The first of three open house meetings on the Enbridge Line 5 relocation project got heated Tuesday evening as opponents of the line shouted questions at company officials and objected that they weren't allowed to discuss the project openly.
The open house at the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center got off to a rocky start when Enbridge officials required participants to submit their questions in advance.
"Why do you have to put them on a card? Why can't you just raise your hand?" shouted one audience member. Another complained the time allotted to answering questions was too short.
At a couple of points in the discussion, Enbridge officials told the audience that the session would be cut short if matters got out of hand.
The controversial Line 5, which carries 540,000 barrels of oil and gas every day from Superior to Ontario, Canada, is being rerouted because the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa refused to renew leases with Enbridge that allowed the line to cross the reservation. Tribal officials said they feared for the safety of members and the Bad River watershed if the line were to rupture.
Despite the interruptions by irate audience members Tuesday, officials answered several of their questions. Some dealt with technical issues such as how the Bad River would be crossed by the pipeline. Enbridge officials said the pipeline would be bored under streams 40 feet below streambeds.
Audience members also learned that a stretch of 10 to 13 miles of the reroute runs through rock that might have to be blasted with explosives to remove.
Some members questioned if the Bad River watershed could be avoided entirely with the new line, but company officials said diverting the pipeline around the watershed
would involve 29 miles of "greenfield crossing" with no utility corridors. The route would have to be carved out of forestland and may then have to cross the Namakagon River, a designated wild and scenic river administered by the National Park Service. Officials said there was a question as to whether such a crossing would even be permittable.
At the open house, books outlining Enbridge's preferred route around the Bad River Indian Reservation were on display. The books showed for the first time the route that Enbridge has identified as its choice for the reroute.
Enbridge Manager of Mainline Services Adam Erickson, who has charge of the reroute, said the company has purchased, obtained easements and easement options for about 80% of the new route.
He said Enbridge was committed to acquiring the land needed for the reroute "by an amicable agreement with landowners."
"We've worked very hard at it," he said. "We've had to make alterations; this is what it takes to get a route through to build a pipeline."
Erickson said the proposed route displayed by Enbridge at the open house was not final. A number of federal and state agencies also will have their say about the route and that there could be many changes as a result.
He also said Enbridge was also trying to avoid the use of eminent domain proceedings to acquire land.
"We would rather not be in that position," he said. "We would rather work with landowners who are OK with us being there."
The proposed route and supporting documents have been submitted to the Wisconsin Public Service Commission and can be reviewed at psc.wi.gov under docket number 9230-PI-101.
Despite Erickson's assertion that Enbridge would rather avoid the eminent domain process, that is exactly what was on the mind of Becky Nelles, who lives with her husband Cary south of Ashland near the pipeline route.
"My house is pretty new. We built it 10 years ago," she said. "It was his dream to have land where he could hunt and live right there."
Nelles said she had heard about the Bad River Tribe's opposition to the pipeline crossing the reservation.
"I never dreamed it would affect me, then one day I came home to a message on my answering machine saying they wanted to survey my property. We said no," she said. "We worked hard all our lives and bought this 60 acres, built a new house and then all of a sudden we are being told that they could run the pipeline through your property and there is nothing you could do about it because of eminent domain."
Looking at the book, Nelles was able to confirm that the pipeline route was no longer running over the couple's property.
"That is a relief," she said. "We had heard that we might not be on the route, but it's good to have confirmation."
Ashland resident Tom Marincel said he signed an easement option with Enbridge because he had property where the existing line now runs.
"I've lived there for 33 years and have not had a problem. They have been very good about maintenance and inspections. I feel very safe and secure," he said.
Marincel said there was another even more fundamental reason for his support of the company.
"Like it or not, we have a need for the petroleum, and all the other technologies have not caught up as far as transportation is concerned," he said. "The alternative to transporting petroleum is trucks, rail or barges on the Great Lakes. I believe the pipeline is the safest route, the safest volume carrier."
Enbridge held a second community open house in Mellen on Wednesday and a third in Hurley on Thursday. A pair of community discussion events about Line 5 are also planned in the area.
Feb. 25– Homemaker's potluck and community discussion Ashland Town Hall 39227 Highway 13 Highbridge 6 p.m. dinner, 6:30 discussion
Feb. 27— Town of Marengo panel discussion and Q&A Ashland High School Auditorium 1900 Beaser Ave. Ashland 7 p.m.