Sept. 18, 2006

MinnCan project gets hearing in Cokato

By Roz Kohls
Staff Writer

A formal hearing about the MinnCan Project, complete with an administrative judge, court reporter and officials from the Minnesota Pipeline Company testifying under oath, was held last Monday in Cokato City Hall.

The hearing was one of 14 held in various communities through which the 295-mile, 24-inch wide pipeline carrying crude oil will pass on its way to the Koch refinery in Rosemount, said Judge Beverly Jones Heydinger. Residents and affected property owners asked questions and made comments about the project and the pipeline’s route as part of a permit application process to the Public Utilities Commission. The final hearing was scheduled for Thursday in the Arlington/Hamburg area, she said.

After the evidentiary hearing set for Friday in St. Paul, Heydinger will make a recommendation in the middle of November to the utilities commission, and it will make the final decision. Written comments can still be submitted to Heydinger until Friday, Sept. 22, she said.

The pipeline in a permanent 50-foot wide easement is planned to run from north to south in Meeker County, into Wright County and Cokato and Stockholm Townships.

The following in bold print are the main questions addressed at the hearing, and the names of the people who submitted them. How Minnesota Pipeline officials responded to them is in plain type.

Because land for wildlife and waterfowl production isn’t going to be bought or sold, or built on, why can’t the pipeline run through it instead of productive land? Submitted by George Ruhland of Eden Valley.

Randy Duncan of the natural resource group of Minnesota Pipeline Company said the company agreed with Ruhland. Officials from the waterfowl production areas in Tyrone Flats in Meeker County and Perbix waterfowl production area in Carver County, however, have refused the use of land set aside for wildlife for the pipeline.

Why are the purchase prices for the easements set so low? Ruhland.

They are not too low, responded Philip Wright of Minnesota Pipeline. The company planned to make a best offer right from the start, instead of offering a “low ball” amount initially and then negotiating upward. Between 50 to 75 percent of property owners have already signed, which tells company officials they must be offering an acceptable purchase price, Wright said.

Does the company intend to use the same easement for more than one pipeline in the future? Ruhland.

Larry Van Horn, vice president of operations, said no, the easement is only for one pipeline of crude oil from Canada. No other pipelines can be put into the same easement. If the company decides it wants another pipeline, it will have to start over with another permit application to the public utilities commission, Van Horn said.

In 2000, a 14-inch rain destroyed several Wright County ditches. If the pipeline passes through a county ditch that is damaged by erosion, who pays for repairs, benefitted property owners from the ditch or the pipeline company? Submitted by Wright County Commissioner Dick Mattson.

“We’re responsible,” said Van Horn and Wright.

FEMA helped with repair costs for county ditches in 2000. What role will FEMA play if the pipeline is damaged? Mattson.

Company officials don’t know how FEMA will play into it, Van Horn responded.

Why weren’t property owners informed about the pipeline route in the preceding five years? submitted by Judith Strolberg of Cokato.

Minneapolis Pipeline first started the MinnCan Project in August 2005. It filed the application for the permit in January and the hearing and comment process began immediately, responded Eric Swanson, attorney for the company.

The Strolberg property will contain a mile of the proposed pipeline. What if there is a rupture or spill like the one near Little Falls this summer? Strolberg.

Van Horn responded that the company has a “zero release” goal. Minnesota Pipeline will take full responsibility if there is a leak, clean up the mess, and restore the environment. The clean up is not complete until the Pollution Control Agency says it is complete, Van Horn said.

Because the Strolberg farm is both the family’s home and livelihood, how will they live during the clean up? Strolberg.

Wright responded that the company will put the family in another residence if needed. “We can’t guess now how much money to pay you, though,” without knowing how bad the spill or leak is, or what the situation is, he said.

Minnesota Pipeline has had only two spills within the right of way since 1988. One of the properties was for sale before the spill, so the company bought the property, he said.

Will property mitigation be in the contract? Strolberg.

Yes, Wright said. The agreement the right of way agent offered has the protection Strolberg described.

Minnesota Pipeline has agreed not to put in another crude oil pipeline in the same easement, but what about a natural gas line or a pipeline carrying refined product? submitted by Donald Holm of Cokato.

No, only one pipeline of crude oil is allowed in the easement, Van Horn responded.

How will Minnesota Pipeline take into account farms that are licensed and certified to produce organic foods? submitted by Ralph Peterson of Cokato.

Heydinger responded that a recent amendment to the company’s farm mitigation plan specifically deals with farms certified for organic produce.

Minnesota Pipeline has a plan in place to make the pipeline fit organic farms, not organic farms fitting the pipeline, added Swanson.

The contract is “scary” because it lists the many rights Minnesota Pipeline has with the 50-foot wide easement, and the right of way agent is intimidating. Strolberg.

Property owners don’t have to sign, said Heydinger.

The Strolbergs fear condemnation will force them to accept an even worse deal than what Minnesota Pipeline is offering, said Strolberg, who has lived on the farm for 45 years.

How much of the 1.25-mile wide corridor will be used for a permanent easement, a temporary construction easement, and a total easement. Submitted by Karen Finstad Hammel, assistant attorney general.

The maximum width will be 100 feet, unless it’s through a road, wetland, railroad or river. The maximum for a special condition will be 250 feet. The minimum will be 50 to 100 feet, responded Todd McKimmay of Minnesota Pipeline.

Send yourwritten comments to the judge:

You still have time to submit comments about the MinnCan Project by Friday, Sept. 22.

The address is Judge Beverly Jones Heydinger, State of Minnesota, Office of Administrative Hearings, 100 Washington Square, Ste. 1700, Minneapolis, MN, 55401-2138 or fax to (612) 349-2665.

For more information you can go to the web site at www.minncanproject.com.

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