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Polk County board members say benefits outweigh risks of pipeline

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By Garrett Richie / Grand Forkjs Herald

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lk County Commissioners are supporting speedy approval of the 612-mile Enbridge Sandpiper pipeline, saying the project will help the economy and reduce problems posed by transporting oil by other means.

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The pipeline would run from the Beaver Lodge oil and gas field near Tioga, N.D., and end in Superior, Wis. It was approved by the North Dakota Public Service Commission Wednesday.

Don Diedrich, chair of the Polk County Board of Commissioners, said the board wrote a  letter to the Herald because they felt the construction of the pipeline was in the best interest of the county on multiple fronts, and an extension of the pipeline’s public comment period was concerning to the board.

“We as a board feel (the pipeline) is good for our economy, tax base and our roads,” Diedrich said. “I think it’s a cause worth supporting.”

Diedrich said the pipeline would reduce the number of trucks transporting oil on U.S. Highway 2. He said the cost of upkeep of county roads due to oil trucks would be very high, so the pipeline would help to alleviate those costs while also bringing tax dollars to the local economy.

The commissioners also cited recent accidents involving trains hauling oil and problems among farmers needing rail service to reach markets.

Warren Strandell, vice chairman of the Polk County Board of Commissioners and representative for East Grand Forks, reflected Diedrich’s comments about the pipeline’s benefits, and said that the board’s position was in the majority.

“I think our points are pretty valid,” he said. “And as long as the rules and regulation are followed in construction so it isn’t any danger that comes out of some part of the construction.

Safety questions

Despite the potential benefits, environmental groups are still opposed to the pipeline and the damages they believe it will cause the environment.

“If you ask a lot of people who live along the existing pipeline routes right now, they would say it wasn’t a great idea to let Enbridge in,” Andrew Pearson said. Pearson is the Midwest Tar Sands Coordinator at MN350.org, a group advocating for the environment and global warming prevention.

Pearson said the risks of oil spills and damages to wildlife outweigh the potential benefit of the pipeline to the economy or oil business.

Enbridge also owns and operates the pipeline that ruptured in 2010 in Michigan, spilling 843,000 gallons of oil into a tributary of the Kalamazoo River.

Other groups, such as Friends of the Headwaters, have objected more to the route of the pipeline than to the pipeline itself.

Richard Smith, president of Friends of the Headwaters, said the current proposed route runs through lake country in the state, so the group has proposed alternate routes running through sparsely populated land that is almost exclusively agricultural.

“The alternate routes would still keep jobs in Minnesota and still keep tax dollars in Minnesota, but would just bypass the most environmentally sensitive areas,” he said.

If the approval process remains on schedule, planning for the pipeline will end late this year, when construction is set to begin.

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