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Wisconsin DNR to host hearings on proposed Enbridge pipeline projects

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is planning to hold a pair of public hearings Thursday on Enbridge Energy's plans to build a crude oil pipeline from North Dakota to Superior.

The Canadian firm's planned Sandpiper line would carry up to 600,000 barrels of oil per day from the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota to its terminal in Superior. The company also plans to replace segments of its aging Line 3 pipeline, originally built in the late 1960s, that extends from western Canada to Superior.

The public hearings on the draft studies for the Sandpiper and Line 3 expansion projects will be held Thursday at 4:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. at the Superior Public Library.

The DNR is soliciting public feedback on a draft environmental study on the expansions. Ben Callan, water management specialist for the agency, said Enbridge wants to build along 14 miles of its existing right-of-way in Douglas County.

"The portion that affects Wisconsin, although small, is significant from the perspective of, there's a lot of resources we need to ensure are adequately protected and that the law is followed regarding our decision-making process," he said.

Construction of the Sandpiper and Line 3 could affect scores of wetlands, Callan said. The DNR's draft study also details minor to severe impacts for four federally endangered or threatened species, including the gray wolf and northern long-eared bat. Enbridge has said it will take steps to reduce impacts to wetlands and wildlife.

The expansions are anticipated to create 400 to 500 jobs in Wisconsin during construction. Despite a current dip in crude oil prices, Enbridge spokeswoman Lorraine Little said their customers still are demanding a cheaper way to move oil than by rail.

"One of the real important aspects of Sandpiper is that there's still about 1 million barrels of oil per day being produced out of the Bakken," Little said. "Shippers would definitely like to see a lower-cost transportation option available to them."

Completion of the two projects, however, probably will be delayed until 2019. Enbridge had hoped to finish construction on the two lines by 2017, but Little said regulatory delays in Minnesota have slowed the company's plans.

"We'll continue working with our regulators in each state in order to complete the permitting process that we need in order to build the project," Little said.

Enbridge is asking the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission to reconsider an order that a full environmental impact statement be completed before Sandpiper and Line 3 move forward with Minnesota's permitting process.

According to the Wisconsin DNR's Callan, the delays in Minnesota means the agency is only accepting input on Enbridge's application for a waterway and wetlands permit for Line 3. He said the company's permit application for Sandpiper has been deemed incomplete at this time.

Regardless of the timeline, critics of the expansions, such as Carl Whiting with the Wisconsin Safe Energy Alliance, are expressing fears that the projects set the stage for Enbridge to build a second pipeline next to its Line 61 that runs through a large swath of the state from Superior to the Illinois border.

"Our concern is that Enbridge has stated publicly that they're in early development work of a line very similar to Line 61," Whiting said. "You may come to a different sense of the level of risk than when you look at all of the river crossings and pipes that will be necessary to get this oil to market."

Enbridge has said no final decision has been made on building a second line parallel to Line 61 across the state.

Wisconsin Public Radio can be heard locally on KUWS-FM 91.3 and online at wpr.org.

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