The Environment Report
10:45 am
Tue September 25, 2012

Enbridge takes Michigan landowners to court

You can listen to the Environment Report story here or read an expanded version below.

Enbridge Energy is replacing one of its pipelines that runs through lower Michigan.  They’re replacing Line 6B. It’s the same pipeline that broke in Marshall two years ago.  The new pipeline will allow Enbridge to double the amount of oil they can transport to refineries in Detroit, Toledo and Sarnia, Ontario.

To build the pipeline, the company says it needs additional easement next to the current 60 foot easement that runs through many people’s backyards. 

Enbridge says many people who own land along the pipeline route have signed contracts with the company.  But Enbridge is taking people who refuse to sign contracts to court.

In a courthouse in Howell yesterday, a judge heard arguments against more than a dozen landowners. (Some of the cases were settled yesterday afternoon, involving the Munsell farming family. The settlement requires Enbridge to stay within the existing 60 foot easement on the Munsell's property, but does allow Enbridge to temporarily use additional land as workspace for the new pipeline.)

Connie Watson and her husband Tom are among the defendants. 

"Enbridge has taken us to condemnation. Eminent domain is another word for it.  And because we wouldn’t sign their contract as it was, they brought us to court to take the land."

The Watsons say they’re frustrated with Enbridge because of experiences they’ve had with the company in the past.

"Enbridge has taken us to condemnation. Eminent domain is another word for it. And because we wouldn't sign their contract as it was, they brought us to court to take the land."

For four months, Enbridge repaired sections of the current pipeline running through the Watson’s backyard.  Tom Watson says Enbridge workers brought in lights and worked in their yard with heavy equipment day and night.

"Sounds like a bomb going off about every hour or so, you know, like a bomb went off."

Connie: "So much noise."

The Watsons say the work caused cracks in their foundation... and other damage they say they have not been compensated for.  The couple says they were not satisfied with the offers Enbridge made for their land for the new pipeline. 

Connie Watson says she feels like she’s at the mercy of a company that has acted more like a bully than a responsible corporate neighbor.

"Makes you feel sold out, doesn’t it, Tommy? 'Yeah.'  It makes you feel sold out."

The lawyers for Enbridge declined to comment.

The Gannett News Service reports Enbridge has taken more than 70 homeowners in Michigan to court to force them to give up some of their property.

Carol Brimhall lives in Stockbridge on 38 acres. 

"Well, we tried to negotiate with Enbridge. We met six times with various attorneys."

But she says they were not satisfied with any offers.  A judge in Ingham County recently ordered that Enbridge could expand its easement on her property.  Enbridge now has 25 additional feet of permanent easement and 60 feet beyond that to use as temporary workspace. 

The judge also ordered the Brimhalls to accept around $11,000 dollars in compensation from Enbridge. 

"The condemnation was devastating. We couldn’t have been in that courtroom five minutes. So I thought the judge would maybe order mediation, or say let’s give this another two weeks and you guys see if you can work it out... anything. But she signed the order and we were done."

Brimhall says Enbridge crews cut down more than 100 large trees on her property last week.  She says the work started the same day her mom was in the hospital, dying.

"Oh, it’s awful. They came through, the day my mom was... Monday... they cut my trees. I had called and emailed the agent and said, please give me a little bit of time here, so my mom can pass away and I can be with her and not worry about what’s going on. And they were out there first thing, Monday morning."

We asked Enbridge Energy to comment for this story.  The company did not make anyone available for an interview.

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