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Neighbors feel pressured by Enbridge's new pipeline plans

Enbridge Energy operates the pipeline that ruptured in Marshall almost two years ago.  The Environmental Protection Agency says more than one million gallons of thick tar sands oil spilled into the Kalamazoo River.  The oil spill is still being cleaned up.

Since the spill, Enbridge has been making repairs on that pipeline. It’s known as Line 6B.

Now, the company plans to replace the entire pipeline from Griffith, Indiana to Marysville, Michigan. 

Joe Martucci is a spokesperson for Enbridge. He says the new pipeline will cut down on the number of repairs they’ll have to do.

"We could do the maintenance activities, we do them all the time.  But the thinking is, by putting in new pipe, it would reduce the number of them and there’d be less disruption for landowners and local communities over the long term."

He says the new pipeline will also allow Enbridge to double the amount of oil they can transport to refineries in Detroit, Toledo and Sarnia, Ontario.

The current Line 6B pipeline often runs right through people’s backyards.

"When the pipeline broke in Marshall I said, wait, I live on that pipeline too."

Beth Duman lives in Livingston County.  She’s lived on this spot out in the country with her husband for 25 years. 

"This is where the new pipeline is going, right under my clothesline.  Their easement is going to take all my shade trees around my house and it’s going to take out my deck and we’re going to have to move the well."

Duman says they knew there was a pipeline here when they bought this place – but they just didn’t think too much of it at the time.  She wants the pipeline to be replaced, but she says she has run into trouble with the land agents who represent Enbridge.  Duman says the agents have been approaching landowners, asking them to sign contracts for the pipeline work.  In some cases, the company wants to purchase additional acres of easement for the new pipeline.

"The first time the first guy came, he was friendly for a few minutes. Then when I started saying this is my life, this is my business, this is where I live, he said you know, we could just condemn you.  Doesn’t really mean they’re going to take your house but it means you’re going end up in court, which most of us don’t have time to do. And so that ends up being a threat."

Several people I talked with said the same thing: they’ve felt intimidated by Enbridge land agents.  And they say they no longer trust the company.

For four months, Enbridge contractors worked on a section of pipeline running through Connie Watson’s backyard.  She points to the foundation of her house.

"We’re looking at several cracks in our foundation that happened during the months Enbridge was on our property with all their equipment. This house shook, vibrated and moved constantly."

Watson says she brought this up to her Enbridge land agent, and asked to be compensated for the damage.

"He said he finds many people will accuse Enbridge of things just so they can get their house remodeled.  I had to ask him to quit saying it, you know, it was so offensive."

We asked Enbridge spokesperson Joe Martucci to respond to these landowners who say they’re being bullied by Enbridge land agents. 

"You know it’s difficult to respond to those specifics, because it’s secondhand information. I don't know the landowners, I don't know the land agents, I don't know exactly what transpired.  But I can give you a general comment on that which is that Enbridge certainly doesn’t condone any type of bullying behavior on the part of the land agents whatsoever, or any type of intimidation."

He says Enbridge trains its land agents to avoid litigation and come to a mutual agreement.  (Martucci says landowners can call a special hotline the company set up for any concerns: 866-410-4356)

Enbridge has not yet gotten approval for the second phase of its pipeline project.  It will cover 160 miles of pipeline in Michigan east of Ortonville and west of Stockbridge.  There’s a hearing in Lansing on June 6th. This is when people who live along those parts of the pipeline can legally intervene and become more involved in the process.

Rebecca Williams is senior editor in the newsroom, where she edits stories and helps guide news coverage.
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