A group banding together property owners impacted by pipeline expansion was in Waterloo on Tuesday, Sept. 13 hosting an informational meeting about their purpose, the status of pipelines in Wisconsin and how landowners might negotiate together.
Mark Borchardt of an organization called 80 Feet is Enough addressed about 35 area residents from Waterloo, Marshall, Columbus, Fort Atkinson and the surrounding area, about half of whom already have Enbridge Inc. pipelines running under their properties. Enbridge is the owner of the largest pipeline system in Wisconsin and transports oil from North Dakota and western Canada though the state.
Landowners said they turned out for information. "I'm a landowner on the pipeline, so I pay attention," said one Fort Atkinson man. "I'm looking for information about this."
Another Fort Atkinson area landowner said this was the fourth meeting he’s attended about what's happening with the pipeline. "We live right beside the pipeline in Oakland Township, and we want to know everything that's going on."
Darren Schroeder, who owns a farm between Columbus and Lake Mills and serves on the Columbus Town Board, agreed that information is key.
Borchardt, a Marshfield landowner on the pipeline routed and U.S. Department of Agriculture scientist, said the outreach is in response to years of expansion by Enbridge and the threat of future expansion. The pipeline measures 80 feet wide and 300 runs for more than 340 miles from Superior to the Illinois border. Enbridge is contemplating a $3 to $4billion expansion of that line through the center of Wisconsin.
Borchardt said recent changes in Wisconsin's eminent domain law could make it easier for corporations to take property, and landowners must unite to protect property rights, values and safety.
According to the Enbridge website, the corporation continues to evaluate potential expansion of its pipeline system. A statement released to media said the company has “ongoing conversations with the landowners along our pipeline corridors through our public awareness, maintenance and integrity programs as part of our existing operations.” The statement also said, “There have been no conversations with landowners regarding purchasing easements or a new pipeline — again, because we do not have a project.”
But Borchardt and others said landowners should be watchful, especially since land surveys have been ongoing since 2014. He estimated there are 2,000 property owners along the pipeline system.
"There is strength in numbers," he said. "One person fighting a pipeline is very, very difficult."
Wisconsin Easement Action Team
Landowners were invited to join the Wisconsin Easement Action Group, modeled after a Nebraska group which was successful in its challenges of pipeline easements in that state.
"The Wisconsin Easement Action Team is our best shot," Borchardt said. "We're not going to go this alone. We can get enough landowners to say 'deal with us as a group, not individually.'" He noted that identical meetings were happening in Marshfield and Hayward.
The action team is designed to establish a strong coalition of similarly affected landowners, educating and organizing them to negotiate any future easements as a group. Brian Jorde, an attorney with the law firm that represented property owners’ interests along the Keystone Xl pipeline in Nebraska, described the landowners’ successful efforts in that state.
"This isn't about convincing you of anything," Jorde said. "You want to be sure you’re informed. It affects you and your livelihood.”
“It is not a stop-the-pipeline organization,” Jorde said. “This is specifically about landowner empowerment and what you can do to protect yourself. If this thing is coming, let's be prepared."