People Over Pipelines video series

“The smell from the oil was so strong that you couldn’t go outside, that you would actually taste it.” Grand Marsh, WI
Living off the land, Jim and Marsha Klopfer hunt, garden, and have raised horses on their property in Grand Marsh, Wisconsin over the past fourteen years. Just beyond their barn and pasture lies the existing Enbridge oil pipeline in an ecologically important space. “In this area there are several endangered species,” says Marsha Klopfer, referring to the Blue Karner Butterfly and Blanding’s turtle. The Klopfers fear any additional encroachment of Enbridge’s pipeline in the vicinity of their property could further endanger these species and the land itself. In 2012, an oil pipeline rupture across the road from the Klopfer’s residence caused great damage to the local environment, including release of benzine, a known carcinogen, into the air. “It was black…[and] probably bigger than half of a football field,” says Jim Klopfer about the size of the oil spillage. While Enbridge offered to relocate the Klopfers to a hotel, they claim the oil company did not stress the potential dangers of remaining so close to the spill. “You put your trust in people to do the best thing and it’s very unfortunate,” says Marsha Klopfer.

Tom and Paula Hinke, longtime landowners of Wisconsin are being disenfranchised from their right to their very own land, and their slice of the American dream. The forests that surround their property are rich in wildlife, which they cherish, and after decades of hard work, all of that could change if Enbridge gets its way. Enbridge, the Canadian company, is working to expand its pipeline network through Wisconsin; seizing property from American citizens to transport hazardous, toxic tar sands oil. Enbridge could exercise eminent domain to seize land from US citizens for private profit. Enbridge was became eligible to use eminent domain via a legislation change made in the 2015 budget. For the Hinke’s, their land, home, and the wildlife that live on it could all be destroyed if Enbridge proceeds with pipeline expansion.

“I used to be a little house in the woods, a cabin, and I’m now the little house on the prairie,” says Jill Gierach, describing her property in Fort Atkinson following encroachment by the Enbridge oil company and subsequent removal of trees surrounding her home. Gierach lives so close to the pipeline, in fact, that she fears for the physical safety of her family during any potential pipeline leaks or ruptures. . “I take most of the liability of that pipeline going through my property,” states Gierach. And in reference to the volatile, flammable, toxic chemicals that would be released during a rupture, Gierach says, “if the gases come up, of course, it really won’t be an issue because I won’t be alive to figure that out.” Beyond the potential safety impacts on her family, Gierach’s primary concern is the use of eminent domain by the Enbridge company to take an easement or even her family’s property. “Our state government would have had a little verbiage [sneaked] into a bill that allows a foreign company for private gain to take over that eminent domain,” says Gierach. She believes it is unfair that Enbridge should be allowed to take away from her and profit from the land that she owns.

“My wife went to the back room and cried, and [Enbridge’s landman] said ‘That’s it – you left the table, we’re done here.” Jeff and Roxanne Schuld of Wisconsin purchased their property in the 1980’s, with the understanding that a pipeline ran beneath it. It was during the most recent expansion, when Enbridge was installing two new pipelines, from 2007-8, that they were mistreated by arrogant Enbridge employees and contractors who berated them, scraped their black dirt off their lawn, leaving it looking like “a farmers field,” and cheated them out of thousands of dollars. The Schulds, like many other land owners, are concerned about Enbridge’s use of Eminent Domain. Enbridge, despite being a Canadian energy transportation company, is able to utilize United States property law via a recent legislative change. Eminent domain allows the government to seize property or land for public use with “just compensation,” determined by a judge. However, Enbridge is using these laws for private profit, and Wisconsonites like the Schulds, could have their property swallowed up for the new pipeline.

Growing up in Marshfield, Wisconsin, Nate Borchardt experienced the Enbridge oil pipeline first hand. “My two older brothers and I grew up playing in the woods, where [the pipeline] was right beneath our feet.” “I don’t think a private company should be able to take private land for profit,” says Borchardt. As Enbridge seeks to conduct more invasive alterations to the land in Wisconsin, Borchardt plans to participate in more property events at the Capitol in Madison. “I’m amazed that our government could let this happen,” he says, in reference to the use of eminent domain to claim his parents’ and others’ private land for an oil pipeline company. Like many Wisconsin residents, Nate Borchardt stands in opposition to a new pipeline and will fight to maintain his property rights against encroachments by Enbridge.

Tim Jensen has lived in Medina Township in Dane County for 45 years, in a house he built with his own two hands, 32 years ago. Now retired, he enjoys spending time with his 11 apple trees and his garden. There is an Enbridge pumping station in his “backyard.” He came to Lobby Day in May 2017, when landowners from across the state came to the Capitol to talk to their legislators about the injustice of eminent domain for private gain. He said, “I’ve actually run into people who are on the opposite end of the political spectrum from myself, but who have come to the same conclusion, that eminent domain is a very important, basic issue for democracy.” Dane county asked Enbridge to be a responsible neighbor, to take responsibility for any damage caused by spills that might happen in his backyard, by buying $25 million of extra spill insurance. When the Legislature passed a bill saying that a county couldn’t enforce an insurance mandate, Tim joined other landowners in a court case to try to enforce it themselves. He urges the legislators to take up the issue of eminent domain for private gain, and to support the citizens of Wisconsin.

Keith Merkel is a prairie enthusiast and birdwatcher who lives with his family outside of Marshfield, WI. They found out the hard way that even a tiny spill can have bad consequences, when Enbridge Line 61 spilled just one barrel of oil on a neighbor’s land. As a result, another neighbor family had to move out of their home permanently. The engineer who oversaw the cleanup of that small spill told Keith that it was one of his most difficult cases ever, because the severely fractured bedrock meant that the oil could travel in any direction. Keith points out that the many dairy farms in the area are in danger because a leak could taint the milk, which couldn’t then be sold. He says, “So that’s one thing that’s always on our mind. Where is the next leak going to occur? When will it occur? Is it going to affect us?” Should these families have to live with that level of uncertainty about their future? When he heard that a new pipeline had been proposed, faced with lowered property values, diminished property rights, and just a one-time payment for a perpetual easement, Keith joined with other landowners to form WEAT, the Wisconsin Easement Action Team. In his words, “We started WEAT to get people to band together, to hopefully have more clout working as a group instead as individuals…to try and secure better terms if and when this new pipeline has to come through.”

Kevin and Darcy Stoddard are farmers and hunters who live in a log cabin, just 30 feet from the pipeline. If Line 66 comes through, they will likely lose their home. When Enbridge came through in 2007, the company insisted on clearing 100 ft. of “temporary work space.” Reasoning that they had never seen a 100 ft.-wide bulldozer, the couple asked if they could reduce it to just 50 ft. But, as the Enbridge land agent told them, “This is not a negotiation.” Darcy sums it up this way: “They just decide what they’re gonna take, and then they just take it.”

“Enbridge plans on taking an additional 300 ft of our land. If we go to the west, it takes away a part of my house; it’ll take away my garage. If we go to the east, it takes part of my woods and potentially takes my neighbors’ house.”

Jason Berry has lived in his Marshfield, WI, home since April of 2000. With his 10 acres of land, he has been able to provide a place for his kids to explore the wonders of the natural world. They love to spend hours outside making tree houses, riding four wheelers and hiking along the network of trails Berry has on his property. Now, the life Berry has worked hard to give to his kids could be lost as Enbridge might take additional land.

Jule and Lorene have had to work hard their whole lives to obtain the home they now own. Lorene tells the story of Enbridge’s deceitful and underhanded games, that resulted in the loss of 65 trees for “temporary workspace” that they had promised to spare.

At the end of the video, Lorene asks if it’s fair they are having to make decisions about their future under the threat of another pipeline. What do you think?

Scientist Mark Borchardt and Surgeon Gwen Stone live near Marshfield in a lovely home on 10 acres with 200-year-old maples and oaks, a prairie they planted, and a pond. But in a year or two their home could be gone – because Enbridge wants to add another tar sands pipeline in its Line 61 corridor that cuts diagonally through Wisconsin, from Superior to Delavan. To protect their home and property, the couple founded the landowner group 80 Feet is Enough! in 2016.

Both have worked hard their entire lives to earn their dream home, an isolated cabin in the woods, but now their dream is threatened. Enbridge could try to use eminent domain to take more land of their piece of bliss. Driving the dagger further into the heart of their dreams are the restrictions that would be imposed upon the couple’s ability to plant or build anything on their land, and the responsibility of the couple to still pay taxes on the claimed land.