By Jim Hagerty


More than 30 people attended a community forum at the Ida Public Library on Monday, Nov. 21, to discuss a potential expansion of a petroleum pipeline that already runs through four northern Illinois counties.

The pipeline is owned by Calgary-based Enbridge. It runs through DeKalb, LaSalle, Boone, and Livingston Counties and affects more than 300 property owners. While there haven’t been any major problems with the existing line, activists from the group Save Our Illinois Land (SOIL) are preparing landowners for what an expansion could bring.

“If they do the same thing they are doing in Wisconsin, there would be easements involved of about 300 feet west from where [the pipeline] already runs,” Deni Mathews, from Save Our Illinois Land, said.

Enbridge is in early talks to expand the pipeline that runs from the city of Superior, Wis., to the Stateline near Beloit—the same line that runs through Illinois.

Property owners already affected here say they fear an expansion could run too close to homes, bringing with it potential risks of tar sands from seeping into basements, even causing explosions.

“I prefer that it didn’t come,” Deb Doetch, of Blaine, said. “I am already living about 160 feet from the pipeline, so I am hoping it doesn’t come.”

Doetch said she’s seen some loss in the soil fertility on her farm, something Enbridge remedied to her satisfaction. However, she said if the company is able to expand farther, she may be forced to make some difficult choices.

“If the pipeline would move any closer to the house, it may push us into a move,” Doetch said. “But, we don’t know if the second line is going to come through. But if it does, I think it will get too close.”

Aside from environmental concerns, Doetch and other landowners fear the worst. Tar sands comprise clay, water, and bitumen, heavy black oil that is extracted at refineries to make petroleum. The substance is explosive with leaks that can be quite harmful and costly.

In July, Enbridge agreed to pay $177 million in penalties after a tear in a pipeline it managed caused 1.1 million gallons of diluted bitumen to spill into a tributary of the Kalamazoo River near Marshall, Mich. The 2010 spill resulted in a two-year cleanup that cost more than $750 million.

Save Our Illinois Land is not warning landowners of another Marshall disaster; it wants Enbridge to come to a fair arrangement if an expansion moves forward. An arrangement the group says must involve a voice of the people.

“We don’t really like what big companies like Enbridge do to landowners,” Dave Davis, of Save Our Illinois Land, said. “But, it is a big company, and that is what they do. They are a big corporation. We just want them to treat landowners fairly. People need a place at the table.”

Enbridge acquires property through negotiated easements. When those are not successful, it turns to the Illinois Commerce Commission to seek eminent domain.

Embridge could not be reached for comment about a possible Illinois expansion.

In a letter to landowners along the existing pipeline corridor, the company stated that an Illinois project is not yet in the works.

“Enbridge has not made a decision to move forward with a new pipeline project paralleling the Line 61 corridor,” Rich Kern, Enbridge supervisor of land services, wrote. “Landowners can be assured that should Enbridge proceed with a new pipeline, we will announce our plans publicly, begin discussions with landowners and consultations with stakeholders, and initiate the robust regulatory processes which have multiple opportunities for input.”

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