More than 200 people came to the Carlton County Transportation building on Thursday March 13 to address the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (MPUC) and ask questions from Enbridge technical personnel. Thirty-three people presented their thoughts in a roller coaster of emotional comments tinged with frustration.
The MPUC conducted this last of several comment sessions along the proposed pipeline route with the gathering in Carlton the largest of the series to receive information on a route suitable to construct numerous oil and gas lines from the Bakken Field, North Dakota, to the Enbridge Superior, Wisconsin terminal. This process will continue through the fall with hearings by a judge and a decision projected in early 2015 in January or February.
The project is a $2.6 billion venture with 1,500 construction jobs, half of them from the union halls. Once completed the pipeline will replace 4,354 trucks or 2,052 rail cars used in the current transport of that quantity of oil. It was argued by the Enbridge representatives that oil and gas transmission through a pipeline is much safer historically than trucks and rail car.
Marathon Oil has entered into a partnership with Enbridge and that has made it necessary to change the name of the company to the North Dakota Pipeline Company LLC.
Comments were far ranging. Larry Weber of Wrenshall, a retired teacher, said, as a naturalist, he wishes no pipeline to be built and to keep the land and forests natural. Carolyn Johnson, a Wrenshall dairy farmer, commented her family has a long line of veterans who fought for their country and have the right to save their land and not have it destroyed by an oil pipeline.
John Fisher-Merritt, local organic farmer who provides a sizable volume of vegetables to the Duluth organic market, felt this pipeline threatens organic food production in some of the finest land in Carlton County. "The cambian silt loam of the local Wrenshall farms is the best soil for raising vegetables," he explained, "and is present only in 2 percent of the county's farmable land. Any loss of this rich soil area would be a tragic story."
Caty Collier of Mahtowa continued, "Don't forget those traditional farms that are not organic. We were not treated very well when the pipeline negotiator came to buy right of way from us. He said the pipeline was inevitable — "a force of nature." The survey crew came on our land without our permission. If the survey trespassing and the style of easement negotiations can tell you anything, what does this hold for future dealings with this operation?"
Commissioner Gary Peterson said he would like to suggest the pipeline follow the west side of Interstate 35 from the Mahtowa hill along an existing pipeline corridor. This, he said, would avoid making a new corridor as in the proposal on the east side of I-35 to the Chub Lake area.
Bob O'Connor, member of union local of the IBEW and former union organizer, said Enbridge has a good safety record and provides jobs for many people in our area. His comments received no applause in the particular group gathered that night.
Mark Hyland, mayor of Wrenshall, asked how long would it take for the Enbridge company to respond to a problem in the Wrenshall area. Enbridge personnel at the meeting said a team would come out of Superior and it would take at least an hour. It was hoped that local fire and rescue would help as much as they could before they arrived. Hyland finished his remarks with saying, "You have a lot of people up in arms in my area."