A federal agency has approved the the first Indiana segment of a pipeline that will pass through the region while carrying Canadian crude oil to Midwestern refineries.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has cleared the way for work to begin on a length of the new Line 6B pipeline between the Indiana-Michigan border and LaPorte. Enbridge Energy Partners LP is replacing a 44-year-old pipeline and running a new one through a 60-mile swath of Lake, Porter, LaPorte and St. Joseph counties.
In preparation for construction, workers are staking and clearing out the Indiana route of the pipeline that will ultimately run between Canada and the Enbridge terminal in Griffith, spokeswoman Jennifer Smith said. The company is investing $1.5 billion to install a new, bigger line that will serve the BP Whiting Refinery and other Midwestern refineries.
The project will create about 200 local construction jobs, Smith said.
A traveling group of several hundred construction workers, who have been running the pipeline through Michigan, also will stay at local hotels, eat at area restaurants and spend money at other businesses during the months they will be working in the area, Smith said.
In March, a consortium of 55 Great Lakes conservation groups, including Save the Dunes, filed a federal petition calling for an end to pipeline construction by Enbridge Energy until updated safety measures are in place. The groups cited concerns about the potential impacts a breach could have on Lake Michigan and its watershed, which provides drinking water to millions.
Much of the concern from environmental groups centers on previous spills, including one from Line 6B in 2010 that sent more than 1 million gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. That spill took more than two years to clean up, closed the waterway to recreation for a year and cost $767 million to remediate.
Enbridge officials say the company has since adopted new safety procedures, and the 180 area employees have completed 11,000 hours of safety training since the Michigan spill. They said the company would overreact to any spill, whatever its size, and dispatch 500 employees to contain it.
The new pipeline will cross the Union Township property of 73-year-old Bill LaFever, who has been plowing the soil and planting corn and beans since he was 12 years old. He worries the pipeline would limit what his family could do with the land and whether the pipe is thick enough.
"I couldn't afford to fight it, so I tried to get the best deal I could possibly get," he said.
Enbridge addressed LaFever's biggest concerns by assuming all liability if the line were ever ruptured on his property, and by agreeing to pump any water the digging unearths. The company also agreed to remove all rubble from the farm ground and put the top soil back in place.
Hobart resident Chuck Gabriel feels he was shortchanged on price when he settled since his neighbors got the same amount as him despite giving up less land. He spent nine months negotiating and finally gave it when they threatened to condemn his property. He did not want to leave the outcome entirely in the hands of judge, or go the the expense of hiring an attorney.
"I've got a 4-year-old son and a well," he said. "I go to work every day so I can pay for a nice piece of property where I can raise my kids. I don't want to end up in an Erin Brockovich situation where there's been a leak of benzene into my well for who knows how long."
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers still must approve the remainder of the work west into Griffith. Construction is expected to start in September and be finished by the end of the year.