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Douglas County family wants Enbridge pipelines off their property

A Douglas County family will try to convince Judge Kelly Thim today that Enbridge Energy should be required to relocate three pipelines it wrongfully installed across their property just south of Superior.

Gerald and Barbara Engelking and their son, Jeremy, brought the case after a successful appeal to the District 3 Court of Appeals in 2013, ordering a circuit court to reconsider the family’s 2009 trespassing claims against Enbridge, which were originally tossed out.

They contend the pipeline company had no right to use anything more than a 50-foot-wide right of way it was granted in a 1949 easement agreement signed by the previous owner of what is now the Engelkings’ property.

After less than two hours of deliberation late Thursday afternoon, the jury unanimously agreed with the Engelkings on the proper size of the right of way. But jurors did not agree that workers who cut a wider swath through their property had trespassed.

Joseph Mihalek, an attorney for Enbridge, unsuccessfully argued for a wider pipeline corridor.

He pointed out that the 1949 agreement for a single pipeline contained clear and unambiguous language that allowed for the installation of additional lines through an expanding corridor in return for like payments in the future. Mihalek said the Engelkings have been sent payments for additional lines that were installed across their 20-acre property even though they repeatedly refused to accept them.

In all, six pipelines have been installed across the Engelkings’ property. But only three of them lie within the original 50-foot-wide right of way established in 1949.

Kevin Sandstrom, the Engelkings’ attorney, said he will call today for the removal of pipes that lie outside the originally designated corridor.

“This case is about Enbridge trampling on the rights of the Engelking family in a course of corporate greed,” he said in his closing argument.

Mihalek argued the 1949 agreement gave Enbridge the right to install additional pipelines at any time in the future. “The limit is what’s reasonably convenient and suitable,” he said. “It’s a blanket easement that doesn’t define where pipes should be laid.”

Sandstrom told the jury: “There is no such thing as a blanket easement in Wisconsin law.”

He said that such a broad interpretation could conceivably entitle the company to eventually lay claim to the entirety of the Engelkings’ property, wrongfully depriving the family of its use.

The long-running dispute between the Engelkings and Enbridge made national headlines in 2009, when a Douglas County Sheriff’s deputy threatened Jeremy Engelking with a Taser and took him into custody after he confronted pipeline workers who he said were on the property without proper authorization. Charges that Jeremy Engelking had trespassed on a work site that was located on his own land were later dropped, but the battle between the family and Enbridge has continued in the courts.

Gerald Engelking said Enbridge proposes to install yet two more pipelines in its existing corridor and has already begun condemnation proceedings that could lead to the taking of more of his family’s land. He expressed hope that Thursday’s jury verdict will thwart any future efforts to push additional pipelines through his property.