BLOOMINGTON — Enbridge hopes to start construction on a planned 165-mile oil pipeline this spring, but some landowners still are attempting to derail the project.
The Calgary, Alberta-based company currently is building a pump station at its Flanagan Terminal in rural Pontiac and also one outside Decatur, said Jennifer Smith, the company's communication manager.
"About 90 percent of the land (needed for the pipeline) has been acquired along the route," she said.
The pipeline will start at the Flanagan Terminal and travel south through several counties, including McLean, DeWitt and Macon, ending at a major refinery hub in Patoka in southern Marion County.
Smith said there are 68 parcels still needed for the project, called the Southern Access Extension. That property is now the subject of eminent domain cases in circuit courts. No trials have started. Initially, there were 80 parcels, she said, but the company has reached agreements with the other landowners.
Ellsworth attorney Tom Pliura represents about 100 clients who are fighting the eminent domain process. He has an appeal pending in the Fourth District Appellate Court, contesting the Illinois Commerce Commission's previous decision allowing Enbridge to pursue eminent domain for property it needs.
"We're following the rules the Illinois Constitution, and the U.S. Constitution affords landowners to appear in court and contest or object to their land being taken," Pliura said.
Pliura also has appealed the ICC's Dec. 17 denial of requests to continue hearings on the certificate that gave Enbridge the right to build the pipeline. Pliura and Bloomington attorney Mercer Turner challenged the original certificate, maintaining Enbridge downsized the diameter of the pipeline, from 36 inches to 24 inches, after receiving the certificate.
Pliura argues the original hearings were solely about the need for a 36-inch diameter line that would carry Canadian crude oil. The company has not presented arguments for the need to downsize to a 24-inch-diameter line for light crude oil from areas other than Canada, he said, so the case should be reheard so opponents can present their arguments.
But ICC staff said they learned of the smaller diameter in April through a brief filed by Pliura, and told Enbridge it would need to amend its certificate. Enbridge filed that petition in May, and the case was reopened in June, giving objectors a chance to raise concerns, the decision states.
Smith said the company's pipelines transport 50 kinds of oil from very heavy to very light. The Southern Access Extension pipeline will be constructed to carry light or heavy oil, but at this time it primarily will transport lighter oil, she said.
Pliura said if the ICC rejects his argument to rehear the case, he will appeal to the Fourth District Appellate Court.
Tim Killian and Terry Killian, brothers who own adjoining farmland northeast of Towanda, are among Pliura's clients fighting the pipeline and eminent domain.
Tim Killian said the proposed pipeline would cross both the properties diagonally for a a quarter mile and would bring "limited access for farming" because they can't cross the pipeline trench for some time.
"Instead of farming straight through, I'll have to farm both sides of the pipeline for a time," he said.
Killian also has concerns about a land-use contract proposed by Enbridge that he said gives the company 43 days to respond to any situations related to the pipeline. He said in the case of weed control around the trench, that could lead to major problems.
Some herbicide-resistant weeds grow 1½ to 2 inches a day initially and then 6 to 12 inches a day as they mature, he said.
"They are impossible to kill when they reach that height," he said, adding the weeds can choke the crop.
But Smith said Enbridge gives landowners toll-free numbers and other means of communication in case there is a situation and the company "responds as quickly as possible."
Killian also doesn't like contract language that gives Enbridge unlimited access to the pipeline forever, but Smith said it is like any utility easement, which stays with the property forever.
Terry Killian said a proposed payment offer from Enbridge diminishes year after year, but the pipeline "puts constraints on us for a lifetime."
Smith said the company offers a onetime easement payment and then a lump fee to cover crop loss over the following five years. The first year provides a 100 percent crop loss payment because the land will be out of use because of construction, she said. The fee diminishes as the years pass because "as the land heals, the yields get better," she said.
If Enbridge starts construction as planned in the spring, oil could be flowing by the second half of 2015, said Smith, adding there is a similar timetable for an Enbridge pipeline from the Flanagan Terminal to northwest Indiana.