Bell’s Brewery Takes Big Oil to Court

Is our beer supply threatened by oil spills, too?

In a battle between Michigan beer and big oil, who will win?

That is the question facing Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo, which filed a lawsuit against oil giant Enbridge today which owns and operates the pipeline that spilled one million gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo river in 2010, and the developer of Comstock Commerce Park, who are responsible for leasing the dredging sites on the Morrow Lake Delta and Morrow Lake, and to Enbridge.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in Kalamazoo County’s Circuit Court, states that the planned dredging will release pollution, hazardous substances, odor, dust and particulate” that can impact beer quality and brewery operations. 

While the oil pipeline break that contaminated the Kalamazoo river happened almost three years ago, residual damage from the spill is still a significant concern for residents along the river and other connected waterways. The recent dredging efforts are especially controversial because of their potential to stir up contaminated silt and oil residue at the bottom of the river and send it downstream. Comstock Park residents are also upset about plans for a work site for dredging operations near their community.

That dirty silt is a big problem for Larry Bell, founder and president of Bell’s Brewery, whose production facilities are located near the dredge pad site and source water from locations downstream from the dredging efforts.

In an interview with Mlive, Bell raised concerns about the potentially damaging effects of the spill not only on beer quality, but also about his brand’s reputation. “I’ve faced a lot of challenges in my business career, but I’ve never thought I’d lose my business,” he said. “This makes me worried I’ll lose my business. People will not want to buy my beer if they think it might be contaminated.”

The EPA ordered Enbridge to do additional dredging on the Kalamazoo River in March. While Enbridge did lease the current dredging sites from CCP Development Company, which owns the Comstock Commerce Park sites, it did not submit site plans to Comstock Township outlining the effort. The Comstock Township Planning Commission will address Enbridge’s planned dredge sites at a meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday, July 25.

July 25 happens to be the three-year anniversary of the oil spill, and also the cutoff date for filing negligence complaints seeking damages because of the spills.

WMEAC will be posting updates on the Bell’s case and Enbridge’s dredging efforts as details develop.

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