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Enbridge pipeline studies provoke debate in Superior, Wis

Korey Northrup a member of the Fond du Lac band speaks out against the proposed Enbridge pipeline expansion during a public hearing at the Superior Public Library. (Clint Austin/Forum News Service)1 / 2
Douglas County (Wis.) administrator Andy Lisak reads a statement supporting the proposed Enbridge pipeline expansion during a public hearing Thursday at the Superior Public Library. (Clint Austin/Forum News Service)2 / 2

SUPERIOR, Wis. -- A draft environmental impact statement on Enbridge Energy's plan to build a pipeline from North Dakota to Superior brought out supporters and opponents Thursday.

In a full room at the Superior Public Library, more than a dozen people voiced their opinions during the first of two Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources public hearings held Thursday regarding the draft studies for the proposed Sandpiper pipeline, which would carry 600,000 barrels of crude oil per day from North Dakota to Superior, and the proposed replacement of Enbridge's Line 3 pipeline.

Residents and officials said they supported the two projects because of the economic impact they could have on the community while pipeline opponents said they were concerned about potential effects on the environment and the Anishinaabe community.

Douglas County Administrator Andy Lisak said the county supports the two proposed projects, believing the environmental and social benefits outweigh the costs of the proposed pipelines. The county agrees with the draft statement's findings that the Line 3 replacement is a safer, more reliable pipeline that will follow an existing pipeline corridor in Douglas County, much of it on county-owned land.

The pipeline projects will have "minimal, if any significant impact" on the environment and could lead to a "net decrease in greenhouse gases" because the pipelines will replace the trains and trucks already transporting crude oil to Superior, he said.

"Both Sandpiper and Line 3 projects are better for the local environment than the alternatives of transporting crude oil from Alberta to North Dakota to Superior by either truck or rail," Lisak said.

Beginning her comments in Ojibwe, Debra Topping, a member of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, said in English that she opposed the pipeline projects on behalf of her next seven generations.

"Who else is going to be here to talk for my grandchildren? My seventh generation? I'm here to talk for the water. I'm here to talk for the otters, the turtles, the fish, the four-legged, the swimmers and the flyers who can't be here today to talk about it for themselves," she said. "I'm here for the 1837 treaty. I'm here for the 1842 treaty. I'm here for the 1854 treaty and we oppose this pipeline."

Korey Northrup, also a Fond du Lac band member, said she also was there to speak on behalf of her seventh generation. She came to the meeting from the sugar bush and said she wants to preserve the outdoors and her community's traditions.

"I'm here to support my seventh generation ... from the perspective of being outside and going out there and coming together as a community in the sugar bush. I would hate to see that go away because of a pipeline and dirty fossil fuels and climate change. I'm trying to help do my part to preserve our way of life, which is not limited to wild rice. I hear a lot about wild rice and protecting wild rice, but we need to protect our other medicines that are out there," she said.

Jeff Gurske of Maple, Wis., a member of the Local 11 pipefitters union in Duluth, pointed out that the environmental concerns, including the possibility of oil spills, are the reason the Line 3 pipeline should be replaced. Pipelines and people who work on them are subject to more inspections and safety procedures than other types of projects, said Gursky, who has worked on pipelines. Pipeline projects also help future generations in terms of jobs and education; the union has apprentices learning the trade from workers on the pipelines as part of their schooling, he said.

Lisak noted that the two pipeline projects will positively impact the local and state economies, both short-term and long-term. He quoted the draft statement's estimate that pipeline construction will employ 400 to 500 workers.

In response to a comment that the jobs the pipeline construction will create are only temporary, Gurske said jobs such as those on the pipelines are how he has made a living.

"I put two kids through college with these types of jobs," he said.

If the projects don't move forward, it could negatively affect taxes in Wisconsin and cause a ripple financial effect that could hurt the state's fish and wildlife management, he said.

Wages directly impact the economy and Wisconsin will benefit from personal income taxes of the workers and Enbridge's taxes, Lisak said.

"Enbridge's multi-billion dollar investment in these projects will help ensure the company's future in Douglas County as one of the county's largest and most socially and environmentally responsible employers," Lisak said.

Several people also pointed out that the permitting process for the Sandpiper pipeline isn't as far along in Minnesota and requested that Wisconsin slow down on the approval process.

Written comments can be submitted to the Wisconsin DNR until March 25 at