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Enbridge pipeline work on schedule, Bemidji economy boosted by pipeliners

Lorraine Grymala, left, Enbridge Energy Co. Inc. community affairs manager, and Karen Johnson of Enbridge's Bemidji office, tell Bemidji Sunrise Rotarians on Tuesday morning that the company's massive pipeline project through the region is on schedule for mid-2010 completion. Pioneer Photo/ Brad Swenson

Nearly 1,000 Enbridge pipeline workers are making it a happy Christmas for many Bemidji retailers.

"With an influx of pipeline construction workers, they're buying gas, food, renting places to stay in town," Lorraine Grymala, Enbridge Energy Co. Inc., community affairs manager, said Tuesday.

"Some bring their families and enroll them (their children) in local schools," she told Bemidji Sunrise Rotarians at their weekly meeting.

"Bemidji Woolen Mills has increased its business dramatically, for example," Grymala said. "Most come from the South and they don't have any winter clothes, so they need cold-weather gear. L&M Fleet is also seeing that business."

Because gaining the final permit to start -- which had to come from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton - was delayed to late August, Enbridge double the anticipated teams to work, she said. As a result, the Bemidji area - from Clearbrook to Deer River - is seeing 750 to 1,000 construction workers.

Enbridge is contracting the work to two pipeline companies, with their workers coming from Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas and other points in the South., Plus local employment was added.

The new pipeline is a $5.5 billion investment, which is actually two new pipelines. The 36-inch Alberta Clipper will deliver crude oil from tar sands in Canada to refineries in Chicago. The 20-inch Southern Lights sends diluents back north to help dilute the heavy crude taken from the tar sands.

The total $12 billion expansion is from Hardisty, Alberta, Canada, to Delavan, Wis., northwest of Chicago. The Canadian portion, which requires fewer permits, is already complete, Grymala said.

The United States portion involves a $5.5 billion investment in energy infrastructure, she said, and 3,000 workers. It amounts to an expected payroll of $276 million, and $110 million in local spending in such things as fuel and tires. It also means an additional $22.9 million in incremental property tax revenue in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

"This is all Enbridge money and stockholder money - this isn't government money at all," Grymala said. "We were shovel ready by ourselves."

The workers are expected to spend about $60 million in the local economy for their needs, she said.

Also being built are five 250,000 tanks in Superior, Wis., she said.

"The opportunity to the economy is being seen to our restaurants, to our local grocery stores, to Wal-Mart," said Karen Johnson of Enbridge's Bemidji office. "The increase in revenue they've generated from our project has been immensely effective. When I'm in a store, ;people come up to me and say how much they appreciate what we brought to the community."

There are a lot of "Welcome pipeliners" signs in the community, she said. "A lot of our people are from Oklahoma, Texas and they don't bear the cold weather very well. They've been patronizing the L&M Fleet and stuff because they didn't come with cold winter wear."

Johnson joked that one worker asked her how cold it got on a day when it was 45 degrees. "I said 30 below wind chill, maybe 50, and they were pretty amazed at how cold we do get."

In addition to laying pipe, Enbridge is also operating seven major, 40-acre construction yards, with the Bemidji yard near Bemidji High School the local headquarters.

"You might have noticed we have a lot more traffic in the community than we used to," Johnson said. "Sometimes it's frustrating getting in and out of highways and stuff, but I think that we all benefit from the project on the economic side."

Grymala said the project is on schedule, with a late winter completion of the pipeline and then spending the next few months on restoration efforts. Cold weather in October delayed the project, but a warm November brought it back on schedule.

The multi-year process went through many hoops, Grymala said, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for clearance on the Endangered Species Act, U.S. Forest Service's Chippewa National Forest for a special use permit, Department of Defense's Army Corps of Engineers for Clean Water Act permits, National Environmental Policy Act compliance, Minnesota Public Utilities Commission for certificates of need and route approval, and several state agency and tribal government approvals.

"We've been told this is the strictest and most thorough review of pipeline construction anywhere," Grymala said.

Once complete, the crude oil pipeline will have a 450,000 barrels a day capacity, while the diluents pipeline will run 180,000 barrels a day. The Enbridge system delivers about 2 million barrels a day.

The company also handles about 5 million cubic feet of natural gas, and employs 6,000 people. "We are also into wind and renewable energy projects," Grymala said.