LAKE MILLS -- More than 200 concerned area citizens gathered Thursday evening at Lake Mills City Hall to discuss the status of their efforts to stay atop the progression of a proposed expansion of an Enbridge Energy Co. Tar Sands oil pipeline through Wisconsin -- Jefferson County in particular.
The informational session and forum was initiated by Aztalan resident and founder of the Wisconsin Tar Sands Action Coalition, Ronni Monroe.
According to information provided by event organizers, the Global Conservation Group has made the effort to join forces with the Wisconsin Tar Sands Action Coalition and Wisconsin Safe Energy Alliance to defeat a proposed expansion of Pipeline 61.
"Pipeline 61, larger than that of the Keystone XL Pipeline, can affect the city of Watertown in the event of a leak," information provided by the groups Thursday stated. "The pipeline will cut through just west of Lake Mills and Fort Atkinson spanning the entire state. The company that owns the pipeline, Enbridge, is seeking to expand it in order to be able to pump 126,000,000 gallons of oil each day."
They said in the event of a leak or break, oil could be distributed as far as 32 miles away, negatively affecting the city of Watertown and its residents.
"The environmental destruction alone that this project poses is simply not worth the risk," they said. "Enbridge, a Canadian company, has a bad track record of safety, as they have been found guilty of more than 100 environmental violations in 14 Wisconsin counties."
The event, which culminated with a question and answer session, began with speakers including Elizabeth Ward of the Sierra Club's John Muir Chapter, who described the Tar Sands oil deposits that are buried in Canada. She described how the oil is extracted from the sands, and the threats of corrosion to pipelines that carry the oil and other chemical substances. She said the chemicals used to extract and move the oil can cause grave health concerns if humans are exposed to them. She also noted Tar Sands oil spills are notoriously hard to clean up and used the tragic July 2010 Kalamazoo River spill to illustrate her point.
"That huge spill's cleanup costs have exceeded $1 billion and it's still not solved," she said.
Line 61 that is proposed for expansion and increased pressurization through counties including Dane and Jefferson, starts near Superior and moves south through the state. The oil would eventually end up along the Gulf Coast, where pipeline detractors say it would be exported to foreign countries, where its sale would bring greater profits than if it was dispensed domestically.
Those gathered Thursday night said they are concerned the pipelines are running straight through some of Wisconsin's largest, most prominent and cherished watersheds. Their data indicated four pipelines travel in the Line 61 corridor and are buried 3 to 5 feet underground.
Enbridge representatives were invited to attend Thursday's meeting but reportedly declined.
The local group made frequent references to the disaster in the Kalamazoo River as the meeting progressed and praised Jefferson County Board Supervisor Walt Christensen for bringing the matter of the Jefferson County pipeline routing before his board colleagues.
Christensen was able to get a resolution passed by the board in 2014 in which the county took an official stance regarding the pipeline.
As of a tense June 2014 meeting between local citizens and Enbridge representatives in Jefferson, Enbridge had permits in place and was scheduled to expand, in phases, the average annual capacity of Line 61 that carries the Tar Sands oil through Wisconsin.
Expanded Line 61 is a 42-inch diameter crude oil pipeline that became operational in recent years and spans the terrain between Superior and Pontiac, Ill. According to Enbridge, increasing Line 61's average annual capacity will involve the construction, or modification, of pump stations in Wisconsin and Illinois. An existing pump station in the Dane County portion of Waterloo had been scheduled for modification but, according to information provided at Thursday evening's forum, that modification is on hold as a result of Dane County governmental action.
"(Expanded use of) Line 61 is stalled because the Dane County Zoning Board has not issued a conditional use permit," Monroe told the Daily Times following the meeting. "Enbridge wants a pumping station in Dane County and they need that permit to build that. There has been no issuance of a Dane County permit on the basis that Enbridge hasn't disclosed the amount of insurance they have in case of a spill and Dane County needs more of an accurate assessment of what would happen if there was a spill."
Monroe said Dane County is currently awaiting results of a study and plans to conduct more meetings in the near future.
"(Enbridge) is also planning an additional pipeline. We learned that in the past two weeks there could be a 'Line 61 twin,' but there is no more room in the easement. So they are going to be out trying to acquire more land. At this point, we don't know if they want a temporary or permanent easement, and that line would lie just southwest of the current line and might carry 555,000 barrels of oil per day."
Some speakers during the evening warned a Tar Sands oil "superhighway" could soon be running through the county.
"We are trying to learn more at this point and work with people who are subject to easements," Monroe said. "Landowners have had to deal with easement issues on their own and now we are hoping we can get our landowners and adjacent property owners so they aren't stuck out there. We are trying to get an alliance of people together, so when a landowner decides to sign off, they know their decision affects many others."
Monroe said she and other organizers of Thursday's session were "very pleased" with the turnout.
"Our attendance was the biggest we've had at any or our forums," Monroe said. "We distributed leaflets from Columbia down to Rock County. A small group of people spent a lot of time putting leaflets on mail boxes and buildings, and that is what got a lot of people there. There was a tremendous amount of work to set this up to get people who wouldn't normally attend to come out."
Monroe said next on the agenda of the pipeline's opponents is to make sure people get -- and remain -- organized. She also said the lines of communication must stay open through social media and other options.
"I guess we will try to take this model of gathering up the pipeline and get meetings like this in a grassroots way right up the line," she said. "These are people that are affected getting together and I feel proud of the people who came. I have a lot of gratitude toward them that they showed up, and were willing to be open and willing to bond. We had people from Dane County communicating with people from southern Jefferson County. They were sharing their stories and we want to do this in every county that is affected."