Flooding blamed on Alberta pipeline

Darlene Bedell and Dale Fagin say they have lost 105 acres since Enbridge built a sixth pipeline under their property

HARDISTY, Alta. — Ranchers Darlene Bedell and Dale Fagin have been unable to hay 105 acres ever since Enbridge constructed a new pipeline under their property, forcing them to deal with widespread flooding that they believe the company caused.

Since 2014, the landowners have been in a battle with Enbridge over an Edmonton-to-Hardisty pipeline, which connects to Line 3, and are warning others they could end up in the same mess.

“This sight is worth 1,000 words,” said Bedell, pointing to flooded fields on her land near Hardisty. “The compensation is secondary. We want it to be fixed. We just want to be ranchers.”

Bedell said she believes Enbridge didn’t replace the creek bed when the company finished constructing the project.

Without the creek bed, she said, water isn’t able to flow easily though their land via a drainage ditch. Instead, water has pooled, creating a small lake on their property.

“There never was water,” she said. “We’ve been on this land for 50 years and not once did we ever have this much water.”

The landowners have six pipelines under their property. It’s the sixth one, built in 2014, that Bedell said has caused flooding.

Unable to use the land, Bedell and Fagin have gotten rid of 105 head of cattle and now raise only 22 animals, which has reduced their earnings.

“We are a small generational ranch, but I can’t hand it down like this,” Bedell said. “I did everything I could to build a beautiful place and they destroyed it.”

In an emailed statement, Enbridge said it doesn’t comment on private discussions with landowners, but has a long history of working co-operatively and successfully with neighbours on its rights-of-way.

“Enbridge has and will continue to attempt to engage in a productive dialogue with the landowner, based on mutual understanding and trust,” David Coll, a senior communications adviser with the company, said in the email.

However, a letter provided to The Western Producer shows Enbridge knew of the flooding problem and planned to fix it.

The letter, written by the company in July 2015, said Enbridge planned on removing water from the area to reclaim the land.

“Enbridge will attend at the lands with a small crew to pump water off the ROW (right-of-way) into water trucks and remove the water from the area,” the letter said. “Subsequent to this, we will begin clean-up activities, including replacing the topsoil of the ROW.”

In the same letter, the company said it would seek a court order if Bedell and Fagin refused access to their land for reclamation.

In response to potential court action, the landowners hired a lawyer, who later wrote in a letter to Enbridge that an injunction was unnecessary.

Pointing to its easement agreement with the landowners, the lawyer said Enbridge agreed to reclaim the land before spring 2015, and was required to consult with the landowners if reclamation were to take place after that time.

Again referencing the easement agreement, the lawyer said Enbridge has a duty to make efforts to implement measures to prevent obstructing the drainage of Bedell and Fagin’s land.

“Notwithstanding its contractual duties to do so, Enbridge failed or otherwise neglected to implement the necessary, or any, measures to prevent obstructing or impeding the drainage of the non-ROW lands,” the lawyer said in the letter.

“It did not complete reclamation before spring of 2015, nor did it consult with the landowners respecting suitable mitigation measures.”

Bedell said the company eventually came out to try to remove the water, but failed to get all of it off.

“They just took off and abandoned it one day and haven’t been back,” she said. “Not one person has stepped foot on this land since September 2015.”

Bedell said Enbridge isn’t the only one to blame in this mess.

She said the National Energy Board, a federal regulator that oversees energy projects that cross international and interprovincial boundaries, has failed to ensure Enbridge followed its conditions to build the pipeline.

“We’ve asked the NEB to come down and they refuse to answer any letters,” Bedell said. “They need to listen more. Listen to landowners, stakeholders, Indigenous people and rural people.”

In an emailed statement, the NEB said it takes landowner concerns seriously and is aware of Bedell’s concerns.

The NEB said it has reached out to her, encouraging her to file a formal complaint through Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) services, a mechanism that assists companies and landowners in reaching a resolution.

The NEB hasn’t received a formal complaint through ADR regarding her most recent concerns, it added, though Bedell had previously submitted a formal complaint.

The regulator said it was in contact with her three times over reclamation and unpaid claims — two in fall 2014 and one in June 2015.

In November 2014, the NEB said inspectors didn’t identify issues of non-compliance and, in June, facilitated a mediation session between Bedell and Enbridge. The mediation was unsuccessful, the NEB said, adding it later learned the matter was settled in court.

Court documents show Bedell was awarded $35,457 for damages in 2018 after a judge determined Enbridge surveyors had spooked her horse, causing it to run into a barbed-wire fence. It suffered an injury and ultimately died.

The judge also said in the ruling that surveyors had accessed Bedell’s land without notice or permission.

“They ran that horse into the fence,” Bedell said. “The court proved it.”

Bedell said she has years of experience with pipeline companies, working with numerous corporations before leaving the industry.

She was even hired by Enbridge to monitor the construction of this site, but according to a different Enbridge letter, wasn’t hired back for unspecified reasons.

Enbridge requested the new monitor to replace Bedell not be related to the family, have 10 to 15 years of relevant construction experience and hold a P. Ag designation, which Bedell does not have.

However, despite nearly four years of aggravation, Bedell remains steadfast in having her land restored.

She has photos of her land before it was flooded — images of Fagin baling hay when it was productive.

“Dale is getting old and he is stressed. This has had a huge impact on him,” she said. “I want the land to be good before he loses his memory of the place he built. I will keep fighting.”

She said she’ll take Enbridge to court again if she has to, possibly re-mortgaging her land and spending another $40,000 to get the company to the table.

“I believe in pipelines, but they have to be built right,” she said. “We’ve only got so much land and our job is to protect it. That’s the public good, not the oil and gas. We can replace oil and gas, but we can’t replace the land.”

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