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Enbridge seeks new pipeline across N. Minnesota

WRENSHALL, Minn. (AP) — Enbridge Inc. plans to file applications this week to build a $2.5 billion pipeline to carry oil from North Dakota across northern Minnesota to Wisconsin. But opponents, including farmers along the route, are already organizing to fight it.

The 610-mile “Sandpiper” line would carry more than 200,000 barrels daily from western North Dakota's Bakken fields to the company's terminal in Superior, Wis. The Canadian-based company says its network of pipelines that transport Bakken oil is straining to keep up, so a new line is crucial.

But farmers and other property owners in northeastern Minnesota's Carlton County told Minnesota Public Radio for a story aired Tuesday that they fear the pipeline will destroy their land and way of life.

“We want to protect what we have, and we know there are others like us who want to protect what they have, and we're banding together,” said farmer Steve Schulstrom, part of a group of two dozen landowners, organic farmers and others pressing to route the pipeline somewhere else.

Enbridge has proposed two routes. One follows its existing pipeline corridor. But its preferred route cuts a new path south to Park Rapids before turning east toward Superior through Carlton County.

That would take it right through a hayfield where Janaki Fisher-Merritt hopes to grow organic potatoes.

“We limed and put manure on that this spring, and then we find out in July that's exactly where they want to put a pipeline,” Fisher-Merritt said as he walked his land.

The pipeline would disturb huge amounts of rich soil filled with complex bacteria and nutrients that are especially important for organic farmers who can't rely on synthetic fertilizer, he said, and the landowners also fear the damage that a spill could cause.

“Essentially what a pipeline does is it destroys that productive capacity of the land for organic crops, particularly for fresh market vegetables,” he said.

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission will spend a year weighing landowner concerns against the need for Sandpiper. If the PUC signs off on the plan, the company plans to begin construction late next year. Enbridge would be required to negotiate fair compensation to landowners for easements.

“We pay fair market value, as if we are purchasing the land outright, but the reality is after construction is over, the landowner can use it,” company spokeswoman Lorraine Little said. “If it's farmland, they can use it to farm still.”