Spending pipeline money

Dayton Wet Prairie in August

Dayton Wet Prairie in August

A broadband tower? My husband perked up when I told him that was on the list of possible projects the township was considering funding with the Enbridge pipeline guilt money.

The Enbridge money is a $15,000 grant to the township offered by the company that is plowing through our farms and gardens to update the pipeline that takes Alberta tarsand gook to the east coast and beyond. (Why does the pipeline dip down to the US side of the Great Lakes? Because the Canadians don’t want it.)

The only guideline for spending this tiny grant was that it was supposed to be for “environmental stewardship.” I didn’t see how broadband fit into that but, although I’d gotten myself on the committee to decide how the money should be spent, I hadn’t come up with any real ideas before the committee had its first meeting last evening. I thought I might even support a broadband tower if it came down to that. Better than cemetery improvement, which was another proposal.

I’d tried to get a local conservation group to bring ideas to the table. The group maintains a lovely wet blooming prairie on a dirt road a mile from our house. Wet blooming prairies are relatively rare. And fragile. You don’t want people tramping through, but I love walking the road and seeing the prairie at various times of the year. Now it’s moving into its loveliest stage of gold and purple and white blooms.


Swamp milkweed in the wet prairie

But the conservation people hadn’t followed up on my phone call and email. So I just brought up the prairie at the meeting, saying it was a rare treasure right here in the middle of our rural township that very few people even knew about. The township supervisor said he’d never been by to look at it. But everybody was interested.

The brainstorming session ranged through a welcome sign for Bertrand Township, a new heat-exchange system for the township building, redbud trees along Redbud Trail, a new memorial for the fire station. The idea of a broadband tower was dismissed–not “environmental” enough, even though another township had used their grant for that. Sorry, Vic.

The idea of doing something with/for the wet prairie quickly rose to the top and stayed there. This rural township is politically and socially conservative. I was surprised that my fellow committee members–the Republican township supervisor, his assistant, a financial consultant, and a firefighter–were so enthusiastic about doing something truly “environmental” with the money. I promised to keep pursuing the conservation group for ideas about how we could team up.

The group doesn’t do much in our area–their work is mostly closer to Lake Michigan, where Chicago people have summer homes. I notice from the website that the three staff members all left high-powered jobs in Chicago to move to the tranquil dunes and woods of Southwest Michigan. I guess I should include myself in that category. We ex-Chicago people are not always beloved by the “locals.”

So when I spoke with the group’s outreach director this morning I emphasized how important it was to build good relations with the community and how nice it was to see some “local” enthusiasm for environmental preservation. She agreed. We talked about possibilities. She’ll get back to me.


The pipeline cometh

road work

“Road Work Ahead,” the signs say. They make their first appearance a mile and a half from our house in the woods.

I walk down to take a picture. The “Smile Ear to Ear” is for our nearby farmstand, where sweetcorn is also making a first appearance.

Smile. Be happy. A corridor marked with party flags has been laid out through another neighbor’s strawberry patch.


But this is not about our country roads, which are always in need of repair. It is not about parties or backyard festivities.

A mile farther east, the nature of the “road work,” the activities taking place in our neighbors’ backyards, becomes clearer.

A crane pokes up behind a flowerbed.


A ridge of dirt rises a few yards beyond the shade trees.


A “road” is being carved through cornfields.


The trucks, the heavy equipment, the port-a-potties, and the pipe show up another mile further to the east.


The “road” is for the Enbridge Pipeline, which is being laid to carry oil from the Alberta tarsands to the east coast of the USA.

This is not a new pipeline path. We already have a pipeline under our feet, under our corn and vegetables and horse pastures. That pipeline went in less than 20 years ago. Three years ago it leaked and created the worst spill ever in a body of fresh water, the Kalamazoo River, 50 miles away.

This new set of pipe is supposed to replace the leaky line.

Until it, too, leaks, I guess. Or until the oil or our appetite for it runs out, i.e. not any time soon.

I saw that earlier pipeline being laid back in the late 1990s but I didn’t know–I didn’t think about–what it was. I was not curious. It was one of those big infrastructure things.

But meantime I spent a dozen years working in the environmental movement and I learned to notice such things, to think about what was in front of my eyes as well as hidden under my feet, and why these things are there, and what the consequences are and can be.

Such thinking is inconvenient for the powers that be, economic and political. So they call it road work. They pay a few dollars compensation to people whose backyards and farms and vegetable patches are being torn up and hope they’ll stay calm about it all. Most people do. Most people really need the money.

A notice appears in our township letter: “Bertrand Township is eligible for a $15,000 Enbridge Environmental Stewardship Grant. We are looking for volunteers to participate on an ad hoc committee for how to use these funds.”

I call up and volunteer for the committee. I call up a local conservation organization and tell them to start thinking about a proposal for spending Enbridge guilt money.

It’s a pittance, but hey. We can come up with a party to go with all those party flags. A party for the trees and the toads while we try to remember what is under our feet.


Forced fossil fuel fast

I am in day two of a fossil fuel fast; that is, I am going nowhere by motor vehicle and using as little electricity as possible.

Sometimes I do this on purpose but not this time. The battery on my car is dead and I’ve decided to wait for Vic to come back from Chicago to deal with it. So I am trying to put a positive spin on the situation.

It is appropriate, and maybe a little ironic, that the battery turned up dead two days after we participated in an afternoon of prayer of lament and hope at a site along the Enbridge oil pipeline, which is scheduled to expand this summer so more awful Alberta tarsands oil can gush to fill hungry oil appetites here and around the world. The new line will replace or more likely supplement the old pipeline, which made a big mess of the Kalamazoo River in 2010.

This event was at a retreat center 40 miles away but the pipeline also passes within a mile of our house and through the property of our beloved Community Supported Agriculture farm. Because of the pipeline construction, Bertrand Farm will have to curtail most of its production and all educational activities this summer. Our farmer, Theresa Niemeier, rode to the event with us. Brownie points to us for carpooling in a battered, fuel-efficient Focus.

This was not just a protest against Big Oil. The pipeline expansion is a done deal and besides, in Pogo’s immortal words, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” In the moving rituals of the day at the Hermitage we confessed our own dependence on the oil economy, mourned with the trees that will be felled, and danced our hope and determination to do better.

Maybe the aging Honda got the message and decided to help out by doing a sit-in in our garage. You want to drive less, why not start right now? (And by the way, April Fool except this is real.)


And so I am walking the road in the chilly winds rather than going to the Y for exercise, eating up the wilting veggies in the fridge, keeping the thermostat low and the fire high, and hanging laundry out to dry.


Forced to stay home, I’ve also been out in the woods every day checking for blooming hepatica, our first spring wildflowers. Despite the cold they’ve begun to raise their fuzzy stems and fragrant blossoms to the sun.