A short walk at Schmeeckle Reserve when the sun is out offers an opportunity to enjoy a few moments of peace and reflect on those who have the courage to do the right thing. (Steve Hill photo)
A short walk at Schmeeckle Reserve when the sun is out offers an opportunity to enjoy a few moments of peace and reflect on those who have the courage to do the right thing. (Steve Hill photo)

A lot of folks seem to be in a funk lately. That may be due to the new generation of robber gazillionaires who loom on the horizon like those massive science-fiction spaceships that blot out the sun and run on endless supplies of green slime converted into energy by the negative vortex of black-hole ethics, or something like that.

Not much we can do about it, I suppose, except watch as many Hollywood movies as possible to find ideas for discovering weak spots in the alien armor. And head outdoors when the sun does shine, as I was able to do for a very brief time on a late afternoon this week.

A short walk at Schmeeckle as the sun set gave me an opportunity to enjoy a few moments of peace and reflect on those who have the courage to do the right thing. So here are a few thoughts on fighting pipelines that could harm our beautiful state, as well as a few extra anecdotes about my father-in-law, who I eulogized in my column last week.

Eighty feet probably already too much

Some may recall that we heard from robber gazillionaire Les Rob Peeples in this space a couple of weeks ago, when he told us about the Enbridge Inc. pipeline that runs just to our west and threatens the environmental safety of much of the state (although he didn’t quite put it that way, of course).

Les Rob may – or may not – be a figment of my imagination, but the pipeline is real. Anyone doubting that can simply talk to Mark Borchardt of Marshfield, who is helping battle Enbridge’s planned expansion of its pipelines through Wisconsin. I did just that this week.

Borchardt is a founding member of both the Wisconsin Easement Action Team (WEAT) and 80 Feet Is Enough! Those two groups are trying to halt efforts to expand Enbridge pipelines through Wisconsin, where an 80-foot swath crosses not only recreation lands, but farmsteads, neighborhoods, and even hometown athletic facilities and already threatens our environmental integrity.

Borchardt and his wife have owned a home for 22 years that sits on that 80-foot easement. When Enbridge came and surveyed their property in 2014 for potential expansion up to a total of 300 feet of easement, he realized it was time to fight back.

He’s already seen one neighbor lose a home after a pipeline leak of a single barrel of oil contaminated the owner’s well. A January 2015 Wisconsin State Journal article noted 89 spills reported by the unit that operates Enbridge lines in Wisconsin and six other states since 2006, causing $860 million in property damage, four deaths and three injuries.

That included major spills in Wisconsin and Michigan. Make no mistake – this pipeline already has the potential to cause incredible damage to recreational facilities, waterways, farms, homes and communities across the length of Wisconsin.

For those wanting to know where the line runs and how it could easily impact many of our most treasured Wisconsin places, 80 Feet Is Enough! has put together an interactive map on its website, 80feetisenough.org. The existing easement and expansions out to 240 feet can be seen by clicking at any spot along the pipeline, which stretches from Superior in the northwest to two different spots on the Illinois border east of Beloit.

It’s not just a few homeowners this could affect. Click on the map and the first thing you’ll see is where the pipeline is buried below Owens-Withee High School’s football practice field; the expansion could take out the school’s stadium stands, at least temporarily, as well as a corner of the playing field.

The pipeline only crosses the Wisconsin River once – at Nekoosa. It also crosses the Rock, Fisher, Black, Jump, Flambeau, and Chippewa Rivers, as well as the St. Croix Flowage and numerous other waterways. If that doesn’t put a large proportion of our state’s waterways and recreation areas at risk, nothing does.

The pipeline and its dangers exist. That doesn’t mean we have to allow it to expand, especially given the increasingly expensive and problematic extraction methods for a product – oil – with a still-foreseeable end of life.

Yet our so-called state leaders, in 2015, allowed an obscure legislative process to change the state’s eminent domain law to put homes, neighborhoods, communities and farms at dramatic risk of economic loss, limiting their ability to fight back against this international parasite of a company. That’s right: it’s not even an American business.

Despite being what he calls “an incurable optimist,” Borchardt says he and his wife must consider the possibility of being forced out of their home if the expansion goes through. For now, he’s organizing as many of the estimated 1,500 to 1,800 landowners along the pipeline route to get their message through, that 80 feet is enough.

He encourages everyone to view the link about the group’s billboard campaign at www.80feetisenough.org/billboards and support the effort if they can.

“It doesn’t take much of a spill to have a major impact on a family. For a dairy operation, if they lose their water, they lose their livelihood,” Borchardt said.

“It’s about our personal property, but also about this massive corporate encroachment for private gain,” he added. “It’s about doing our little part to do what we think is right for the people of Wisconsin.”

Snakes keep a droppin’ on her head

My column last week about my father-in-law, Omar, who passed away the Saturday before Thanksgiving, sparked a few more storytelling sessions among my wife’s sisters.

Her youngest sister, Laura Herrera, noted that Omar’s love of nature, especially birds, caused him to confront some senseless, but armed, bird hunters. “What a strong man, and brave,” she wrote.

My sister-in-law, Marcela Woodward of Colorado, a translator and teacher, recalled, “When we were little, he adopted two orphan fawns, Betty and Wilma, and he let them free once they grew up. We also had a baby monkey and a baby sloth. Both of them had their moms killed by unconscionable people.”

He was always pointing out new birds or frog sounds in the area, she said, adding, “Yes, he carried poisonous frogs in his bare hands.

“We had a snake as a pet. He said they were good animals since they eat mice. I didn’t like that idea, but I survived after the snake fell on top of my head while she was around the house exploring.”

Apparently, everybody around the house had to be brave. And on that note, here’s to more outdoor adventures for all of us and the bravery to keep them open to everyone.