The company whose pipeline ruptured and dumped hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil into a southern Michigan waterway said Tuesday it has offered to buy the 200 homes in the affected area.
Enbridge Inc. Chief Executive Patrick Daniel said the Canadian company will offer to buy homes put up for sale before last month's spill in Calhoun County at their full list prices. It also will buy other homes in the 30-mile-long zone at their appraised values before the spill.
Daniel said the idea came from residents' concerns that their homes were losing value, particularly people he spoke with at a public meeting Monday night. The company said it believes the homes have retained their value and the offer, which stands for at least one year, should help keep speculators out.
He said he doesn't know how much the offers would cost Enbridge if all homeowners were to accept, but doesn't expect many will sell or the company would lose money. Enbridge would hold the homes it buys and resell them later, he said.
"We're comfortable in being able to handle it, even if they're all taken up," he said. "We're prepared to provide a guarantee to ensure nobody takes advantage of them."
Daniel said the company will consider requests from homeowners outside the spill zone individually.
The oil flow, reported on July 26, has been stopped and government officials say it's been contained in the stretch of the Kalamazoo river from Marshall westward past Battle Creek.
Nearly 2 million gallons of oil and water mixture had been recovered as of Tuesday morning, according to Environmental Protection Agency officials. About 700,000 gallons had been shipped to an Enbridge facility in Indiana.
Enbridge estimates the spill at about 820,000 gallons, while the EPA previously estimated it was more than 1 million gallons. EPA officials would not provide an estimate on Tuesday.
EPA regional administrator Susan Hedman said that Enbridge met a Monday deadline to resubmit its long-range cleanup plan. The agency last week rejected the company's plan because of "deficiencies in content and technical details."
Hedman said the agency is reviewing the revised plan but could not say when it would be done.
The EPA estimates it will take weeks to get the oil out of the river and months to clean it off banks and the flood plain.
The disaster shares similiarities with the more infamous BP spill — especially residents alarmed about their health and lawyers lining up to sue.
"Everybody important right now is paying attention," said Britani Lafferty, 23, whose Marengo Township home near Marshall backs up to the river. "What's going to happen when ... it's no longer a hot story and there's still animals and people still affected?"
Daniel said claim workers would be set up at a Battle Creek storefront office that would be "open long after cleanup is complete."
On Monday evening, 500 local residents attended a meeting by officials from Enbridge, the EPA and other government agencies.
Gina Sterett, 37, of Marshall said the smell of benzene fills the air in her neighborhood along the Kalamazoo River. She and her husband have been sending their three children to stay at her parents' house because of the spill.
"Oh gosh! Half the geese we see, if not 50 percent covered, then they're completely covered with oil," she told The Associated Press. "The shorelines are all black, and you see the oil sheen on the water. It's an ugly sight. It's sad, it's very sad."
People likely will continue to see small patches of oil sheen on the water for some time, EPA deputy incident commander Mark Durno told the meeting. He also said his agency would be in the area for months.
Earlier Monday, the Great Lakes Law Center sent Enbridge a notice of intent to file a lawsuit if a settlement isn't reached within 60 days. The letter accuses the company of violating the Clean Water Act.
The Detroit-based law center says Enbridge could face more than $26 million in civil penalties based on the EPA's estimate that the spill exceeds 1 million gallons. The Canadian company estimates it at 820,000 gallons.
The center's plans follow two lawsuits filed over the last week by lawyers representing private plaintiffs.
Meanwhile, National Transportation Safety Board officials said Enbridge had shut down its pipeline for planned maintenance on July 25, hours before 911 calls started coming in about gas odors in the area. Federal officials said an area Consumers Energy worker reported finding oil on the ground near the pipeline the following morning, July 26. Enbridge said it detected the leak that day.
But the NTSB said it could not link the shutdown to the pipeline rupture and hadn't determined a cause for the rupture itself.
The EPA said it has received approval for up to $13 million to pay for the federal government's response to the spill and can request more money if needed. The government will seek full reimbursement for the money from Enbridge, and company officials have said they intend to pay for cleanup costs.
The cleanup has included rescuing reptiles, mammals and birds. More than 100 oil-covered turtles, birds and animals such as muskrats have been brought to a nearby wildlife animal rehabilitation center and several more have been taken to area wildlife refuges.
Many who attended Monday evening's meeting stayed afterward to speak with experts from various local, state and federal offices. Some left more disappointed than angry.
"We wanted more detailed information. What we got was a recap," said Julie Taylor, whose Marshall home is about 600 feet from Talmedge Creek. "I'm concerned about the long-term effects."
Bobby Lewis, 67, said his chief concern was how the spill and cleanup would impact the value of his $200,000 home just 30 feet from the creek.
"My life is invested in that," the retiree said. "I wanted to know if it's going to be worth two cents."
Many people had questions about water quality and groundwater contamination, said Kimberly Fish of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment.
"We're trying to gather data as quickly as we can," she said.