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Enbridge fined for wetlands damage

Enbridge Energy Partners L.P. will pay $1.1 million to settle a lawsuit filed against it by the Wisconsin attorney general's office.

At issue were environmental violations arising from the company's construction of a pipeline stretching from Superior to Whitewater in southeastern Wisconsin in 2007 and 2008. The lawsuit alleged that Enbridge violated numerous permits during the pipeline project, resulting in impacts to wetlands and navigable waterways.

"This was a serious case, which is why we filed the lawsuit, but we believe this settlement resolves this problem," said Bill Cosh, a spokesman for the Wisconsin Department of Justice.

"The important thing is that the settlement puts this issue to bed," said Denise Hamsher, a spokeswoman for Enbridge. She said her company has taken steps to address all the issues and concerns raised in the lawsuit.

In a statement issued Friday, Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen expressed his hopes that the sizeable settlement delivers a strong warning.

"While some of the individual violations were likely of limited direct impact, the incidents of violation were numerous and widespread, and resulted in impacts to streams and wetlands throughout the various watersheds," he said.

Hamsher pointed out that laying the pipeline was a massive undertaking that involved more than 2,000 workers and more than a year's worth of time. She noted that the project also was tackled at a time of "some of the worst flooding in Wisconsin's history."

"That's no excuse," Hamsher said. "We expect perfection."

Enbridge has learned from the experience, bolstering its worker training programs, adopting new best-practice techniques and hiring environmental monitors to watch over pipeline installation work, Hamsher said. She noted that subsequent sections of pipeline installed in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois have all gone in "without a hiccup."

Enbridge faces another potentially large financial penalty in coming months. The U.S. Department of Transportation has levied $2.4 million in fines in connection with a pipeline fire that claimed the lives of two workers from Superior. They were killed while helping to repair a section of pipeline near Clearbrook, Minn., on Nov. 28, 2007.

While Enbridge does not dispute the findings, it has requested a hearing to discuss the magnitude of the proposed fine. Hamsher said that hearing has not yet been scheduled.