WAPOA President’s Letter to Star Tribune

Published in Minneapolis Star Tribune Opinion Page October 19, 2015

On Sept. 14, the Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed the Public Utilities Commission’s June decision approving Enbridge’s Sandpiper pipeline certificate of need.

Our 1,200-member, nonprofit lake association is pleased with the court’s decision requiring an environmental-impact statement to be completed before making the next pipeline decisions.

We are joined with all lake associations, Friends of the Headwaters, and others concerned about the risks to the quality waters of our area in north-central Minnesota, and good and high-quality lakes areas.  

Recently, House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, and his GOP caucus expressed their displeasure with the court’s decision, complaining about the jobs and property tax revenue negated by it.

We communicated with Daudt and expressed our displeasure with their failing at their news conference to address all of the relevant environmental and economic considerations for our area, along with providing misleading jobs and tax data. 

  We are not opposed to pipelines, but we are opposed to approving pipeline routes in an area of high-quality lakes and waters that have major significance to the Minnesota travel and tourism economy.

Pipelines are not DFL or GOP, the last I checked.  

Travel and tourism and second homeowners provide over $600 million in annual expenditures and over $300 million in annual tax revenues in Hubbard, Cass, Crow Wing and Aitkin Counties combined, an area through which Enbridge proposes not one or two but multiple pipelines.  

Travel and tourism also provide an estimated 17,250 jobs.

This travel and tourism employment is more than 10 times the 1,500 jobs that Enbridge projects for work to be performed along the proposed route from North Dakota to Superior, Wis., which is not limited to the four counties mentioned above.

Enbridge testified at an Aug. 24 hearing in Pine River that it expects 20 to 25 jobs would be long-term along the entire pipeline route. 

  Because unanticipated environmental consequences can be costly to undo and environmentally sensitive areas impossible to restore, environmental review creates the opportunity to anticipate and manage these issues before projects like pipelines are built in significant “environmental, social, and economic” areas. 

  The more-comprehensive EIS, compared with the limited environmental assessment analysis, also should examine whether there are alternative project designs or locations or existing pipelines that would result in fewer environmental impacts.  

This should have been completed long before now — based on my 18 years’ experience as a mayor and an elected municipal government official in Ramsey County — when considering local land-use decisions and comprehensive plans, managing actions to sustain quality water and addressing dangerous chemicals in groundwater.

   We agree that the estimated $25 million in annual property taxes and 1,500 jobs are important, but small compared with the consequences of a negative event (for example, oil spills, breaches or “Enbridge anomalies”), considering that Enbridge has experienced 800 spills, or more than 1.5 per month.

That’s about 200 barrels per each spill or anomaly in the past 10 years.  

Daudt should know that the estimated jobs and taxes will be realized wherever a pipeline is constructed.

But we can’t predict when and where spills will occur. They will occur. Enbridge does not deny that. 

  Incidentally, a pipeline using the southern Minnesota existing corridor to Enbridge’s Chicago destination — as recommended by Friends of the Headwaters and others — and not through Superior would produce more jobs and more tax revenue along this route in an area with lakes under stress that mostly likely can’t be restored, as the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report. 

  The EIS is critical before any decisions are made, as Gov. Mark Dayton implied.

   We encourage Daudt, the House GOP, and all of our legislators and regulatory agencies to consider all relevant environmental, social, economic and routing alternatives during the preparation of the EIS and before any pipeline decisions are made. 

[added by Star Tribune]  Tom Watson, of Crosslake, Minn., is president of the Whitefish Area Property Owners Association.