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Jul 2011
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July 29, 2011

Vineyard Plan Died when Enbridge Pipeline Ruptured, Attorney says


“Zinnyard” would have been a peaceful development just south of Marshall, Mich., where wine enthusiasts could live and participate in the “vineyard experience.” But the development sank into a sea of crude oil a year ago when the Enbridge pipeline ruptured and spilled for 18 hours, creating an environmental disaster unlike any other in Michigan’s history.

The 420-acres of agricultural property in Fredonia Township, long known as Fredonia Farms, was Ground Zero for the spill, which gushed nearly 1 million gallons of oil onto the property, Talmadge Creek and adjacent properties on July 25, 2010.

The four children of the late Frank and Beryl Zinn, have asked pipeline owner Enbridge Energy to compensate them for destroying their dream and their property, which has been in the family for more than 80 years. They have hired Warner Norcross & Judd litigation attorney Dick Kay to represent them.

In a 131-page document delivered to Enbridge in February, Kay outlined in words and graphic pictures myriad ways the rupture of the 30-inch pipeline rendered useless the three years of work the Zinns had done to develop the property into a resort-like setting with vineyards, housing, a restaurant and other amenities.

“Our efforts to engage Enbridge in a serious constructive dialogue were exhaustive, but rejected.” Kay says. “So, we are preparing to take the next necessary steps.”

From 2007-2010, the Zinns worked with developers, consultants, architects and public officials implementing a detailed business plan. Together, they rezoned the property from agricultural to commercial/residential, tested soil, developed an expert viticulture plan for the vineyard, created a marketing plan and web site and completed design and layout work for Zinnyard.

“They were ready to start marketing and sales,” Kay says. “And then came the worst environmental disaster this state has ever seen.”

The future development and marketability of the property for a use premised on careful land, soil and water stewardship is lost.

Among the many complaints against Enbridge are that:
 
  • Despite residents reporting natural gas smells and monitors indicating there was a problem, Enbridge didn’t physically check the area until the day after the rupture occurred and didn’t report it to the National Response Center until nearly two hours after discovering it.
  • After the original spill, Enbridge occupied 45 acres of Zinn property as a staging area for clean up, turning it into an “industrial site,” which included storage for mounds of contaminated soil and oil-soaked equipment.
  • More than 300 mature pines and hardwoods, some more than 50 feet tall, were destroyed.
  • The part of Talmadge Creek that runs through the property was horribly damaged. Enbridge literally scraped away the sides of the creek trying to remove the oil. Nearly everything native and natural to the creek on the property is gone.

Forty miles of the Kalamazoo River and its tributaries remain closed to recreation as crews continue to pull submerged oil from the streams. The EPA has set a deadline of Aug. 31, 2011, for completion of clean-up, but the work is likely to continue well beyond that date, experts say, and perhaps for decades. Enbridge is expected to repay the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the US EPA for its clean-up costs, currently estimated at $29.1 million.

“But our representation involves holding them accountable for the injuries to the Zinn’s property, which are in the millions of dollars.” Kay says.

Four Warner Norcross & Judd attorneys are assisting Kay on the matter. They are environmental attorneys Scott Hubbard and Kenneth Vermeulen and litigation and dispute resolution attorneys Scott Carvo and Mary Bruins. Paralegal Janet Barger also is assisting.

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