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Enbridge seeks change in route

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DULUTH — Enbridge Energy officials said Tuesday they want to drop part of a proposed new pipeline route in Carlton County that had farmers and rural residents upset.

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Company officials said they will ask the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission to consider a revised route for about 1.5 miles of the proposed Sandpiper pipeline that would have crossed undisturbed farm and woods in Carlton County.

Enbridge wants the PUC to consider a new alignment that will follow existing pipelines and then follow electric and gas-utility corridors for that portion of the pipeline.

The news came after the Carlton County Board voted 4-0 Tuesday morning to ask the PUC to back existing utility lines as state regulators consider approving the proposed pipeline and where it will go.

"It just makes sense to use an existing route rather than to break new ground," Robert Olean, chairman of the Carlton County Board, said in a statement Tuesday. Olean represents much of the land in the eastern part of the county where the pipeline is proposed to cross.

It was first reported in August that Enbridge was considering a new route for much of the 610-mile, $2.5 billion Sandpiper pipeline, which would run from Beaver Lodge in northwestern North Dakota’s Bakken oil field to Superior, Wis. The new line is planned to follow an existing line across North Dakota. But from Clearbrook to Superior, the line could follow the existing Enbridge corridor or a new, more-southerly route. Much of the southerly route is along power lines, but about 25 percent would cross land where owners haven’t previously dealt with pipelines.

Since August, several Carlton County residents have pushed against the new route, saying it will disturb forests critical for reducing soil erosion and it could disrupt several sustainable farming operations in the area.

Olean met with Enbridge officials to convey the County Board’s concern about Enbridge’s initial proposal. Several of those residents cheered the board’s action at Tuesday’s meeting.

The company is required to present at least two options to the PUC, including its existing pipeline corridor that roughly parallels U.S. Highway 2 across northern Minnesota. But Enbridge says that corridor already is full and, instead of buying additional right-of-way along the old line, the company favors a more southerly route that follows existing power lines about 75 percent of the way.

Enbridge just filed the original proposal last week. Christine Davis, community relations consultant for the Enbridge Sandpiper project, said the company expects to file an amended proposal with the PUC in January. The regulating agency first must deem the original application acceptable. And Enbridge needs to conduct an environmental review of the new leg and deal with landowners along the new 1½ miles, although there already are utilities along the revised route

"We are now calling this new route our preferred option for that part of Carlton County," Davis said, adding the change came as a result of Enbridge meeting with Carlton County residents and county officials.

Davis said eastern Carlton County residents have been the most vocal against the proposed southern Sandpiper route, but there is more scattered opposition along other stretches of the route, too.

In addition to accepting the revised southerly route, probably sometime in early 2014, the PUC still must decide whether there’s a public need for the new pipeline. The PUC ultimately will decide which route option to pick.

That decision is expected in late 2014. Enbridge wants to begin construction of the line by the end of 2014 and have oil running by 2016.

The new pipeline will connect with Enbridge’s other lines in eastern Carlton County, then move into Superior, where the oil will move south toward Chicago or east into Michigan and beyond.

The line would carry 225,000 barrels a day through North Dakota but would then merge with other sources of oil and carry 375,000 barrels a day from Clearbrook to Superior. That’s 15.75 million gallons of oil per day.

Enbridge is seeking permission to expand capacity of its existing Alberta Clipper pipeline that moves Canadian tar sands oil across Minnesota. In all, Enbridge plans to spend nearly $11 billion in the next few years expanding its capacity to move oil through the U.S., about $4 billion of that in Minnesota, Wisconsin and North Dakota, with Superior as the hub.

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