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Minn. county won't see additional tax dollars with proposed Sandpiper route

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BEMIDJI, Minn. -- Beltrami County makes about $900,000 off Enbridge Energy each year, but no more funds will be funneling into county coffers if the Canadian company has its way.

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Enbridge chose the route it prefers for the proposed Sandpiper pipeline, and it does not run through Beltrami County, which made just south of $1 million in property taxes off the company in 2011.

"It's mainly about winter construction costs," said Becky Haase, spokeswoman for Enbridge. With the proposed route, taking a sharp turn to the south just west of the Beltrami and Clearwater county line, those costs will be much lower, Haase said.

The property taxes for the Sandpiper would go to the eight Minnesota counties through which the pipeline will travel -- a distance of 610 miles, with a price tag of $2.5 billion, according to Haase. From west to east, those counties are Polk, Red Lake, Clearwater, Hubbard, Cass, Crow Wing, Aitkin and Carlton. With the existing pipeline, which runs through Clearbrook, Bemidji and just south of Grand Rapids, the Sandpiper would bring to 11 the number of counties carrying Enbridge oil.

"We would cross more wetlands," Haase said of the northern route, which would have run through Bemidji on its way to Superior, Wis., carrying crude oil from North Dakota's Bakken Oil Patch. "Naturally, whichever route we take there are going to have some wetlands, but the southern route would impact less of those."

Expansion project

Enbridge has submitted its proposed route to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, the same body that approved an expansion project that includes the Sandpiper. But Haase said the approval process takes about a year, meaning construction on the pipeline won't likely begin until fall 2014.

The commission, in a unanimous decision last week, approved the expansion project as protesters gathered at the meeting.

The Sandpiper would run southeast from Enbridge's Clearbrook facility before turning east. The pipeline would "reduce the bottleneck" that Enbridge faces with its existing pipeline, Haase said.

In June, Haase met with the Beltrami County Board of Commissioners to update the board on the expansion project. There, she explained Enbridge has committed to $26 billion worth of improvements and new projects in the U.S. and Canada throughout the next three years. Specifically, new pumping units at the Clearbrook, Viking and Deer River facilities will increase the amount of oil pushed through "Line 67," a pipe 36-inches in diameter that currently moves 450,000 barrels of oil per day. The new units will increase that amount to 800,000 barrels per day.

Protests and proposals

Protests of the company's projects have come from several sides. A week after Haase's presentation to the board, members of MN350, a climate change awareness organization, visited the Clearbrook facility. They warned against the effects of fossil fuel use on the Earth's climate. And on the Red Lake Indian Reservation, protesters camped out over the winter, claiming Enbridge was acting illegally by operating four pipelines there. Haase has previously said Enbridge went through the proper channels to build the pipelines, the last of which was built in 1972.

Now that the company has chosen its prefered route, Enbridge is in the process of contacting property owners, and informing them of the looming project. Where possible, Haase said, the company will run the Sandpiper along existing utility line routes. In Carlton County, on the edge of Wisconsin, at least one official has attempted to provide the path of least resistance for Enbridge, which faces the prospect of dealing with individual homeowners as it maps the Sandpiper's route.

County Land Commissioner Greg Bernu recommended to county commissioners handing over access to the Soo Line Trail public utility corridor. In his remarks, Bernu said officials from Cass and Aitkin counties supported his proposal. But while running the Sandpiper along an existing utility corridor might be less troublesome in terms of the number of property owners the company would be required to contact, Enbridge maintained it would be more costly.

Bernu said Enbridge "didn't necessarily rule out" the idea of utilizing the Soo Line Trail, but the company believed it would be a more expensive alternative.

As property owners across the state are learning from the letters in their mailboxes, Enbridge is working aggressively to get the Sandpiper underway. Those letters most likely won't be showing up for Beltrami County residents, but the Bemidji area may see ancillary benefits from the Sandpiper, according to Haase.

"Beltrami County, with its location, its proximity to Clearbrook and Clearwater County and Hubbard County, would still see some likely impact for workers traveling to and from their work sites," she said.

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