Lansing Council to decide whether to fight pipeline
As Lansing City Council gets ready to decide next week whether to oppose
the new route proposed by the Wolverine Pipe Line Co., it might want
to consider these factors:
A month before 71,000 gallons of gasoline spilled out of Wolverines
pipeline in Jackson County, the U.S. Accounting Office issued a disturbing
study that found that the U.S. Office of Pipeline Safety had not enforced
22 of 49 safety regulations passed by Congress in 1988.
County Commissioner Lisa Dedden photographed the remains of the
Wolverine Pipe Line Co. gas spill in Blackman Township in Jackson
County in January 2002, 18 months after the spill occurred. Dedden
said, I could still see the gasoline floating up in the
In May 2001, a Michigan Senate Democratic task force concluded that
a rupture like the Jackson County pipeline break might not have
occurred if Michigan had in place an effective monitoring, oversight
The same task force said the lack of oversight allowed companies
such as Wolverine to turn a blind eye to what might constitute a potential
safety hazard for the people of this state.
Wolverines Jackson County incident was not the first fuel
leak in Michigan. The number of dangerous leaks in Michigan has more
than doubled during the past decade, due to digging, broken welds and
other problems. According to the Office of Pipeline Safety, since 1984
there were 87 pipeline incidents in Michigan, ranking Michigan eighth
for pipeline spills for that period. From 1997 to 2001, the state Department
of Environmental Quality identified 17 river miles polluted solely by
oil and grease due to leaks, spills and other causes such as automobile
Despite such concerns, the state Public Service Commission approved
the new route through south Lansing last week. City Council appears
poised to vote against the route, which would utilize the I-96 corridor.
But even if it doesnt, Ingham County Commissioner Lisa Dedden,
whose district includes South Lansing, said she will do whatever she
can to fight Wolverine.
In January, a year and a half after the Jackson County spill that forced
1,000 residents from their homes, Dedden took her camera to the site
in Blackman Township. I could still see the gasoline floating
up in the water, Dedden said.
At a Committee of the Whole meeting on July 25, Council members heard
City Attorney James Smiertka tell them: The administration recommends
against the pipeline because of the unreasonable risk to future drinking
water supplies. Dedden and Lansing Mayor David Hollister went
on the record before the commission as strongly opposed to the pipeline
presented two possible resolutions. The first would reject Wolverines
plans to build a pipeline along I-96. The second would approve the application
permit, but require strict compliance with extra safety measures called
for by the Board of Water & Light. Both resolutions will be on the
agenda of City Councils Aug. 5 meeting on the 10th floor of City
Smiertka said if the Council rejects the pipeline, the administration
would ask the Council for permission to appeal the commissions
decision. Wolverine can then apply for a new route, sue the city or
ignore the decision. Ignoring the citys denial would force the
city to go to court.
In the citys petition to the commissioner, Hollister questioned
the companys good faith, claiming it downplayed serious concerns
over the pipelines effect on local residents and businesses as
simply not in my back yard objections. Hollister pointed
out that the 25,777 people living along the suggested route 1,330
more than along the existing pipeline route in Meridian Township
were a relevant factor, as was the safety of the water supply for 220,000
Using apparent sarcasm, Hollister referred to Wolverine as a wonderful
corporate citizen. He said the company trivialized the Blackman
Township incident, by dismissing Lansings reference to it as a
catastrophe. The mayor concluded: Wolverine only considers
the direct loss of life to be a bona fide catastrophe.
argues on its Web site that rumors were spread about the
Blackman Township spill. The company claims there was no contamination
of water supplies, nobody was injured, and every homeowner was reimbursed
for damages associated with the spill. Vice President Leslie C. Cole
said in an interview that Wolverine has been in business since 1953
and has never contaminated a drinking water well. As with
any spill, the gasoline quickly floated to the surface, which
makes it easy to pick up. Cole said that because shallow ground
water is separated from the main aquifer, gasoline would probably never
reach it. Cole asserted that Wolverine exceeded state and federal pipeline
The Hollister administration questioned this in petition to the commission.
Does that mean they didnt follow these policies and ignored
applicable standards when building and operating their Blackman Township
pipeline? Or does it mean that even with the best safeguards possible,
pipeline accidents do occur?
Wolverine has agreed to 21 extra safety measures requested by BW&L,
such as monitoring wells, an on-site construction inspector and monthly
pressure testing to detect leaks. BW&L general manager Joseph Pandy
Jr. said he doesnt support the construction of any oil pipeline
near drinking water resources. However, in case the Council accepts
Wolverines proposal, Pandy suggested to the Committee of the Whole
that these revisions be added to minimize risks.
said such safety measures are immaterial. No matter how safely
Wolverine constructs its pipeline the risk inevitably increases
when its located in densely populated areas. Population
density was the reason the commission rejected Wolverines initial
plan to replace part of the existing pipeline in Meridian Township,
prompting Wolverine to propose the new route.
Dedden said running the pipeline through south Lansing was an example
of ethnic and economic discrimination. According to United States Census
2000 data, 30 percent of the population along the six tracts of the
proposed I-96 route is of minority descent. This is 20 percent more
than along the five tracts of the existing Meridian route. Respectively,
the average incomes along the same routes are $49,784 in Lansing and
$83,393 in Meridian Township.
Hollister and Dedden argue if the route through Meridian is too dangerous
the same logic should apply for a route through Lansing. Dedden, an
attorney who as a commissioner represents 20,754 south Lansing residents,
said its usually hard to use an equal protection argument. But
this case is different, because there are similarly situated persons
within the same region. Thus Dedden and the city argue the pipeline
would unlawfully discriminate against minorities.
Dedden said Wolverines decision to withdraw the Meridian Township
portion of its original application was based purely on the recognition
of a potential economic lobby. They realized Meridian was too
hard to fight, because there were people with resources. Then they saw
I-96 and chose this path. However, a rebellious City Council led
by Hollister made them aware this is not the right path.
Dedden believes if the City Council rejects Wolverines proposal,
the company could pursue another of six possible routes. They
will look at less populated areas where they would have to make acquisitions
of private property. Wolverine is not saying if it will choose
an alternate route or take the matter to court on the grounds that the
city does not have sufficient authority to ban the use of the I-96 corridor.
Service Commission and Wolverine argue the route along I-96 was as good
as it gets. There were no residents within 50 feet of the pipeline
and only a handful even within 150 feet of the pipeline. That was attractive
commission, said spokeswoman Mary Joe Kunkle. The commission also
concluded that the number of residents along the route didnt necessarily
correspond to the number of those living within a zone of potential
peril, in the instance of a pipeline failure. They shared Wolverines
opinion that the proposed pipeline was safe because there were no residences
within 50 feet.
The proposed pipeline route is the lower thick rule with arrows
just above it.
argued these were arbitrary distinctions at best, and rather seem
calculated to mislead the commission and the public. She said
Wolverine didnt present data to indicate that only persons residing
within less than 150 feet would be affected by an accident. Even the
Muhlbauer model, upon which Wolverine experts rely for their
risk assessment, utilizes a standard of 660 feet: either one-eighth
of a mile on either side of a proposed pipeline or a one-quarter-mile
wide corridor along the proposed route. Hollister pointed out that placing
a pipeline along a route where more than 9,000 people live clearly does
not comply with federal safety standards.
Wolverines Cole insists that proximity is more important
than population density.
Considering the City Council members critical assessment of the
pipeline proposal, theres a strong likelihood that the majority
will vote against it on Monday. Councilwoman Sandy Allen, who represents
south Lansing, said she plans to vote against it Look what
happened in Jackson! Councilwoman Joan Bauer is concerned about
the potential risk to Lansings drinking water, and didnt
appear reassured by BW&Ls Pandys reply to her question,
In the event of a terrible spill is it possible to remedy
it? Nothing is impossible, it just takes money, Pandy
said at the meeting Thursday. Councilman Tony Benavides argument
held the greatest weight: We cannot put our people of Lansing
at risk. This pipeline is going to be here forever. Once we approve
it, it could be like Adios Amigos.