Wisconsin Tribe Sues to Remove Pipeline From Reservation

MADISON, Wis. (CN) – A Native American tribe in northern Wisconsin claims in court that Enbridge Energy refuses to remove an oil and natural gas pipeline from its protected lands despite a demand to pack up and leave.

(AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File)

Represented by lead attorney Riyaz Kanji of Kanji & Katzen, The Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians sued the Canada-based company in Madison federal court Tuesday, asking for an order that it comply with the tribe’s demand.

Constructed in 1953, the pipeline passes through 12 miles of the 125,000-acre Bad River Reservation on Lake Superior, according to the complaint. Enbridge had an easement on the land that was renewed in the 1970s and 1993.

When the easement expired in 2013, the tribe decided it would not renew it due to environmental concerns, but Enbridge has allegedly continued to pump up to 23 million gallons of oil and gas per day through the pipeline, which runs from Lake Superior through Wisconsin and Michigan into Canada.

“Enbridge expressly promised that the company would ‘remove all materials, equipment and associated installations within six months of termination, and … restore the land to its prior condition,’” the complaint states. “Rather than doing so, or seeking the Band’s consent to a renewal of the easements prior to their expiration, Enbridge has continued to operate the pipeline as if it has an indefinite entitlement to do so.”

Enbridge spokesperson Juli Kellner said in a statement Tuesday that the company has been “in good faith negotiations with the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Tribe regarding these easements since 2013.”

“The vast majority of Enbridge’s right of way through the Bad River Reservation is covered by either perpetual easements on private land or a 50-year agreement between Enbridge and the Band, which does not expire until 2043,” Kellner added.

The tribe alleges the pipeline traverses wetlands that “are recognized by international treaty as among the most sensitive freshwater estuarine ecosystems on Earth, a thriving refuge for innumerable flora and fauna including many threatened and endangered species.”

Home to fisheries, wild rice beds and endangered species such as the Gray Wolf, Canada Lynx and Piping Plover, the tribe’s reservation protects one of the largest and only remaining such wetland ecosystem in the world, according to the lawsuit.

“The Band’s centuries-long tradition of stewardship of the lands and waters within and around the Reservation, and the sustenance it draws from those resources in return, are the weft and warp of its social fabric, the central premise of its identity as a People, the foundation of its federally protected treaty rights, and the very reason the Reservation remains a world-class environmental treasure,” the complaint states.

But the pipeline threatens the safety of that fragile ecosystem, the tribe claims, as a spill along the 14 rivers and streams the crude oil and gas pass underneath would be disastrous.

The 66-year-old pipes are also prone to corrosion, pinhole leaks, fractures and explosions, all of which have happened to other Enbridge pipes in Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota and Canada, according to the complaint, which points to 122 total incidents reported by the company between 2011 and 2018.

Line 5, the one that passes through the Bad River Reservation, poses an even bigger threat due to natural changes in the Bad River itself, the tribe claims. The path of the river and soil erosion has brought the rushing waters closer and closer to the buried pipeline, threatening to expose the pipes.

“A pipeline designed to be supported by and secured in soil will be stripped of that support and protective covering and exposed to the enormous force of the moving water and the pipeline’s own considerable, unsupported weight,” the complaint states, adding that “pipelines are well known to rupture under these circumstances.”

The area’s remoteness would also lengthen the response time for critical mitigation efforts.

“Enbridge’s refusal to halt the flow of oil across the reservation constitutes a grave public nuisance,” the lawsuit states.

The tribe is suing Enbridge for trespass and public nuisance, and is asking for a court order that it cease operating its pipeline on reservation lands.

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