Landowners upset about delays in property restoration as new Enbridge pipeline opens
Oil is flowing through Enbridge’s new pipeline in southern Michigan, but people who live along the pipeline say the job isn’t done yet.
Enbridge’s new Line 6B pipeline is in the ground and in service. It runs for 285 miles across the state from Griffith, Indiana to Marysville, Michigan.
The company installed this new pipeline after their old pipeline burst and caused a massive oil spill in 2010.
To replace it, they had to cut down trees and tear up people’s land. Enbridge has hired contractors to restore those properties in phases.
But some landowners in the first phase of the project say they’re still waiting for work to be wrapped up.
A court order in Howell
“It’s just part of my soul, being out here," says Peter Baldwin, as he walks through the woods on his property, the trees brilliant shades of orange and red. He planted thousands of these trees himself over several decades. Baldwin had three of his 225 acres of woods in Howell clear-cut for the pipeline installation.
"I've had a lot of promises from Enbridge, but I haven’t seen any trees. They just keep backpedaling or stalling or whatever you want to call it. I don't know if I'll ever see them." — Peter Baldwin, landowner
Enbridge took Baldwin to court to get more land added to the right of way on his property to install the new pipeline. As part of the settlement, Baldwin has a court order. It outlines how Enbridge will replace the trees he lost.
“This is it right here," he says, paging through a document. "Re-timbering plan: 6-to 10-foot-high trees, native to Michigan. At a density rate of 70 trees per acre."
That order is dated October 2013.
“I’ve had a lot of promises from Enbridge, but I haven’t seen any trees. They just keep backpedaling or stalling or whatever you want to call it. I don’t know if I’ll ever see them.”
Baldwin, who is 79, says he just wants the new trees in the ground.
Advocate writes about pipeline's progress, complaints from fellow property owners
Jeff Insko and his wife Katy Bodenmiller also live along the pipeline, near Holly. Insko writes a blog about the pipeline project. He says he’s heard from at least 15 other landowners who say Enbridge still has work to do on their properties.
“Virtually every landowner that I’ve spoken to has some small or large matter that is incomplete, whether it’s a basement that is flooding because of the re-grading that happened when they filled in the trench, or a promise that trees will be planted that have yet to be planted. Countless landowners up and down this pipeline have a story like that,” he says.
Some promises from Enbridge are in signed documents, but others were made over the phone, or by email.
The new pipeline went into Jeff Insko and Katy Bodenmiller’s backyard more than a year ago, but they say they just settled up with Enbridge a few months back.
Residents asked to sign release forms
"... if there are any landowners who are still in need of trees: those trees obviously are still coming. Rest assured that all of those items we have agreed upon will be complete, into next year when need be." — Jason Manshum, Enbridge spokesman
Bodenmiller says landowners are encountering another big issue. She says Enbridge land agents are pressuring landowners to sign release forms.
“They arrived with a final check to pay us for final damages that nobody anticipated. They asked us to sign a release releasing them from any problems we might have in future with that large area back there and we refused. At which point, they tried to walk away with the check they owed us. I don’t want to call it blackmail, but it felt a lot like coercion.”
Bodenmiller says many of their neighbors signed the release form.
Other homeowners are also being pressured to sign a release. Kim Savage, an attorney who currently represents about 50 landowners along Line 6B, says she is telling her clients they don't have to sign the release form.
Peter Baldwin says he told his land agent he won't sign the release until the restoration on his property is complete.
We asked Enbridge spokesman Jason Manshum about the practice of holding checks until a form is signed.
“I don’t have any specifics on that," he says.
Manshum confirmed that Enbridge is asking people to sign a release form. But he says it’s a standard practice.
He added that Enbridge will honor its contracts with landowners, including things called line lists. Those are documents land agents drew up with homeowners before the construction began.
“Everything we set out to do at beginning of the project, so before construction began, is clearly outlined in a signed document with the landowner and we’ll go through at the end and we’ll make sure everything on that list is addressed. So if there are any landowners who are still in need of trees: those trees obviously are still coming. Rest assured that all of those items we have agreed upon will be complete, into next year when need be,” says Manshum.
He says Enbridge wants to complete all of the restoration work along Line 6B by sometime in 2015.