I was born in Janesville in 1966 and spent my childhood summer days fishing, catching crayfish in cans and swimming in the Rock River.
Famed city planner John Nolan, hired by Janesville in 1919, recognized the river’s potential as the focal point for community and park development, and 100 years later we’re on the cusp of an amazing riverfront renaissance.
But an unseen threat could destroy all that we’re planning and building. Enbridge, a Canadian pipeline company, wants to build a new 42-inch pipeline to carry tar sands oil, the dirtiest fuel on earth, through our state, crossing the Rock River just upstream of Lake Koshkonong. We know this because they told their investors so online, they invested in lobbyists to get their right to use eminent domain inserted into the 2015 state budget, and they are trying to build a new Line 3 that will bring twice the volume of oil into Superior. And now someone is doing a telephone poll of Enbridge easement holders, asking their opinions about Enbridge and groups like ours.
Janesville’s ARISE plan and the ARISEnow group are investing more than $42 million in public and private money to revitalize Janesville’s downtown and riverfront. The parking plaza over the Rock River has been removed, and the town square is nearly done. This year, festival street will take form, opening up new opportunities for people to connect with the river and downtown.
But who would come if the Rock River were filled with tar sands oil? Think it can’t happen? Ask the folks along Michigan’s Kalamazoo River, which was fouled by the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history in 2010, when an Enbridge pipeline burst. Tar sands, mixed with toxic chemicals like benzene and hydrogen sulfide, gushed out of a huge gash in the pipe for 17 hours before Enbridge turned it off. The immediate aftermath was horrible; the cleanup took years.
Almost 40 miles of the river was contaminated. It took years and $1.2 billion to “finish” the cleanup, leaving behind an estimated 15 percent of the tar sands stuck fast to the rocks and river bottom.
Imagine this happening at the Enbridge crossing about 30 miles upstream from Janesville. Who would be impacted or ruined? To name a few: the Venue; Block 42; the 19-time national champion Rock Aqua Jays ski show team; the new Main Street restaurants and shops; and the new Cobblestone Hotel.
Who would use the new outdoor amphitheater, fitness court, pedestrian bridge, water feature or riverwalk if they afforded a view of a blasted, lifeless river with a strong petroleum odor?
Janesville needs to say no to this dangerous pipeline. Across our country, the mood is turning against extreme fossil fuel projects like tar sands and fracking. Pipelines are being delayed and canceled as companies see the public and their investors rejecting these dangerous energy sources and embracing renewables.
This Saturday, May 19, we’ll be gathering on the riverbank behind the Hedberg Public Library for a celebration of the Rock River. Part of a yearly international event called Hands Across the Sand, we’ll be holding hands along the riverfront for a noon photo shoot. At 11 a.m., there will be a brown bag picnic, press conference and premier of a new song, “Don’t Risk the Rock!” All are welcome.