On Orange Flags

I didn’t start fundraising for my Ready Set Smart project earlier, because I honestly thought I would get more help from progressive and environmental groups. I guess it’s my fault for not asking for a specific amount and getting that in writing when I met with them. It’s my fault for not understanding all the protocol for funding.   After all, they want to stop the new pipeline from coming and I figured they had a budget for this kind of thing, (no, they apparently don’t) and granted, it’s a new and different project. My project doesn’t quite fit the mold of ‘stopping a pipeline’. The forum portion of my project does, but, canvassing the pipeline route with safety kits is a ‘safety project’. I’m hoping this combination of approaches which reflects my place in this situation, works for us all.
So what would possess some one to use their own funds to make safety kits for total strangers hoping that reimbursement will come in? Is it that I like risk? No, not particularly. I would have better odds at a casino if I did. Ok, for full disclosure, I actually know some of the people the Ready, Set, Smart kits are going to. One taught my kids in middle school and our daughters played together. Another works in town as a public employee, she rode the school bus with my kids back in the day, when big hair was in. Another lived across the road from me, and when she started her shed on fire by mistake, to keep the fire from spreading, I watered down her house until the fire department came, some 15 minutes later, while she sat on my porch keeping her 3 kids safe hoping my idea worked. It did. Another home shelters my grandson’s best friend and three generations of his family. This describes my former neighborhood, people living right on the pipeline. One of those homes, used to be mine.

Yes, it’s a pricey project, and no, not every one will read all of the literature. I’m hoping some of the folks talk to me when I utter the words, “pipeline”.

The problem is, not every one wants to stop it, and those that do may want to stop it for a variety of reasons. Some rural people have had a smooth relationship with Enbridge and are happy with their financial renumeration. It’s that simple. They are not concerned where the oil goes or what happens to the planet because of that fossil fuel. Some think it is none of our business what they do with their land.

Others may have a very rocky relationship with Enbridge and repeated legal battles with them for a number of reasons, such as ruining drain tiles and drainage systems, leaving a mess when they work, cutting down huge stands of trees, spraying crops with herbicides and the list goes on. They don’t want any more pipelines and would probably prefer the current ones be removed. Some of them are sick and tired of the lonely personal battle they have waged with Enbridge and they want out. They are done. They are wondering where ‘we’ were over all the years they battled them alone. If the right offer comes across the table, they want to be done with it all. Yes, they will miss their home, grieve for their land, and suffer the emotional upset of relocation but, to them, it beats the grind of dealing with Enbridge.

I would venture a guess none of them like the concept of eminent domain. I take no pleasure in the fact that I know what Enbridge is telling their investors. No, it’s not special to have seen the aerial survey of their plans. I would also venture a guess that if the landowners really knew the facts of the safety risk, (and a lot of them do not) they would be rather upset. Bringing them this news, upsets me. I have seen it upset them. I am sure they feel trapped. They probably are not thrilled with me bringing it up over and over, especially if they are trying to sell their property so they can move their family to somewhere safe, away from the pipeline.

So what can I do to soften the blow? Maybe giving them some impartial information from the Pipeline Safety Trust, as a gesture? We all know that Enbridge employees put up a windsock the minute they arrive at a pipeline work site. Shouldn’t the people that live there have one all the time? I couldn’t afford windsocks for all of them, Enbridge could, but chose not to give them one. So, the next best thing was to make flags, so I sewed 300 of them in my ‘spare’ time over the last 2 weeks. I couldn’t afford to buy them. I’m still hoping to get 100 additional ones sewn as funds come in. Since the residents can’t use electricity in the event of a spill, I bought military grade glow sticks, packaged and stamped with an expiration date. I added a whistle in case they need the universal sign of distress, three loud blows of the whistle. I would have liked to add more to the kits, maybe insect repellent towelettes ( if you have ever walked into a field at dawn or dusk, you would know why.) Not every one will be able to evacuate by a road. Some folks will have to go upwind and up hill away from the break, and that could mean going into the wilderness or agricultural land near their homes.  I just want to thank all the every day folks who reached into their wallets and contributed, some of them very significantly.  Thank you.  I can’t say it enough.  Thank you for putting yourself in other’s shoes and caring enough to fund this project.  If you want to donate, you can do it here.  https://www.gofundme.com/28wsxr3u  If you want to volunteer you can reach me at ourbravewisconsisn@gmail.com

In the event of a disaster, I want the residents of my former neighborhood to have some right to self determination. Information helps. Knowledge is power. Even a few primitive tools can help them make a decision, that only they can make at the time, depending on the variables. Enbridge’s brochure on safety is chock full of things NOT to do in the event of a rupture, but it’s very short on details of what TO DO. There is a reason for that. Enbridge doesn’t have an answer for that situation.  There is none. It’s going to be a split second decision, to be made by the individual, based on variables and their assessment of those variables. It’s complicated, complex and there is no right answer. THAT is not in the brochure and Enbridge certainly doesn’t want to call any one’s attention to it.
The needs of the people along the pipeline are more immediate than climate change. The current and upcoming pipelines present a potential threat to safety. They present a financial loss through property devaluation. The corporation presents the threat of legal action via eminent domain and any one who resists will at some point, end up across from Enbridge negotiating for the value of their property.

Now however, they have a second shot at turning down another pipeline, well sort of. It’s a tough fight no doubt, but I have no doubt that there are landowners out there, ready to join a coalition of the willing.

Progressive and environmental groups want to stop the pipeline because they want to stop fossil fuel. I get that, and am fully on board.

What progressive and environmental groups are asking these people to take on, is a painful and protracted battle with multinational billion dollar corporations in our case, a business entity from Canada which is a limited partnership. The Wisconsin legislature had to make it possible for an LLP to use eminent domain, hence the Motion 999 bill inserted in the budget.

Why don’t the residents show up at forums and sign onto the fight in droves?

For several reasons, but, probably because they feel judged, for starters. What if they have to give up the fight for any number of reasons? What if they can’t even take it on to begin with?

Maybe because they know what we will say. We will say the pipeline is bad for the climate. We will say it could ruin the local environment forever. And then after the forum, the road show leaves town. Leaves them to hire the lawyers. Leaves them to fight this alone, household by household. Leaves them concerned that something they said may have violated those non-disclosure statements that they signed years before and may be terrified of. Leaves them to endure the property devaluation. Leaves them to fret about the safety issues that they keep tucked away in their minds so that they don’t interfere with some daily enjoyment of life on their land. Leaves them caught in between the daily denial it takes to live with this on your doorstep, and the vigilance it takes to make sure your family stays safe, just in case, that ‘unlikely’ scenario of a rupture takes place, like it has in other places many times before.

Progressive or environmental groups may like to talk about the corridor, because that is what they do, education. That is what they are supposed to do.

But underneath the land, is a throbbing river of petrochemicals of a scale never before seen in the western hemisphere. It’s underground, buried where no one sees it. If it were above ground it would be the 8th wonder of the world, granted, a damn ugly one. But we don’t see it, we see our beautiful fields and forests, and it’s easier to just forget that those enormous pipes are there. At least it’s easier to forget it on most days because remembering is damn painful. And to fight this, we must invest heavily in remembering. We must invest in the painful reminder that we do not have the rights to our own land.

As Jane Kleeb founder of Bold Nebraska states. “It’s been a real process to explain pipeline fights and property rights to progressive foundations who traditionally don’t interact in rural communities on property rights issues.”

Yes, Jane has it right. But our situation in Wisconsin is even more complex, we are not fighting an unbuilt pipeline, but rather we are battling additional pipelines on top of the risk that 4 other currently operating pipelines pose.  But, we can find a place where the two views meet.   Property rights and progressives, safety for the current lines, and stopping new lines.It’s happening here with this project.  It’s a ‘twofer’.

This project, is an admission that people on the pipeline have a special burden to shoulder, whether they are in the fight or not. It’s a small token of our concern. It shows ‘we’ get it and I say that as a ‘we’. I won’t deny I am a Progressive. I won’t deny I am an environmentalist. But I am first and foremost a member of my pipeline community and my community is a sacrifice zone, in the here and now.  I may no longer live on that pipeline but, a part of my heart and soul got left behind there with the people who live there, hence it’s my fight too from that perspective. It’s that perspective that has moved me to action.

The physical, emotional and financial safety of our pipeline people comes first. If we do right by our pipeline residents, the rest will follow, and THEY will lead.


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