Property Rights Lobby Day was held Thursday, May 4 at the State Capitol in Madison at which some residents of Marshall and the Town of Medina attended.
The lobby day was organized by the group 80 Feet is Enough and Wisconsin Safe Energy Alliance.
“People who showed up were landowners along the Enbridge Energy Pipeline, from way up north to the Wisconsin/Illinois border,” Paul Wehking of Marshall said. “We met with legislators to discuss the eminent domain laws.”
In 2014, Enbridge surveyed land alongside the entire pipeline route through Wisconsin in preparation for future expansion, according to 80 Feet is Enough. In the summer of 2015, the Wisconsin legislature’s Joint Finance Committee, through the obscure Motion 999 process, changed the state’s eminent domain law to allow the pipeline company to take private land through condemnations.
“This basically opened it up to companies like Enbridge to do what they want with eminent domain as they run their pipeline through Wisconsin,” Wehking said.
Pump stations were recently added to Line 61, constructed in 2009, to increase oil flow to 1.2 million barrels from 400,000 barrels a day. One of those pump stations was constructed in the Town of Medina, between Waterloo and Marshall.
According to 80 Feet is Enough, late in 2015 Enbridge announced to its investors plans to expand their pipeline system in the state. The second expansion, the reason for the 2014 land survey and announcement to investors, requires more land to add more pipelines beyond the current 80-foot easement.
However, The Associated Press reported on April 29 that Enbridge Energy officials said they have no plans to add another pipeline through Wisconsin despite environmentalists’ speculations.
“What we did today (May 4) was to urge representatives in our district to reform that law back to its prior state of 2015 in the interest of private citizens,” Wehking said.
“What we are trying to say is this is not right,” the Marshall resident said. “It is an infringement on property owner rights and against the Wisconsin constitution.”
It will be just a matter of time before Enbridge will be asking for more easements or condemning properties along the way, Wehking said. “The law was so conveniently changed to allow a private business entity eminent domain rights.”
About 40 to 50 people met with legislatures to discuss a draft bill to reform the eminent domain laws prior to the change in 2015. The group was looking for sponsorship of the bill.
“I think it went good,” Wehking said. Some lawmakers were receptive and some less receptive, he said. “Some, I think, were unaware of the legislation in 2015 because it was attached to the state budget and literally was approved late at night.”
Wehking said he is not an activist, but an interested private land owner. “It was my first time ever doing something like this,” he said.
Wehking said he did get to talk with State Rep. Joel Kleefisch, R-Oconomowc, but State Rep. John Jagler, R-Watertown and State Sen. Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, were in special session.
Wehking said he did not know what the next step will be, but other meetings are planned with different facets and private land owners. “All those different people are coming at this from different angles.
“We will try to continue to leverage what went on today,” he said.