Students concerned about proposed Sandpiper crude oil pipeline in Carlton County

A handful of UMD’s MPIRG students are OK with being the small dog in the fight. Already, they entered the ring with protests against the Keystone XL oil pipeline in Washington, D.C. last year and in Two Harbors on Sept. 20. Now, they’re in the initial stages of hopping into the ring again, this time joining local landowners in their fight against the Canadian-based energy company Enbridge Inc. and its proposed route for a new pipeline.

Logistics of the proposed Sandpiper oil pipeline

The company is proposing the construction of a new 610-mile pipeline called the Sandpiper. It would transport Bakken crude oil from North Dakota to Superior via northern Minnesota.

As of now, the potential pipeline has two proposed routes: the northern route, which would follow existing Enbridge pipelines from Clearbrook, Minn. to Superior, Wis., and the southern route, which would take a sharp south turn after Clearbrook and eventually run through Park Rapids, Minn. before returning east to Superior.

The latter route would jump between existing pipeline routes and electrical transmission lines for 75 percent of its time in Minnesota. In order to fill in the approximately 60-miles worth of gaps, the company would construct new corridors.

Enbridge Pipeline MAp

Although the northern route is well established and more direct, Lorraine Little, a spokesperson from Enbridge, said in an email that the company is considering the southern option because it goes through a less populated area and avoids encroaching on federal lands.

In addition to those reasons, the southern route would impose on fewer wetlands, explained Becky Haase, another Enbridge spokesperson, in an interview for an article in The Bemidji Pioneer’s Aug. 30 issue.

A UMD MPIRG student’s thoughts on the new pipeline proposal

No matter where the company places the pipeline, however, it will intrude on someone, one way or another.

What’s bothering many MPIRG students is that the southern proposed route would carve a 120-foot wide right of way (ROW) through the forest of seven Carlton County townships along the way—a county that supplies a lot of the organic produce in Duluth markets.

Lauren Flavin, a UMD junior and co-lead for MPIRG’s Environmental Task Force, is concerned about the effects the Sandpiper might have on the farms.

“It's such a web of relationships there,” she said. “If the pipeline happens, and a spill happens, and those farmers no longer have their livelihood, then we don't have local food.”

Her hopes are that the pipeline never touches ground. But, in the case that it does, she wants an alternative route to be used—one that would interfere with fewer farmers’ lands and livelihoods.

For now, she is trying to connect UMD students to those in the community who are upset with the proposal, and wants to educate them about sustainable lifestyles.

Students from UMD's Minnesota Public Interest Group (MPIRG) joined the Keystone XL oil pipeline protest in Two Harbors at the end of September. The group is now concerned with Enbridge Inc.'s Sandpiper crude oil pipeline proposal. LOGAN BAILEY/SUBMITTED

To her, a sustainable lifestyle not only necessitates the increase in green energy usage and organic farming, but also requires a tightly knit, supportive community.

“In reference to sustainability and climate in general, community is the biggest thing for me—like, people just being together in healthy ways,” she said. “We can do a lot of things at the local level, whether it’s culture, art or food.”

According to Flavin, maintaining a healthy community also means looking out for neighbors, like the Carlton farmers, and keeping them from being isolated by large companies.

Carlton County farmers vs. the Sandpiper pipeline

To stand up for themselves, the farmers created the Carlton County Land Stewards (CCLS), a group made up of affected landowners—about a dozen are farmers. The group is working to educate the community about the negative effects of the proposed pipeline in hopes that more will join their cause.

Janakin Fisher-Merritt is one of the organic farmers who would be affected by the proposed pipeline route and is also a core member of the CCLS.

He runs the same organic produce and maple syrup farm in Wrenshall that he grew up on. He and his wife, Annie Dugan, farm for a living and are worried about what the pipeline construction could do to their harvest.

Pipeline construction is highly regulated by the federal government.

Enbridge Inc. would first cut a 125-foot wide corridor through Fisher-Merritt’s maple trees for 3/8 of a mile— of the width, 75 feet would be temporary workspace and returned to its previous condition, while 50 feet would be purchased by the company for its fair market value.

During construction, the company would dig up the ground and simultaneously segregate the topsoil from the rest of the dirt before burying the pipeline. Afterwards, it would piece the land back together as best as it could, and, finally, compensate Fisher-Merritt for the current and future damage to his crops caused by construction with the respective amount of money.

This plan still leaves the farmer unhappy.

According to Fisher-Merritt, it takes many years to redevelop healthy topsoil. He suspects the construction-affected parts of his land would only be able to support hay, a much hardier crop than vegetables.

“Vegetables are more susceptible to damage from the soil,” he said. “For example, if you grow hay on land that isn't ideal, you get a little bit less hay. But if you grow, say, carrots on ground that isn't ideal, you end up with really weird carrots. If you get carrots that are short and stubby, with six legs coming out of them, there's just no marketplace for that.”

The construction would cut through his maple tree forest where he harvests sap to create syrup. If the pipeline goes in, he wouldn't be able to replant any of his trees in the construction zone because the deep roots could impair pipe-maintenance efforts.

Like Flavin, the farmer just wants the land to be left untouched.

Dugan echoes the desire and offers a possible solution.

“We want them to use the existing right of way or work to find a path that would be less invasive, like the Soo Line Trail,” she said.

The existing ROW she referred to is part of the proposed northern route for the pipeline, where six Enbridge pipelines are laid.

The northern Soo Line Trail she suggested is an old railroad line—now an ATV trail—and intrudes on less private properties than the proposed southern route. Although Enbridge hasn’t ruled this option out yet, the company may be dissuaded from choosing that particular trail because it would cost more, according to the Aug. 30 article from The Bemidji Pioneer.

In comparison to the current, southern proposed route, the ATV trail is less direct and therefore longer because it makes its way south all the way to Moose Lake before turning north to Superior.

How to get involved

To support the CCLS’s efforts to oppose and alter the proposed southern oil pipeline route, sign up for the mailing list on its website,, or “like” its Facebook page, “Pipe up for Carlton County.”

Although Enbridge estimates the Sandpiper will be installed and running by 2016, now is the time to either support or oppose it.

Within the next couple of weeks, the company will submit its Certificate of Need (CON), in which it will make an effort to prove the pipeline would be in the best interest of the state citizens.

Once the CON is released, citizens have a 20-day window to write constructive comments about the pipeline to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. The CCLS will host writing workshops at UMD for its supporters during this time and will inform the community of specific dates via its Internet outlets.



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