In the July 2017, Toni Kayumi, the Ann Arbor YMCA’s president and CEO, led a protest at the Y’s Camp Birkett in Dexter Twp. Concerned that a proposed natural gas pipeline nearby could pose a danger to campers and nearby residents, she wanted the line rerouted. The attempts by the Y and neighbors in the surrounding community were unsuccessful: the forty-two-inch diameter, 713-mile, $4.2 billion Rover Pipeline became operational in June, 2018.
In September, Kayumi held another gathering at the camp on Silver Lake. If the first was a declaration of war, this was the outbreak of peace. Reassured by additional safety precautions taken by pipeline owner Energy Transfer, she accepted a $10,000 donation from the company to fund summer camp scholarships.
Kayumi and others feared that, if the line sprang a leak, there would be limited access to a quick and safe evacuation route. To address those concerns, Energy Transfer agreed to take measures that exceed federal requirements. Those included burying this segment of the pipeline sixty inches deep instead of the thirty-six inches required, making it less likely that it could be could be damaged by nearby farming and ranching activities. Rover also installed more closely spaced valves, every three miles instead of every four miles, isolating the pipeline into smaller segments and helping reduce response times if there are problems. Instead of the manually operated valves required by federal law, these can be operated remotely. If there’s a drop in pressure, which is often a sign of a leak, that enables a faster response. And the line will be inspected aerially once a week, exceeding the state requirement for monthly inspections.
At the behest of state rep Donna Lasinski, pipeline developers met with representatives from Washtenaw County, Dexter Township, and the Y last January to discuss an emergency response plan. In September, the Dexter Area Fire Department offered emergency preparedness training at the camp for neighbors.
“I won’t win every battle I go into,” Kayumi says. But she feels that her protests helped influence Rover’s decision to make the pipeline safer.
“We were happy to work with the YMCA to address their concerns,” says Rover Pipeline spokesperson Alexis Daniel. “It is our standard practice to go above and beyond the required regulations on all our assets where possible, as safety is our first priority—the safety of the community, the safety of our employees, and the safety of the environment.”
Rover’s $10,000 donation will provide about sixty-two scholarships for campers next summer, Kayumi says. Daniel says similar donations were provided to counties along the entire route, including Washtenaw County Emergency Management.
Kayumi calls the donation “a wonderful gesture that will positively impact a number of children.” The relationship with the company has improved, she says, because “they heard us. They responded, and they made additional safety requirements not mandated by law. They’re trying to be corporately responsible.” This past summer, the first with the pipeline operating, Kayumi says there was no drop-off in camper attendance. “People were assured the Y was making it a safe situation.”
Wendy Zielen, who lives on Silver Lake and also had protested the pipeline’s location, believes Rover should be focused on installing a state-of-the-art warning system for those whose evacuation routes are compromised by the pipeline’s path. Daniel says she was unaware of such a request, but says all the company’s pipelines are monitored round the clock and provide sufficient safeguards. She says that “transmission pipelines like Rover are still the safest, most environmentally friendly way to transport” natural gas.
Clifford Rowley, a spokesperson for Michigan Residents Against the ET Rover Gas Pipeline, was unaware of the donation to the Y. He says he respects Kayumi addressing the issues posed by the pipeline. “No one in our core community has come around, but I think some in the community have moved on and are finding their way to just live with it,” he says. But he doesn’t think Rover’s actions are sufficient to address the risks and protect the public. “We can only hope that the inevitable event at the intersection of pipeline risk and a [populated] location does not happen here,” he says.