By Sarah Smith, Forum News Service
PARK RAPIDS, Minn. — The group Friends of the Headwaters is taking a two-pronged approach to the Sandpiper Pipeline slated to be built through part of Hubbard County.
Foremost, the group wants the pipeline moved out of Minnesota’s pristine lakes country, said co-founder Richard Smith.
In case the group is unsuccessful in that mission, it held a seminar for landowners last week to deal with Enbridge Inc., the Canadian company that is in the process of securing easements for the proposed route.
Fourteen people attended the meeting. Some already had received registered letters indicating the company wanted to proceed on their land.
Enbridge spokeswoman Christine Davis said the process is still in the early stages.
Public comments are being accepted at Minnesota’s Public Utility Commission until April 4, she reiterated.
But another public comment period will happen during evidentiary hearings next fall.
Right-of-way agents are approaching landowners, Davis said.
The $2.6 billion pipeline would transport crude oil from Tioga 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.
The company’s Certificate of Need, which stipulates that the pipeline is essential for Enbridge’s business, 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 the pipeline’s placement through watershed areas the Friends of the Headwaters claims are sacred and pristine. A leak would devastate the lakes, many of which run in chains through central Minnesota.
The Friends played a video of a similar pipeline project in Michigan.
Jeffery Insko, an English professor and pipeline safety and landowner advocate blogger in Groveland Township, Mich., 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 decommissioned.
“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 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.