MADISON (WKOW) -- The future of a statewide oil pipeline expansion now hangs on the votes of five Dane County Board members.
The pipeline in question is Line 61, owned and operated by Enbridge Energy Inc., based in Canada.
Enbridge plans to triple the carrying capacity of Line 61 from 400,000 barrels to 1.2 million barrels. The pipeline carries Canadian tar sands oil from Superior all the way south to a refinery in central Illinois.
The company is ready to proceed with the expansion as soon as it gets a conditional use permit from the Dane County Zoning and Land Regulation Committee. A section of Line 61 runs through the northwest portion of Dane County.
But the company may end up getting some very costly strings attached to that permit, which could delay the project substantially.
Mark Maki, the president of Enbridge Energy's U.S. division, says the company didn't make any secrets an expansion would eventually come when it first built Line 61 in 2006.
"It was very well laid out that this was the ultimate plan for this pipeline was to take it through these series of expansions," said Maki.
Enbridge Inc. owns and operates pipelines across the United States, most of them safely.
But there have been major spills. In 2010, an Enbridge pipeline in Michigan ruptured, pouring nearly one million gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River.
"The company paid all costs - federal, local, affected land owner - and that was our promise to the community that was affected day one," said Maki.
But Dane Co. Zoning and Land Regulation Committee Chair Patrick Miles says the fear expressed to him by several environmental groups is that such a promise is not the same thing as a guarantee.
That's why the committee will likely consider adding an amendment to any conditional use permit it issues Enbridge at its meeting next Tuesday night.
"And one of those things is potentially requiring a greater level of insurance coverage," said Miles.
Maki says Enbridge is carrying a $700 million insurance policy on the pipeline and that being forced to buy two or three times as much by the committee would be cost prohibitive. Maki downplayed a possible lawsuit to challenge such an amendment, but Miles acknowledges it is a possibility.
"I hope it doesn't come to that, but my primary concern is what are the things that we can do to address the public's concern and the public's interests and welfare," said Miles.
The Dane County Zoning and Land Regulation committee meeting is set for 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday at the City/County Building in Madison. Mark Maki and Patrick Miles will be the featured guests on Capitol City Sunday this weekend at 9:00 a.m. on WKOW.
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