Canadian oil company withdraws application to condemn property for pipeline reroute in northern Wisconsin

Enbridge Inc.'s Superior terminal in Superior, Wis.

A Canadian oil company has withdrawn its application to condemn property in northern Wisconsin in order to reroute a pipeline around the reservation of the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa.   

Enbridge Energy withdrew its application to the Wisconsin Public Service Commission on Aug. 7, after filing its application in February. 

The company withdrew the application after it was able to reach an agreement with landowners along the new route of Line 5 in the northern portion of the state, said Judi Kellner, a communications specialist with Enbridge. The company was able to reach agreements with nearly 300 landowners along the new route, she said. 

Wisconsin environmental advocates are glad that landowners aren’t having their property condemned for the pipeline, but are still pledging to battle the expansion of the pipeline.

Rob Lee, an attorney with Midwest Environmental Advocates, said he believes that instead of investing in a pipeline built in 1953, Wisconsin should be looking to alternative energy sources. 

“This is a time that we need to transition away from fossil fuels,” he said. “If ever we were going to start decommissioning these things and transition away, now is the time. Especially with a pipeline that carries such risk.” 

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The company will now have to work with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to obtain permits for construction. The company in July completed field surveys to collect data about wetlands and archaeological and tribal cultural data, Kellner said, and reports were submitted to the government agency. 

The company is rerouting Line 5 at the request of the Bad River Band. Currently, about 12 miles of the pipeline pass through the reservation, and when the easements began to expire last year, the tribe filed a lawsuit to remove it. The company then proposed a new four-mile section that would go around the reservation, Kellner said in an email. 

According to the Enbridge website, Line 5 is 645 miles long and transports 540,000 barrels per day of light crude oil, light synthetic crude oil and natural gas liquids. The pipe is 30 inches in diameter and has been operating since 1953.

The products Line 5 carries are used to make transportation fuels and fuels used to heat homes, schools and businesses and to drive industry in Wisconsin, the larger Midwest region and eastern Canada, the website says. 

Line 5 has also been in the news in Michigan after it was discovered that there was damage to an anchor on the pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac, which connects Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. A judge in June ordered that the flow of oil be stopped, but later allowed Enbridge to continue using the pipeline in July, according to the Detroit Free Press

But Michigan residents have continued to express concerns over the pipeline and what could happen to the two lakes if the pipeline were to leak oil. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in late July publicly criticized the company for refusing to pledge to pay for damage caused by a potential spill.

Wisconsin residents have also expressed dislike for the reroute and the pipeline in general, with nearly 100 people speaking during a July public hearing that launched the permitting process, hosted by the DNR.

Residents expressed frustration at the lack of investment in sustainable energy sources, and one woman said if the project were approved, protests might rise to the level of those in Standing Rock — the monthslong protest in North Dakota led by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe over the Dakota Access Pipeline. Others worried that a spill could contaminate the Bad River watershed, which feeds directly into Lake Superior. 

Lee also expressed concern over a potential spill and the harm that the loose oil could bring to the shores of Lake Michigan in Wisconsin. 

“This pipeline really transmits fossil fuels from Canada to Canada, but puts Wisconsin and Michigan in danger,” he said. 

Laura Schulte can be reached at leschulte@gannett.com and twitter.com/SchulteLaura.