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Enbridge pipeline project facing complaints (Wisconsin)

Enbridge pipeline project facing complaints (Wisconsin)
The Associated Press

WAUSAU — The pay for trees being cut is unfair. Some trees shouldn't be chopped down — like 100-year-old oaks. There are threats. Even human waste was left behind from earlier work.

Such concerns are among landowner complaints filed against Enbridge Energy Co. and its 321-mile, $1 billion project to expand a crude oil pipeline through Wisconsin, according to documents reviewed by The Associated Press following an open records request with the state Department of Natural Resources.

"You may not want to talk to me. I despise this company so much," said Dennis Bosanec, 64, of rural Vesper. He owns a tree farm affected by the pipeline expansion. "They destroyed my spirit of planting trees for the next generation."

The company says it is doing all it can for landowners. Hundreds along the pipeline's route have reached agreements that give them money for land that's temporarily needed to install the pipeline, Enbridge spokesman Dave Henderson said.

"What we have always tried to do is compensate landowners well for what we are doing," he said. "I think this has gone really very well."

The Houston-based company is laying two pipelines _ one 42 inches in diameter _ in its right of way from Superior to Delavan. The DNR allowed the pipeline to cross 757 wetlands and 242 rivers and streams, but some environmental advocates sued, contending the environmental review was inadequate.

Dave Seibert, director of the DNR's Office of Energy, said some work has been done on the first 60 miles in northern Wisconsin.

Two recent pipeline breaks leaked at least 176,000 gallons of crude oil, raising new issues about pipeline safety in the system that already carries millions of gallons of crude oil daily from Alberta, Canada, and elsewhere to refineries near Chicago.

A Jan. 1 spill near Curtis in Clark County occurred from a 4-foot crack in a buried 24-inch line. A Feb. 2 break near Exeland in Rusk County occurred in the same pipe because of a construction accident in installing the new 42-inch line.

The Exeland leak sprayed oil onto trees and other vegetation and 120 people responded to the cleanup as oil flowed into a 20-foot deep hole dug for the project, according to reports by John Sager, the DNR's emergency response coordinator.

"We were lucky on this one," he wrote in documents reviewed by The AP.

Thomas Kendzierski, the DNR's spill coordinator for the Curtis leak, wrote, "This is a big spill, but Enbridge is responding in a big way. They were very fortunate in the location and the timing with the weather."

Jeff Schimpff, of the DNR's Bureau of Science Services, said the agency has received about 25 complaints from landowners regarding Enbridge's pipeline expansion.

Landowners signed easement agreements for the first pipeline in the late 1960s, giving Enbridge permission to use adjoining land as work space while installing the new pipelines _ the third and fourth to go in the ground, Schimpff said.

Some of the complaints accuse Enbridge of threatening to take landowners to court and of needing too much work space.

"They say neighbors have similar concerns but I don't hear from the neighbors," Schimpff said. "I have heard that one person was at least able to save one special tree. Enbridge budged a little bit."

According to Henderson, 1,321 landowners are affected and only 30 have not signed compensation agreements for the 100 feet of temporary work space needed to install the pipeline. In some cases, trees must be cut down to free up the space.

"We don't want to utilize any more temporary work space than we have to," Henderson said. "Cost is one reason. Why would we pay for it if we didn't need it?"

Douglas County alone received $350,000, but Enbridge is not disclosing the total payments, Henderson said.

The company took some landowners _ "a very small minority" _ to court when negotiations failed, he said. No project of this size can be done without some "resistant" landowners, he said.

Brian Ruesch, 51, is one.

Enbridge sued Ruesch because he rejected a $12,000 offer involving about 1,700 feet of work on land he owns in rural Wisconsin Rapids, he said. The work area Enbridge wants involves part of Ruesch's organic cranberry bog. He's worried about losing his organic certification.

He also doesn't like the way the company's document is worded, fearful that it opens the door to taking more of his land for pipelines.

Ruesch, who has voiced his concerns to his local lawmakers and Gov. Jim Doyle, feels Enbridge is taking advantage of landowners who feel powerless.

"The majority that signed that addendum did not have an attorney look at it," he said. "Most sign it, take their money and hope they never have to see them (company officials) again."

Bosanec, the tree farmer, said he did just that.

"It is a ruthless company. These are oilmen. They sat at my table and said if you don't sign it, we will take it. I don't call that negotiation," he said.

Bosanec said he signed Enbridge's workspace agreement and got $13,400.

The move led to at least 2,000 of his trees _ some of them mature oaks _ being cut down.

"The day after I signed, they cut my timber. Really, now it is a wasteland," the tree farmer said.

Schimpff said the landowners are giving up something _ some of the value of their property _ for the public good, but the risk of a catastrophic accident on the pipeline was "pretty small."

"Considering the number of pipelines we have in this country _ I am not trying to be a spokesman for the industry _ we don't see a lot of major problems with this," he said. "There have been a few relatively small spills."

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