MPCA won’t fine Enbridge for wetland damage from sunken equipment

Agency said ‘No outstanding impacts’ occurred

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) said it wouldn’t fine Enbridge for a Feb. 6 incident where a piece of heavy construction equipment got almost completely submerged into a sensitive wetland area near LaSalle Creek in Hubbard County. The operator was preparing the site for the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline trench.

Because this was in a permitted work space there was already an expectation of equipment/ground disturbance/temporary impacts (and restoration). The MPCA concluded that there was no violation and will not issue a fine or citation.”

MPCA email

As this blog wrote earlier, this problem seemed avoidable. Friends of the Headwaters had alerted both the MPCA and Enbridge about the unique groundwater upwelling near LaSalle Creek that kept water from freezing in the winter.

It seems odd for an agency whose job it is to protect the environment to dismiss the damage, treating it no differently than the expected damage from normal pipeline construction.

File: Aerial shot of the pipeline route crossing LaSalle Creek and surrounding wetlands.

Healing Minnesota Stories (HMS) asked the MPCA if it warned Enbridge about this area or had any communications about the problems in the LaSalle Creek wetlands.

The MPCA response didn’t answer the question directly:

There are numerous safeguards to protect LaSalle Creek crossing. As you may recall, the MPCA granted a contested case hearing to review sensitive water crossings, including LaSalle Creek. The MPCA and DNR [Department of Natural Resources] required additional crossing analysis and site-specific restoration plans for these sensitive water crossings. A site-specific crossing/construction plan was also required at this site.”

MPCA

The fact that the DNR and MPCA required additional analysis for this “sensitive water crossing,” and required a site-specific plan to cross the wetlands, begs the question: Why did this incident happen?

HMS: “Something obviously went very wrong here. This problem was predictable. Was it a failure on the part of the site-specific crossing analysis? The contractor? The operator?”

MPCA: “Questions related to operator safety and other like issues should be directed to Enbridge.”

That answer makes it sound like the MPCA is abdicating its responsibility to protect the wetland to Enbridge. But from the agency’s point of view, this incident didn’t cause any wetland damage, so it has no role. It wrote:

As part of the 401 water quality certification to ensure Minnesota’s waters were protected, the MPCA required independent environmental monitoring throughout the construction on the pipeline. Those independent monitors investigated the February 6 incident and found no outstanding impacts. There was no spill from the equipment and it was upturned in a permitted workspace.

MPCA

Whether or not the equipment was dragged out of the water in a permitted workspace or not seems less relevant than the fact that a large piece of equipment sunk nearly completely in the wetland and had to be pulled out. Getting it unstuck must have done damage.

The fact that Independent Monitors decided there were “no outstanding impacts” is concerning.

The “Independent Monitors” report directly to various state agencies, such as the MPCA. However, Enbridge pays their salaries. Further, Enbridge was in charge of both selecting and training the monitors, under a plan approved by the Minnesota Pollution Utilities Commission.

Enbridge would seem to have incentives to avoid recommending monitors who would aggressively enforce the rules.

HMS asked the MPCA its staff independently investigated the incident or whether it was relying completely on the Independent Monitor. The MPCA didn’t respond.

HMS asked if the MPCA had any concerns about whether the Independence Monitors were deferential to Enbridge. Again, no response.

This is a microcosm of the entire Line 3 review process. The state regulatory system seems to favor Enbridge and downplay or completely ignore environmental concerns.

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