Niles farm fights oil pipeline companyPublished 3:25pm Tuesday, February 12, 2013
Bertrand Farm in Niles is one of hundreds of properties in Michigan and Indiana that will be affected by the replacement of a portion of Enbridge’s petroleum-carrying pipeline in the coming months.
Theri Niemier and her husband, John, have owned the small organic farm at 3575 W. Bertrand Road since 1996. The Niemiers also run a nonprofit educational farm facility — Bertrand Farm Inc. — on the property that offers year-round learning activities to children of all ages.
Theri said Bertrand Farm Inc. would be unable to offer its programs for up to a year while Enbridge replaces the pipeline that runs through a portion of the 11-acre farm.
The Niemiers and Bertrand Farm Inc. have refused an offer of around $8,500 from Enbridge in compensation for the loss of the land for that time.
They are trying to negotiate what they believe is a fair settlement.
“The property value they determined to be is not even close to what we need to close down for a year,” Theri said.
Fair market value
The Michigan Public Service Commission granted Enbridge approval Jan. 31 to replace 210 miles of underground pipeline stretching from Marysville to Griffith, Ind.
The pipeline has been in place since the late 1960s.
Jason Manshum, of Enbridge Community Relations, said there are two reasons for the replacement project: The first is to reduce the need for future maintenance, and the second is to meet growing demand for petroleum and energy products in the Midwest.
“At the end of the day, this is a positive thing for Michigan,” Manshum said.
The new pipeline will run parallel and adjacent to the current pipeline — about 25-feet away.
Manshum said Enbridge is in the process of meeting with landowners — like the Niemiers — whose property is along the pipeline’s right of way.
Manshum said he couldn’t discuss the Niemiers’ situation because it is an ongoing negotiation. However, he said compensation offers are equitable and based on fair market value of the land compared to similar property in the area.
If a landowner disagrees with an offer, Manshum said the landowner would need to prove why their property is worth a different value from what the market indicates.
“We would certainly look at that and consider that,” he said.
Theri began notifying Bertrand Farm Inc. clients in early February that the farm would not be offering programs this year because of the pipeline construction.
Almost instantly, support came flooding in.
Jen Stark, who has been involved in the farm’s Community Sponsored Agriculture program, created a Facebook page “Help Save Bertrand Farm.”
Several others sent letters to Enbridge on behalf of Bertrand Farm.
One letter, written by Rachel and Michael Ellis, said Bertrand’s summer farm camps taught their children to appreciate food, where it comes from and the work that goes into creating it.
“Absent Bertrand Farm,” the letter reads, “our kids might think that food comes from the supermarket … Each summer brings new opportunities and challenges and these are always the most cherished weeks of the season. The void in our lives and others in the community at the loss of time at Bertrand has devastated us all.”
Theri said she hopes these letters and other forms of community support will help show Enbridge the true impact of losing the farm and its programs during pipeline replacement.
“It is more than just a black-and-white income loss — the community loss is also part of that gray area we’d like them to consider,” she said. “Bertrand Farm Inc. could come out of this a much stronger organization able to reach deeper into the community with more programming, more scholarships.
“This is a bad situation, but it could, at least, have a silver lining.”