause to think that we’re not communicating with them openly and honestly (as they say they communicate). And frankly, the same goes for this blog. Sure, we’re critical. But we don’t engage in personal attacks. We’re not inflammatory or ad hominem. We try very hard to stick to the facts. If there’s something here that is untrue, all Enbridge needs to do is say so and we will correct it. But they have never once done so. Finally, there’s one more reason why we think the “it’s us” theory doesn’t hold up: the fact of the matter is, like it or not, we are STILL Enbridge stakeholders. Their pipe runs through our property. We’re in this together no matter how little either of us likes it. They’re stuck with us just as we’re stuck with them. And we’ve never seen the part where their treatment of landowners or their corporate values exclude people who utter criticisms of them in public. If that’s the case, if their practice is really to “Take the time to understand the perspective of others… until they criticize you,” or if their actual policy is “Treat everyone with unfailing dignity… unless they say things you don’t like,” then maybe they need to revise their corporate values statement. But until they do, we’ll hold them to the original.
Theory #2: They’re evil. If it’s not us, it really must be them. So maybe they’re just bad, rotten to the core. Evil. One of the first things Enbridge Vice President Mark Sitek said to us when we spoke on the phone is, “we’re not evil.” And we quickly pointed out that we have never said any such thing about Enbridge. And in fact, after all this time, we would still never say that. So let’s be very clear: we do not think that Enbridge is “evil.” Frankly, we don’t really even know what such a statement could possibly mean in the first place.
Theory #3: Ineptitude. So if Enbridge isn’t evil, what are they? Well, one theory might hold that they’re simply inept. They’re incompetent. They don’t know what they’re doing and they lack the skills to do it. This is a tempting theory, especially given the fact that they so consistently fail to do things right. But there are several reasons we think this theory doesn’t hold. For one thing, they are a very large, very successful corporation. They make hundreds of millions of dollars a year. They operate and maintain a complicated and sophisticated network of pipelines and manage large, varied demands from diverse customers, partners, and stakeholders. You can’t do that if you’re inept (unless you win the lottery or something).
So maybe they’re only inept at dealing with landowners. This one we’re willing to consider. But Jason Manshum (and I’m sure others) assures us that the “vast majority” of landowners over the past 60 years are quite happy with Enbridge. And even though, judging from the way he’s dodging our questions about this point, he can’t provide any real evidence for that claim, let’s take him at his word. Let’s assume that they DO know how to deal successfully with landowners. Let’s assume it’s NOT ineptitude. The question still remains, why don’t they do what they know how to do?
Theory #4: They just don’t care. This one is tricky. It’s tricky because they talk a lot about how much they care. There are those corporate values, for example. There are all of those fancy and expensive ads (and more and more and more) designed to convince everyone of just how much they care. There are all of the statements that they make in public. But here’s an instance where it’s a little harder to take them at their word. After all, it’s easy to say you care. It’s easy to say you want to be a good neighbor. It’s a little harder to actually be a good neighbor. But not that much harder. Which is precisely the point. How difficult is it, really, to make sure that land agents know when and where construction crews are going to go digging up buried pipe so that they can notify the affected landowners? It can’t really be very hard. So why not just do it? Maybe because it doesn’t occur to you to do it. And the reason it doesn’t occur to you is because you don’t really care. Considering how a landowner who thought construction was over might feel if construction were to re-commence takes a little bit of empathy. Caring people empathize. So maybe this one’s true; Enbridge just doesn’t care– even though they want you to think they care.
Theory #5: It’s not them, it’s their contractors. The fair-minded part of us still wants to hold the tiniest bit of hope that theory #4 is wrong and that when Enbridge reps say they care, they actually mean it. So maybe the problem isn’t with them, but with their contractors. After all, most of what goes on on the ground, most of the people that landowners deal with aren’t actually Enbridge employees. They’re contractors. The construction crews are with an outfit called Precision Pipeline. The right of way agents (or so we understand; this whole system is rather murky) are apparently with a company called Salem Professional Services. And judging from what we heard at the Michigan International Right of Way Association, Salem may not have the best reputation in the industry. Our experience with their agents (though not all of them) seems to support the conclusion that Salem has some problems with quality or experience or professionalism or something. So perhaps there’s some merit to this theory. But we can’t say the same, not in our experience, with Precision. Not being pipeline engineers or welders, we’re hardly in a position to judge the quality of their work– although they appear to be experienced and efficient– but we can certainly say from dozens of conversations and encounters that they hire good people who take pride in their work. We have very much enjoyed meeting and talking with Precision’s construction workers. With very few exceptions they’ve been friendly, respectful, pleasant, serious and happy to engage and answer questions. Our only regret is that more of them haven’t been from Michigan.
So ultimately, we’re disinclined to pin it on the contractors, even though we have our concerns about Salem. After all, it shouldn’t be that hard for Enbridge to demand that its contractors adhere to its values and standards– regardless of the contracting company’s standards. And we know that Enbridge has its own employees in the area of land rights; we visited them. Those are the people, we assume, who should be training and monitoring the contract workers. They are the people, not Salem and its employees, who should be ultimately responsible for the failures and incompetencies and inaccuracies emanating from the land agents. So those are the people– or so our experience suggests– who seem not to really care, lending further credence to theory #4. After all, if the people in the corporate office of land rights aren’t willing to listen to and engage seriously and empathetically with landowners, how can the non-Enbridge employees they oversee be expected to do so?
But we still don’t think “they don’t care” is quite adequate. However, it appears that the answer to this simple question is so complicated that it requires a series of posts to do it justice. In fact, we’ve got a handful of more theories to consider. We’ll take those up in later installments. Please come back.
As we mentioned earlier today, the Freep’s excellent new environmental reporter Keith Matheny has a second article about Line 6B in today’s paper. We think he is doing fine work (the first story is here) and not just because he spoke with us and our friend David Gallagher (happy birthday, David!). But the one thing that stuck in our craw a little reading this story was something Jason Manshum, with his never-ending cache of hollow and misleading quotations, said:
Enbridge spokesman Jason Manshum said the company has worked with thousands of landowners along its pipelines over more than 60 years and “the vast majority of landowners we’ve worked with are pleased with negotiations.”
Now, we’ve heard this line from Enbridge reps in the past, more than once. And we’ve also commented upon it. But this time, we decided not to let it pass. And so, we dashed off the following email to Jason Manshum:
Dear Jason Manshum-
I’m hoping you can answer a few questions for me. This morning I read your comments in the Detroit Free Press and was struck by your statement that “the vast majority of landowners we’ve worked with are pleased with negotiations.” I have read similar statements from you and other Enbridge representatives in the past. As a Line 6B landowner myself, this got me to wondering:
- The article seems to suggest that this statement has to do with all landowners Enbridge has dealt with “over more 60 years.” But I’m not sure how that is relevant to this project. So, would you say that the “vast majority of landowners” on the replacement of Line 6B have been “pleased with negotiations”?
- If so, I’d be interested to know the basis upon which you make that determination. Does “pleased” mean that you didn’t have to take them to court? Would those whom you count as “pleased” include, for example, people who have never expressed any dissatisfaction publicly but who nevertheless were not at all happy with their negotiations? Would it include people for whom negotiations and/or compensation went smoothly, but who did not, say, trust their land agent or Enbridge generally? How many landowners on Line 6B have you actually spoken with? How have you gathered data otherwise? I’m just trying to understand what evidence you are drawing upon to support your assertion.
- Assuming that you are right and it is true that the vast majority of landowners have been pleased with negotiations, what would you say is an acceptable level of displeasure for Enbridge? Ten percent of landowners? Twenty? Thirty?
- Relatedly, how many landowners would you say need to be displeased in order for Enbridge to consider and/or acknowledge that they might be responsible for landowner dissatisfaction (as opposed to just assuming that unhappy landowners are just people who will never be pleased with anything)?
I don’t mean these to be rhetorical questions. Any help you can provide would be very much appreciated. I look forward to your reply.
Groveland Township, MI
We will of course provide you with a full report of Manshum’s reply if and when we receive it.