Mellen sells lot to Enbridge for up to $4 million

Eric Hjertstedt Sharp

Construction on Enbridge’s Line 3 Replacement Program in Canada in 2017. Photo courtesy of Enbridge.

Once again the tiny city of Mellen, Wis. stands at ground zero in the fight against the Canadian pipeline corporation Enbridge.

The pipeline currently runs through the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa reservation directly east of Ashland. Bad River has filed suit in federal court to have the line removed, so Enbridge sought land to reroute the line south of the reservation, through Mellen.

The city denied Enbridge’s request to survey a small city lot for the pipeline on Oct. 1. (Reader, Oct. 3) City council was in a 3-3 tie, so Mellen Mayor Joe Barabe cast the final vote.

However, at a Nov. 5 meeting, Mellen city council voted to sell Enbridge a plot of land the city owned on the edge of of its border, in the township of Morse. 

Voting to sell the property to Enbridge were Joe Ricker, Jessica Jukinen, Jim Markee and and Barb Jusula. Voting no was Angela Nimmer. Abstaining was Nathaniel Delegan.

‘Devils with horns’

Mayor Barabe handed out a written statement to the public prior to the Nov. 5 meeting. The Reader reprints that statement in full:

“At the September council meeting, Enbridge gave a presentation. I allowed all those who had an opinion to speak. At the end of the last speaker, I asked the council to make a motion not to allow Enbridge on city property inside Mellen, the council sat silent. 

At the October meeting Enbridge asked for permission to survey four lots the city owns, three in the city of Mellen and one in the town of Morse. I broke a tie and Enbridge was denied a second time. 

Three days later I sent a signal that I wished to talk with the Canadian company. 

On Oct. 7 at 6 p.m., an Enbridge employee drove me to an undisclosed office in Ashland and I walked into a war room for Enbridge. 

Three men sat at the table, men I never saw before. We had a dozen Enbridge people at both of our meetings but these men were new. I told them I was against them coming into Mellen. I told them they were devils with horns sticking out of their heads. 

For the next hour I told them I was not willing to lease out any city land but rather to sell the land in the town of Morse. I knew that day, Enbridge was already in Mellen. On a plat book you can connect the dots.

I told them I needed money to save Mellen from a tsunami. Last year the new lagoon system was finished and it raised utility rates 73 percent. 

The city had a 20-year bond to pay for the $1.8 million bond. That was the first crushing tsunami.

The second tsunami will hit Mellen when the 2022 highway project is done. 

It is estimated by DOT that Mellen will have to come up with $1.2 million to pay for redoing the century old utilities that run from one end of Main Street to the other.

Since we don't have the money, another huge $1 million dollar bond will be issued, and water and sewer rates will go through the roof. All 350 homes, all our mills, our school, the nursing home and all businesses will be financially crushed.

I told Enbridge about the bridge on Tyler Avenue that will be replaced in 2022, and our share was projected at over $120,000.

We have two loader payments totaling $26,000 for the next five years.

I told them the state will only allow us less than 2 percent growth for our city budget, we were falling behind on everything including employee wages, building repairs and that I wanted to save the fire and ambulance service while there was still time to fix our problems. Years before we purchased a new ambulance every five years and now our newest ambulance is 14 years old. I told then that city hall is in the third year of insulating because it had to be budgeted over 3 years. 

I told them I wanted the North Country Trail to be given authorization to run on those five acres.

They, too, deserved to be saved. I told them I wanted $5 million for the five acres so we could pay off the lagoon project and to put away money for the 2022 project and bridge. I wanted the utility rates to go back to where they were before we built the lagoons. 

They said nothing to me to give me hope when I left that night. And for two weeks I told no one what I did. Finally, last Friday, I got the call. I was to appear before them on Monday night, Oct. 21. Expecting little, I took our finance chairman Jim Markee with me. Enbridge handed us a proposal that would pay the city $1 million for the acres plus another $3.25 million if they could use the site.

On Wednesday night I took the council into executive session and explained the proposal. Tonight, I will not entertain any more debate. We have allowed all sides to speak. Tonight, we must decide what is best for Mellen and not for any special interest groups.

I feel the Council has done all they can, not to allow Enbridge to build their pipeline in our city, what citizens do with their private property is their business.

We cannot shy away from the financial situation that is being bonded to us. We will have no second choices. The people of Mellen await our decision.”

Landowners wanted

Despite the Mellen City Council's action Tuesday night, at issue still is Enbridge's plan for the alternative pipeline route, and the search for property owners willing to lease their land which is near a five-mile right-of-way through the Cozy Valley and adjacent townships. 

Members of the newly-formed Wisconsin Easement Action Team (WEAT) at the town of Morse meeting in October did not have nice things to say about Enbridge officials and those trying to get local property owners to hurry and lease their land to Enbridge.

Both city and rural folk also came out against the Line 5 Route en masse at the town of Morse meeting, citing disturbances not only of the area's world-famous fishery and Class A commercial and recreational ports, but as a major air and water pollutant as well. The area's opposition, as well as support, crosses party lines, with generations-long farmers and sawmill workers and owners voicing strong opposition, while those in favor of Enbridge's construction plan generally being more silent on the issue.

The controversial Enbridge Line 5 now running through the Bad River Band's Reservation east and south of Ashland could, if constructed, further damage community unity and cohesiveness and threaten water quality if the pipeline should rupture.

Led by Bad River Band Chairman Mike Wiggins, Jr., the tribe wants the existing 60 year-old plus pipeline out of reservation boundaries because they are afraid that Line 5 has reached the end of the line with safety and environmental concerns, and because the contract between the tribe and the company has run out, and changes in the Bad River's physical make-up, including the formation of an oxbow that would enable the force of the stream to damage the pipeline.

"The meandering pattern of the lower Bad River is actively changing, with frequent cut-offs in the vicinity." said Erick Arnold of WEAT, who says Enbridge's tactics are dishonest and threatening. Present at the town of Morse meeting, Arnold cited incidences where people, including WEAT members, were bullied into compliance with Enbridge's wish for an ever-widening desire for growing not only the size of the land needed for the pipeline, but also local compliance.

"The Flood of 2016" changed the character of the river. The Bad River is migrating on both the upstream of the meander bend, narrowing the neck of the meander toward an avulsion. (An avulsion is the process by which flow is diverted out of an established river channel into a new course on the adjacent floodplain).

‘Our land and water are not for sale’

In October, Enbridge offered Bad River $24 million to settle its lawsuit and allow the pipeline to stay, but the band refused.  Chairman Wiggins sent a statement to the Reader on Tuesday: 

"If the foreign company got their way, our land and waterways along the pipeline corridor would become industrial zones that are supposed to exist for the sole purpose of Enbridge oil transportation. Even worse is that Enbridge is seeking to take even more of our land whenever or wherever they see the need.

Our land and water are not for sale!

Our Tribal Council is in consensus on these issues and the next two years will see us continuing to show up, stand up, and defend against the threats that endanger our tribal people, land, and water resources. We are stronger when we stand together as a tribal people within our sovereign homeland – Mashkiziiibii.”

Enbridge’s statement

Enbridge released its own statement to the Reader: 

“Enbridge is evaluating options for re-routing a segment of Line 5 outside of the Bad River Reservation in response to the lawsuit filed by  the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Tribe. The vast majority of Line 5’s easements through the Reservation extend until 2043. Enbridge continues to  speak to the Bad River Band and the other allottees about the easements in question, which the Band acquired an interest in since the last easement agreement was signed in 1993. Enbridge is focused on providing safe and uninterrupted service  on Line 5 which is a critical pipeline that the region relies on for energy. As part of this process, Enbridge is currently conducting environmental and archaeological surveys along an approximate 40-mile survey corridor being evaluated to replace approximately 20 miles of the existing Line 5 pipeline in Ashland and Iron counties. We will be evaluating other potential corridors as part of the environmental permitting process.”