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Pipeline opponents talk easements

Friends of the Headwaters (Photo by Richard Smith)

BY Sarah smith

Friends of the Headwaters are taking a two-pronged approach to the pending Sandpiper Pipeline slated to edge Hubbard County.

Foremost, they want the pipeline moved out of Minnesota’s pristine lake country, said co-founder Richard Smith.

But if they are unsuccessful at that mission, FOH held a seminar for landowners last Thursday night to deal with the company, now in the process of securing easements for the proposed route.

Forewarned is forearmed, FOH believes.

Fourteen people attended the meeting. Some had already received registered letters indicating the company wanted to proceed on their land.

Christine Davis, a spokesperson for Enbridge, once again warned that the process is still in the early stages.

Public comments are being accepted at Minnesota’s Public Utility Commission until April 4, Davis reiterated.

But another public comment period will happen next fall during evidentiary hearings to be set at a later date.

Right-of-way agents are approaching landowners, Davis said.

The $2.6 billion dollar pipeline will transport crude oil from Tioga, N.D. through Minnesota to Superior, Wis.

Davis said easement acquisitions are 90 percent concluded through North Dakota, so the company is turning its attention to Minnesota.

Once the company has made an offer for an easement agreement, the landowner enters a 30-day early signing bonus, Davis said.

“It generally goes very well,” she added. Getting permission to survey routes went well, Davis said.

The company’s Certificate of Need has been deemed complete in Minnesota.

But Enbridge has faced some rocky terrain in central Minnesota, where owners of lakeshore property have been vehemently opposed to its placement through watershed areas the FOH claims are sacred and pristine. A leak would devastate the lakes, many of which run in chains through the central part of Minnesota.

FOH played a video of a similar pipeline project in Michigan.

Jeffery Insko. An English professor, pipeline safety and landowner advocate blogger in Groveland Township, Michigan, spoke of his and his neighbors’ experiences in that state.

“Measure their words against their actions,” he warned in the video. “They characterized landowners as a special interest group.”

He also urged Hubbard County residents to verify any claims the company makes.

“While doing this trust eroded,” he said of the Michigan residents.

“Right-of-way agents didn’t have any skin in the game,” he said, pointing out that the agents were all from out of state.

And he said the pipeline company reactivated old pipelines once thought de-commissioned.

“They’re not playing with a straight deck,” he said.

Davis disagrees and said the easement acquisition is instrumental in forging an early bond between the company and the landowners.

Park Rapids attorney Roger Zahn said if landowners object and refuse to sign easement agreements, the government has the power of eminent domain to condemn the land.

Davis said the company pays fair market value for all land.

Under condemnation, land can be taken for a public purpose at a fair value.

“It’s highly likely the court will rule it’s for a public purpose,” Zahn told the audience.

The company pays a one-time fee for use of the land. The contract runs with the land, so it binds future landowners.

Zahn urged the audience to look at their croplands, to see if yields will be affected and ask for a timetable of the work and maintenance of the line if it’s built.

Clearwater County landowner Doug Rasch said to watch compaction and replacement of the soil. In many cases, he said the soil was so compacted, no trees or other vegetation would grow on it.

“Can you ask them to double-hull the pipe under a creek or sensitive land?” Smith asked.

The answer was probably not.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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