Group marches through Janesville to protest environmental risks from pipelines

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Jonah Beleckis
Sunday, June 25, 2017

JANESVILLE -- Environmental activists often advocate for issues that might arise in the future but are not currently pressing.

Enbridge Energy officials say they have no plans for a new Wisconsin pipeline. Still, a crowd of about 25 people marched through downtown Janesville on Saturday to oppose the idea of a new pipeline.

Each day, a 42-inch pipe known as Line 61 carries 900,000 barrels of bitumen -- oil from the Canadian oil sands, or tar sands -- through Wisconsin and beneath multiple rivers and bodies of water.

The line runs through portions of eastern Rock County and beneath the Rock River.

Although no oil spills have occurred in this area, protesters said they wanted to raise the issue now instead of later, when substantial damage could be done.

Signs at the protest read, “Stop the pipeline,” “Toxic tar sands oil,” “Water is life!” “Occupy Earth” and “There is no Planet B.”

Rock County Wisconsin Safe Energy Alliance, or WiSE, sponsored the protest to raise awareness about threats to environmental safety, including the potential for an oil spill, said Susan Johnson, who organized the event.

Johnson cited an Enbridge pipeline that burst in Michigan in 2010, causing an estimated 1 million gallons of oil to flow into Talmadge Creek, a tributary of the Kalamazoo River.

“We cannot afford to risk a Kalamazoo here,” Johnson said. “What would the Aqua Jays do if the Rock River was very damaged like the Kalamazoo River was? We would lose our Aqua Jays. We would lose opportunities for boating and fishing.

"And then, of course, there's the wonderful ARISE project," she said. "Our economic development is based on our Rock River. We need a clean, good Rock River.”

Chuck Ogg, a member of the Rock County Progressives, said residents and emergency management officials he has spoken with are unsure of exactly what to do in the event of an oil spill, other than to call Enbridge.

He said he wanted to see more transparency from Enbridge about the durability of the pipeline. He also wants to let to public know the pipeline is here -- something he said is not common knowledge.

“We get nothing but risk,” Ogg said. “We don't know the potential dangers. … We have to assume the worst since we don't know.”

Scott Suder, who manages government and stakeholder relations for Enbridge from Janesville, stressed that the company takes safety and environmental responsibilities seriously.

The protest specifically mentioned the Enbridge pipeline, but it also touched on larger environmental issues.

“We don't need more pipelines. What we need is to keep moving toward clean energy,” Johnson said to the group that gathered in Upper Courthouse Park before walking down East Court Street, through the farmers market and onto the Centerway Bridge to hold signs in view of passing cars.

Ogg said it can be hard to motivate people about environmental issues because many don't appreciate what they have until it's gone.

Ogg said he loves to protest and was inspired by the societal changes of the 1960s. His daughter, who grew up during the 1980s, did not see the same upheaval, which has made it harder to be optimistic.

Ogg said an activist needs a pessimistic mind to see the world critically but an optimistic heart to push for change.

“(You) don't know you're winning until you've won sometimes,” he said.

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