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.
Over at the Brandon Citizen, Susan Bromley, who has covered this story like no one else, has an account of Monday’s Brandon meeting and a bit more detail on the agreement. Much of it covers the items we mentioned in the second installment of this series. But we did learn from Bromley that Enbridge is footing the bill for the legal costs Brandon incurred during this process– and that’s excellent news.
The article also includes plenty of hollow statements from Enbridge spokesperson Jason Manshum, the same sort of boilerplate remarks we’ve heard from him for months. (We’ll grant him this much: the guy stays on message.) Honestly, after all that has happened these past few months, after all we’ve learned, all we’ve documented here on this blog, and all we have experienced, we fail to see how once again saying, “”We value our relationships with all those who live and work along our pipeline right-of-way and will be working hard to minimize the impacts on the community and the affected landowners,” is even remotely helpful to anyone. As we’ve said before, just repeating something over and over and over doesn’t make it true.
Anyway, Bromley’s article also captures nicely some of the drama of the meeting, drama which took place mainly at the very end. We’ll quote a bit of that in just a moment, but we’d also like to provide just a tiny bit of setup:
It became clear by the end of Monday’s meeting that Enbridge wasn’t going to leave without an agreement. Why? Well, our theory is this: t once federal district court Judge Cleland sent the case back to state court, Enbridge felt a renewed sense of urgency. Originally, they thought dragging the POLAR lawsuit into federal court would sink it. When that didn’t happen, they needed to scramble to ensure that Brandon did not intervene again– because a state court would be far more likely to take interest in the statutory and constitutional argument put forth by both Brandon and POLAR (and the MTA). In order to prevent further delays (not to mention to risk losing!), Enbridge needed to reach an agreement with Brandon– which explains why they were so much more agreeable last Monday than they were back in, say, August.
That’s mainly speculation on our part, though we suspect it’s reasonably accurate. Whatever the case, it was obvious that Enbridge thought matters were pretty urgent at the Brandon meeting on Monday. And that induced in us a bit of déjà vu. After all, this is pretty much how our private negotiations with Enbridge went. For months, Enbridge dragged their feet. Weeks would pass by without any word from our ROW agent. But then all of a sudden, six months in, Enbridge decided that matters were urgent. They were suddenly in a big hurry and needed to reach an agreement immediately. So they snapped into action, pressured and threatened. They were determined to get their agreement. And they did.
And this is what it was like at the Brandon meeting. Here’s Bromley’s account, which picks up after the board returned from their closed session and discussed amendments to the agreement:
When Trustee Ron Lapp said he wanted to see the finished document before he approved it, Rumball, Trustee Dana DePalma and Clerk Candee Allen all agreed. But near the end of the meeting, after Cooney spoke in support of the agreement, the board had an apparent change of heart.
“I have complete confidence in Stuart (Cooney),” said Lapp, who then addressed Curwin, Enbridge Project Manager Tom Hodge, and the Enbridge attorney, asking: “Is it going to give you heartburn to wait seven more days?”
In unison, the Enbridge representatives answered “yes,” and Axt expressed disbelief that the board was expediting the process on behalf of Enbridge rather than the township residents.
The board then unanimously approved settlement, clearing the way for phase one of the project in the township to proceed.
This was a pretty dramatic moment, to which we’ll add just one little detail. When it appeared that the board members were going to ask to see a final document before approving it, Enbridge attorney Mike Ashton jumped up, approached Stuart Cooney (who was sitting right next to us), and asked if they could finalize the language of the agreement “right now.” He and Cooney then walked out. It was after this little tête-à-tête that Cooney spoke to the board.
Now, we should be clear: we’re not suggesting something nefarious went on here, just that Enbridge put on the full court press– and it worked. Yet just like in our own negotiations, the delays that caused Enbridge to become so impatient and so desperate to reach an agreement with Brandon were always of their very own making.
There’s just one last story to tell in this series until we see the final agreement: our conversation that same night with Hodge, Curwin, and Ashton. That’s coming soon…
We’re still awaiting details on the final agreement between Brandon Township and Enbridge; it’s probably going to be several days at least before its language is finalized and the document made available to the public. Yesterday, in our first installment of this new series, we provided as much detail as we could– and we hope other townships were paying attention. In fact, we encourage you to contact your township supervisor and insist that they also get an independent construction supervisor and that they know about Enbridge’s environmental stewardship program. After all, Enbridge insists that they treat stakeholders “fairly and consistently.” Let’s make sure they do.
While we’re waiting for the finalized agreement, we thought we’d bring you some other stories from Monday night’s meeting, where the agreement was reached. It was, to to say the least, quite interesting. Of particular interest were the stories that a couple of landowners shared with the trustees. We’ll tell the story of landowner Bill Aldrich in a different post some time in the coming days. This morning, we want to tell you about Tony Amico.
Prior to Monday night’s meeting, we’d never met Tony. He is a landowner in Brandon Township near the Line 6B route. Enbridge has no easement on his property, although they did need to use a portion of his land for temporary work space. Like most of us, Tony was perfectly willing to work with Enbridge; he had no plans (or desire) to obstruct the project. Tony was simply concerned with minimizing the number of trees– very old, very large trees– that Enbridge removed from his land. So he struck an agreement with a ROW agent (whom Tony trusted): prior to any construction activity on his land, a construction manager would meet with Tony to discuss, among other things, which trees would or could be saved. Now just imagine Tony’s surprise when he arrived on his property one day to find that Enbridge had already, without any such meeting, cleared a swath of his land, taking down some 75 mature and valuable Black Walnut trees (among others). When Tony contacted his ROW agent about this violation of what he thought was a good-faith agreement, he more or less just got a shrug of the shoulders in reply. And that was it.
Like so many landowners, Tony was unhappy, frustrated, and angry– and had no idea where to turn. Tony’s experience shows clearly that despite what Thomas Hodge has told the MPSC, landowners absolutely do not “know they have an avenue to escalate the issue if they are not getting satisfaction from the land agent that they are dealing with.” In fact, landowners generally have no idea where to turn once trust with their land agent has been broken. And often (as in our personal case), even when they try to move “up the chain” (as Hodge puts it), they are ignored or dismissed.
Which is why, after weeks (maybe months) of anger and frustration, Tony came to the Brandon board meeting to tell his story. And what was so interesting about this is that during the break in the meeting (a coffee and cookie reception for the newly sworn-in board), Tom Hodge and Mark Curwin were all over Tony. They wanted to hear his story. They gave him their cards. They made an appointment to meet him at his property the very next morning. They seemed to want to make things right.
Now, in fairness, we think that is a very good thing. And we’re not going to doubt the sincerity of Hodge and Curwin when they say they want to make things right with Tony Amico. We don’t believe– nor have we ever said– that people like Hodge and Curwin (ROW agents may be a different story, however) don’t care about landowners or aren’t willing to be responsive. In fact, if anything, what we’ve said–not about Hodge and Curwin specifically, but about Enbridge executives generally– is that they don’t care; we believe they just don’t know about all the Tony Amicos out there. And we’ve further said that they also seem to us rather unwilling to acknowledge just how many Tonys actually are out there. And the sad fact is that if Tony didn’t just happen to be at that meeting where Hodge and Curwin had no choice but to hear his story (in public!), Tony would STILL be angry and unhappy.
It shouldn’t have to be this way.
So once the meeting resumed, we wrote down the remarks we planned to make during public comments. We wound up saying other things– for reasons we’ll describe in a different installment of this series (stay tuned!)– but here’s what we wrote:
For every Tony Amico or Bill Aldrich who is here tonight where Enbridge can make a public show of their responsiveness, I can tell you first-hand– because I’ve heard their stories– that there are dozens more landowners along the Line 6B route who feel abused and mistreated, who feel like they have no recourse or voice, nowhere to turn, who feel helpless and alone and who have NOT been made whole, as Enbridge promised they would be. So my question for Enbridge is simply this: how many stories like Tony’s does Enbridge need to hear before they are willing to squarely and honestly face the fact that there is a serious problem with the way they have dealt with landowners on this project?
As we reported yesterday, the Brandon Township Board of Trustees voted to approve an agreement with Enbridge at the end of a very long meeting Wednesday night. The agreement, the precise language of which has yet to be finalized, puts an end to any litigation against Enbridge on the part of Brandon. We attended the meeting– all five exhausting hours of it. And while we have not seen the agreement document, we can provide some details based on the information presented and discussed at the meeting. But since there’s so much to report, we’re launching it as a new series. This is our first installment.
The Enbridge representatives who attended the meeting were Project Manager Thomas Hodge, attorney Mike Ashton, and General Counsel Mark Curwin. We were struck by the absence of any of Enbridge’s public relations representatives (what ever happened to Joe Martucci, anyway?), which was a pretty clear indication that at this meeting, Enbridge meant business– and also perhaps an indication that in previous meetings with Brandon, Enbridge did not really mean business. After a brief presentation to the Board by Tom Hodge restating the basics of the project, the new Board was sworn in. They then conducted their regular business and then convened a closed session– which lasted nearly two hours!
(Teaser: It was during this break that we introduced ourselves to Curwin, Hodge, and Ashton; we’ll make that encounter the subject of another installment of this series.)
We assume that during the closed session, the township attorney walked the board through the terms of the drafted agreement. It is our understanding (based on discussions that proceeded when the Board returned) that the agreement is based on a “Sample Enbridge agreement” that has been circulated to townships by the Michigan Townships Association. We happen to have a copy of that document. It’s not clear whether the MTA created it or initiated its creation–it reads to us as if it were written by Enbridge– or why the MTA would want to create such a thing, especially given that a month ago they filed an amicus brief in federal court in support of POLAR’s attempt to enforce the Michigan Constitution’s “consent” requirement. Whatever the case, the sample agreement says this:
WHEREAS, the Township of ____________, (hereinafter referred to as the“Township”), a Michigan municipal corporation whose address is _______________ asserts that pursuant to Article 7, Section 29, of the 1963 Michigan constitution and MCL 247.183 consent to cross certain roads and/or public rights-of-way within the Township for purposes of installing underground pipelines is required to be obtained from the Township (hereinafter referred to as the “Consent”), which Consent is not to be unreasonably withheld by the Township…
But then a little farther down, it says this:
WHEREAS, Enbridge asserts that the provisions of Article 7, Section 29, of the 1963 Michigan Constitution and MCL 247.183 do not apply to Enbridge’s Line 6B pipeline system, nor the Project; that to the extent Township consent is required that consent was given to Enbridge upon initial construction of the pipeline in 1969; and that the Township has waived any right to assert these requirements at this time.
So what we have here is a document that evidently has townships giving consent even though the document does not insist that Enbridge is actually required to seek that consent. Of course, one could argue that this is a nice compromise measure; we would imagine that this is what Enbride would say. However, the obvious problem with that is that most of us don’t get to craft compromises when it comes to complying with the laws of the state; we just have to comply.
Aside from making it clear that Enbridge is NOT agreeing that they are legally required to seek consent, the agreement doesn’t really do very much. It says Enbridge will pay the township a thousand bucks, will have insurance, and will behave during construction. And that’s pretty much it.
We don’t know how closely the Brandon agreement adheres to the MTA’s sample document. We don’t know, for instance, whether the Enbridge-asserts-it-does-not-need-consent clause is included in the Brandon agreement. What we do know is that Brandon insisted upon some modifications and amendments, which Enbridge agreed to. These are as follows (again, as best as we can piece together from discussion without having seen the final document itself):
- As a settlement with regard to the Brandon Woodlands Ordinance, Enbridge will pay the township $10,000 in addition to supplying replacement trees (80 trees per acre) for the estimated 6 acres of clearing on the township. We’ve got some things to say about this tree replacement program also, but we’ll save that for another post.
- Enbridge will post a bond in the amount of $5ok for road restoration; this seems like a very good thing, especially since the laughable bond required by the Oakland County Road Commission is for a mere $5000.
- Enbridge agreed to the use of a construction supervisor or inspector, hired by Brandon but paid for by Enbridge, whose job it will be to oversee compliance with construction agreements with landowners. This is, we think, a stroke of brilliance– something that’s been needed in Livingston and Ingham counties (and elsewhere) for a long time. Every single township should insist on the same. Brandon deserves ENORMOUS kudos for coming up with this measure as a way of helping to protect its citizens.
- Lastly, Enbridge said they were rolling out an “environmental stewardship” program that would make funds available to every township along the line. The amount has yet to be determined and it will evidently vary depending upon township population and other factors. But the money can be used for a variety of measures and perhaps even for local groups as long as it meets certain criteria for environmental stewardship. This, too, we are happy to say, sounds like a great idea. Yet– and this seems to be Enbridge’s specialty–the program is soured somewhat by the fact that Enbridge didn’t just do it in the first place, months ago. It would appear that Enbridge only acts like a good neighbor after they’ve been challenged, sued, had their construction activities halted, and received a fair amount of bad press.
Without knowing all of the final details, we would say that this is not a bad agreement for the citizens of Brandon and, perhaps, for landowners all along the route, assuming that other townships step forward and insist that they be treated similarly. Whether one is disappointed that Brandon won’t push the legal questions any further, we think that everyone owes Supervisor Thurman and the trustees genuine thanks.
We’ll fill in details as they become available to us. We hope that we haven’t got anything wrong here; we’ve had to piece these things together based on what we witnessed at the meeting. Stay tuned for more in this series– including further descriptions of our brief chat with the Enbridge reps and more details of some of the drama (and there was drama!) that unfolded during the meeting– as soon as we can get to it.
Major news out of Brandon Township: at the end of a very long and exhausting meeting last night, the new Brandon Township Board of Trustees voted to approve a (not quite finalized) agreement with Enbridge. Full details are forthcoming and we will, of course, write about them once they’re available. But this agreement effectively ends any further litigation (assuming Enbridge complies with all of the agreement’s provisions) on the part of Brandon. They won’t intervene in the POLAR suit again.
A lot happened at the meeting and there were some interesting new developments. On the whole, we’re ambivalent about this turn of events (perhaps because we don’t have all the details yet). It’s good in some ways and perhaps not so good in others. But one thing is for sure: it’s going to take a series of posts to get through it all. Right now, we can only offer a few teasers:
- We heard a couple of new ugly landowner stories. Interestingly, Enbridge hopped right to it with one of them. We hope to follow up to see whether and how the situation gets resolved.
- Other Michigan townships should take note: Enbridge agreed to take some very positive steps that should also be taken with regard to EVERY township along the route. You can bet that we’ll be contacting some township supervisors.
- Speaking of those positive steps, we’ll spend some time asking the obvious question: why didn’t Enbridge just do these things way back in July or so?
- Finally, we approached Tom Hodge during a break in the meeting and asked if he’d be willing to do a little Q&A with us for the blog, since he’s made himself so available to the media of late. He did not jump at the opportunity. Instead, he and Enbridge General Counsel Mark Curwin said that they’re trying to figure out who the right person is for us to talk to. We’re not sure exactly what that means, but we’re pretty sure that if we have questions we’d like to ask Tom Hodge that the right person for us to talk to is… well, Tom Hodge. We’ll see what comes of this.
Oh, residents and landowners of Brandon Township: get ready for the dozers. We suspect they’re fired up and chugging already this morning.