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Enbridge protester emerges from pipe after 10 hours

7:54 PM, Jun 24, 2013   |    comments
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Video: Group protests Enbridge pipline

Video: Protester inside Enbridge pipeline

Photo from Battle Creek Enquirer

MARSHALL, Mich. (Battle Creek Enquirer) -- After spending 10 hours in an oil pipeline Monday, a man protesting the Enbridge Energy Company was arrested and taken to jail.

Chris Whamhoff, 35, of Kalamazoo, entered the pipeline, just before 7 a.m. near 16 1/2 Mile Road and Division Drive in Fredonia Township. He told Calhoun County Sheriff Department deputies he would come out at 5 p.m.

"He was down there 10 hours," Sheriff Matt Saxton said. "He advised us early in the morning he would come out about 5 p.m., and he came out almost at 5 p.m."

"He was dirty but he appeared to be in good health," Saxton said. "He was happy. It was bright in the sun but I think he is happy to be out."

Saxton said Whamhoff was put through decontamination at the work site because of chemicals in the interior coating of the pipe. He was taken from the scene in a Marshall Firefighters ambulance to Oaklawn Hospital for a check and then would be questioned by detectives before he was taken to the county jail.

Saxton said his office is working with the prosecutor and the FBI to determine possible charges.

The 36-inch pipe line is being constructed by Enbridge Energy to replace a pipeline carrying oil from Canada into the United States. The original 6b Line was built in the late 1960s and is the same line that broke in July 2010 and spilled nearly 1 million gallons of crude oil into Talmage Creek and the Kalamazoo River.

The break was near the site where Whamhoff entered the pipe.

Jason Manshum, a spokesman for Enbridge, said the pipe is part of a five-mile replacement section being completed. Workers were about to connect it to the original line.

He said the protest meant a lost day of work on the project. He said Enbridge and the pipeline construction crews will inspect the line to insure Whamhoff did not damage it.

The protester did not have any weapons or tools when he surrendered," Saxton said.

Manshum could not estimate the cost of the protest but said the company may seek restitution.

Saxton said it appears four people, including Whamhoff, followed the pipeline right-of-way early this morning to the work site. Arriving workers found them on the property and asked them to leave, which they did, but told the employees one man was in the pipe.

Sheriff deputies were called at 6:47 a.m. Deputies, firefighters from Fredonia Township and the City of Marshall and a Marshall ambulance went to the site.

Firefighters used a large fan to blow air into the pipe and officials monitored the carbon dioxide level, Undersheriff Tim Hurtt said.

Not knowing if Whamhoff was armed, officers said early they would not attempt to enter the pipe and force him out.

Saxton said the conversations with Whamhoff remained cordial and he promised he would leave the pipe at 5 p.m. or earlier if he felt ill. Officials talked to him at least every 15 minutes.

Whamhoff is part of the Michigan Coalition Against Tar Sands and several other protesters said he entered the pipe to protest the break in 2010 and the possibility of future spills as the company increases capacity with the new pipeline.

Monday morning one of the protesters outside the site, Jessica Clark, said Whamhoff had three days of food and water.

"He grew up on the Kalamazo River and saw the horrible effects of the spill," she said. "He is prepared to stay in the pipe until Enbridge compromises. We want to stop the expansion of Line 6b. We know it kills people.

"He is sick of people getting sick and dying," said Lisa Leggio, 35, of Holland, who described herself at Whamhoff's girlfriend.

She acknowledged she was concerned about his health inside the pipe.

"We don't want anyone to get hurt but we support him, that is why we are here."

Leggio and others made signs and waited through the day along the road along with deputies and several reporters.

Enbridge flew its helicopter over the property and five members of the sheriff department Mounted Division rode horses near the work site, patrolling to ensure none of the protesters attempted to run onto the property.

No one else was arrested and Saxton said no one was injured.

As 5 p.m. approached officers, reporters and protesters gathered at the property gate and two minutes before 5 p.m. Saxton sent a message that Whamhoff had come out.

"He went in on a skateboard and he came out on a skateboard," he said.

Leggio and Clark said the group will continue to protest against the company and the pipeline construction.

"Yes it was worth it," Leggio told the Enquirer, looking around at four television station crews, "because of the attention it has brought to the situation. You can't pay for this and as long as there are no long-term health risks for him after being in there."

And what's next?

"Getting Chris out of jail," she said.

Battle Creek Enquirer

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