Oil Spill Corked Vineyard Plans, Family Says | Courthouse News Service
Tuesday, November 28, 2023
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Oil Spill Corked Vineyard Plans, Family Says

(CN) - A 40-year-old oil pipe in Michigan ruptured because of neglect and ruined a multimillion-dollar vineyard development, the vineyard owners claim in federal court.

Click here to read Courthouse News' Environmental Law Review.

Fredonia Farms says that Enbridge Energy has an easement to run a pipe called Line 6B through its property outside of Marshall, Mich., transporting crude oil from the Lakehead system across southwest Michigan and Calhoun County.

"Line 6B is a 30-inch diameter pipeline that transports crude oil at an output of 283,000 barrels per day," according to the complaint in the Western District of Michigan.

The Zinn family, which has owned the 420-acre property for over 80 years, says they opposed the easement when it was granted in the 1960s. Delaware-based Enbridge allegedly swore, however, that the pipeline would include a fail-safe and three overriding devices to immediately shut down oil movement and the pumping station in the event of a leak.

The family's four children - Frank Zinn, Karl Zinn, Donald Zinn and Susan Eisinger -started Fredonia Farms and partnered with real estate executive Mark Falaga to develop the property into a community vineyard in 2007, according to the complaint.

Falanga and the Zinns say they had invested millions of dollars and spent over two years developing Zinnyard when Line 6B ruptured on July 25, 2010, causing "the greatest environmental disaster in" Michigan history.

"Enbridge willfully, wantonly and/or recklessly operated Line 6B of its Lakehead Pipeline System resulting in its catastrophic rupture and approximately one million gallons, over 20,000 barrels, of heavy, toxic tar sands crude oil being released into the environment near Marshall, Michigan," the complaint states.

The vineyard developers say that the spill killed or sickened wildlife; destroyed miles of trees and wetland vegetation along Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River; and caused health problems among exposed individuals.

"Attempts are still ongoing more than two years later to clean up the resulting mess and will continue into the future," according to the complaint. "The full extent of the ultimate damage will not be known for years."

The vineyard developers say stress corrosion cracking caused the massive rupture, and that Enbridge could have prevented such cracking with better maintenance.

The U.S. Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration requires pipeline operators to maintain leak and cracks detection measures, conduct periodic evaluations of pipe segments, and replace any potentially defective segments, according to the complaint.

PII Pipeline Solutions, a GE Oil & Gas and Al Shaheen joint venture, allegedly inspected Line 6B between 2003 and 2009.

Though the Houston company discovered hundreds of anomalies, including cracking, metal loss, and evidence of corrosion, Enbridge refused to repair and replace defective sections, according to the complaint.

Repairs "would have cost Enbridge very substantial sums of money, and reduced Enbridge's profits," the complaint states.

Zinnyard is allegedly doomed because no one will invest in land that was once contaminated by crude oil.

The developers say their property was worth at least $14 million.

They seek compensatory and treble damages against Enbridge for gross negligence, strict liability for abnormally dangerous activity, and unjust enrichment. They also ask for $400,000 to cover the value of adult trees destroyed by Enbridge during subsequent water pressure testing, and that Enbridge disgorge all profits made as a result of using the Zinns' water to perform the tests.

PII should also pay compensatory and consequential damages for negligence, according to the complaint.

The plaintiffs are represented by Richard Kay with Warner, Norcross, & Judd.

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