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Lakes, loons and lunacy

We are told by our community leaders and Enbridge that Hubbard County will gain $3 million in tax revenue from the Sandpiper pipeline and that it will bring jobs. We already know the jobs are temporary and will mostly be filled by out of state workers. Let’s look down the “pipe” a ways and consider the potential economic impacts of a spill and see if this is such a good deal.

First, realize that pipelines all leak. Think it can’t happen here? Between 2002 and 2011, there were more than 3,700 pipeline spills in the U.S. In 2010 alone, U.S. pipeline spills and explosions released more than 173,000 barrels of hazardous liquids into the environment and caused $1.1 billion in damage. Only 40 percent of this spilled oil is recovered. Consider what the effect would be of a major oil spill near Hay Creek that flowed into and contaminated the 4,700 acre lake chain that includes Island, Eagle, Potato, Fish Hook lakes.

A conservative estimate of the annual tax capacity of these four lakes is $2.5 million. Since these lakeshore owners can no longer enjoy the water-based activities they once could, due to their now polluted lakes it would not take long for their property’s values to plummet. How would you like to buy property on an oil-fouled lake that is now off-limits to fishing, swimming, water-skiing, etc.? Even worse, how would you like to try to sell it? Assuming a10-40 percent reduction in property values (as a 2013 study completed by CRED – Conversations for a Responsible Economic Development found) this would represent a loss of anywhere from $125,000 up to $1 million dollars each year in property taxes paid to Hubbard County.

Consider also the $30 million dollars of business revenue brought into Hubbard County each year by tourists. This revenue is easily impacted by natural occurrences such as a late ice-out or lack of snow for winter activities. Imagine the impact of a major oil spill contaminating some of our popular rivers or lakes. Government officials need to understand that this result is not a loss of business revenue for one year but loss of that revenue every year for many years.

And if the contamination got into our highly susceptible groundwater, the economic costs to our community’s residents, businesses and agriculture would be permanent. In Michigan, where one of Enbridge’s pipelines ruptured in 2010, the company ended up buying over 150 homes directly impacted by the oil-fouled Kalamazoo river, that the company is still attempting to clean up after 20,000 barrels of tar sands oil spilled into a tributary. Immediately following the spill, people living near the Kalamazoo River started reporting “strong, noxious odors and associated health symptoms” to their local public health departments.

Tar sands oil is the type of oil that Enbridge recently disclosed they would be adding to the Sandpiper corridor, if approved by the State. One final note from the CRED report, “Even if houses aren’t directly damaged, the stigma and perception that the next incident could affect them is significant.” Another analysis from Western Washington University notes that a home’s value ‘is negatively and significantly affected by proximity to a petroleum pipeline.’”

Let’s keep the lakes and loons and let’s stop the lunacy.