Oct. 03–The State of Michigan and Canadian oil transport giant Enbridge announced a deal Wednesday to build a new oil pipeline through the Straits of Mackinac, but in a tunnel 100 feet below the lake bottom where Lakes Michigan and Huron connect.
The massive project would take seven to 10 years and cost between $300 million and $650 million — with state officials emphasizing it would be Enbridge, not Michigan taxpayers, footing that bill. It would create a utility corridor housing not only a new, 30-inch Line 5 pipeline for oil and liquid natural gas through the Straits of Mackinac, but a utility corridor that could also include other companies’ power lines, telecommunications cables and similar infrastructure. The corridor would be large enough for vehicles to drive through, allowing inspectors access to assess the condition of the pipeline.
Under the agreement, Enbridge would build the utility corridor, and, upon completion, hand over its ownership to the Mackinac Bridge Authority, an independent state agency that operates the Mackinac Bridge and funds it through tolls. Enbridge would then be provided a 99-year lease for use of the corridor, and would remain responsible for operating and maintaining the tunnel.
The agreement includes provisions intended to reduce the likelihood of a leak from the existing pipes while the tunnel is built and to ensure close collaboration between Enbridge and the state after the new pipeline becomes operational, officials said. Among the provisions: underwater inspections to detect potential leaks and evaluate pipe coating; placement of cameras at the straits to monitor ship activity and help enforce a no-anchoring zone; a pledge that Enbridge personnel will be available during high-wave periods to manually shut down the pipelines if electronic systems fail, and steps to prevent leaks at other places where Line 5 crosses waterways.
The agreement also includes a process for dealing with the existing oil lines after they’re deactivated, although it leaves open the question of how much of the pipe material will be removed.
The agreement would end uncertainty about the controversial, 65-year-old Line 5 pipeline — improving Great Lakes and Michigan environmental protection and providing certainty for Upper Peninsula energy supplies, said Michigan Department of Natural Resources Director Keith Creagh, cochair of Gov. Rick Snyder’sPipeline Safety Advisory Board.
“It’s a reasonable, thoughtful, pragmatic solution,” he said.
Added Enbridge spokesman Ryan Duffy, “The agreement protects the waters of the Straits and the Great Lakes in several ways, and makes a safe pipeline even safer.”
But environmental groups were less enthusiastic.
“Today, Gov. Snyder cemented his disastrous legacy for the Great Lakes and the people of Michigan,” said Sean McBearty, Michigan program organizer for the nonprofit Clean Water Action.
“As his administration comes to a close, he announced a last-minute deal with Enbridge Energy that will succeed in keeping the Great Lakes at risk from a massive Line 5 oil spill for the foreseeable future.”
Mike Shriberg, Great Lakes regional executive director of the nonprofit National Wildlife Federation and a member of the Pipeline Safety Advisory Board, noted that the plan would keep the existing, aging, Line 5 pipeline operating on the Straits bottom for up to a decade to come — with concerns already existing about missing protective coating on the pipe, missing anchors holding it to the lake bottom, and more.
“While we will reserve judgment until we fully review the latest agreement, any agreement which does not begin with a plan to decommission Line 5 in the Straits within less than one year is a nonstarter,” he said. “We know that Line 5 is a threat to the Great Lakes and our way of life now, whereas a tunnel, if it is ever built, is many years away.”
Line 5 moves 23 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids per day through the Upper Peninsula, splitting into twin, underwater pipelines through the 4-mile stretch of the Straits, before returning to a single transmission pipeline through the Lower Peninsula and on to a hub in Sarnia, Ontario.
Concerned citizens and environmentalists have called for the decommissioning of the line, stating a spill like the one on Enbridge’s Line 6B pipeline near the Kalamazoo River in 2010 would devastate the Great Lakes, shoreline and island communities, as well as the state’s economy.
Creagh addressed one area of concern for pipeline critics — that a new pipeline would allow Enbridge to push more and heavier grades of crude oil through the Straits, including the type of heavy diluted bitumen that sank to the Kalamazoo River bottom and caused major cleanup problems in the 2010 spill.
“It will be a new, 30-inch pipe that replaces where it currently divides into two pipes under the Straits — no increase in capacity, no heavy crude, the same products that are running through it at this time,” he said.
Tribes cry foul
A leader of a Chippewa County-based American Indian tribe blasted the state’s Enbridge deal.
“This is the second time that the governor has cut a sweetheart deal with Enbridge without meaningful outreach to Michigan tribes,” said Bryan Newland, chairman of the Bay Mills Indian Community.
Creagh, as well as DNR and Michigan Department of Environmental Quality staff, met with Michigan tribal leaders in Lansing last Thursday, discussing the tunnel concept.
“We did consult with the tribes,” Creagh said. “We did that last week. Many of the issues the tribe raised are addressed in this agreement.
“Did we satisfy all of their concerns? I would not go that far.”
Newland, however, said the meeting did not provide the tribes with any ability to influence the deal.
“With this agreement coming out today, it’s very clear that those were empty words, and that the state never had any intention of working with us,” Newland said. “The meeting was a check-the-box exercise to allow the state to say it met with us. But that was an absolutely meaningless meeting.”
Though Creagh on Wednesday discussed a potential 99-year lease between Enbridge and the Mackinac Bridge Authority to use the new utility corridor, the current agreement between the company and the state only includes a provision that affirms Enbridge’s ability to use the Straits tunnel for its new Line 5 pipe “for as long as the Line 5 Straits Replacement Segment shall be in operation by Enbridge.”
“There’s no end date,” Newland said. “It says the State of Michigan is committed to partnering with Enbridge to make sure the pipeline continues to operate forever.”
Aaron Payment, chairman of the Sault St. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, called the tunnel idea “unfeasible, impractical and improbable,” and questioned Enbridge’s ability to cover its astronomical costs. Though he said he was willing to hear more about the proposal to better understand its total cost and scope, his tribe and other tribes remain opposed to Line 5’s continued operation in the Straits of Mackinac.
“It’s too great a risk to our natural resources,” he said.
The Bay Mills and Sault tribes are among the Ottawa and Chippewa bands of Indians covered by an 1836 treaty with the U.S. government that, among other things, affirmed the tribes’ ongoing hunting and fishing rights on their historic territories, which include the Great Lakes.
“Bay Mills and Michigan’s tribes are prepared to use every available means to protect our treaty rights,” Newland said.
“You sit across the table, and people look you in the eye and tell you, ‘We want to work with you, we want to incorporate your concerns.’ And a couple of days later they announce an agreement that makes it clear they had no intention of working with you.
“We’re all human beings. None of us likes being lied to.”
Much more to do
The new Enbridge deal has many details that will yet require resolution, including what role the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers or other federal agencies will have in evaluating the project and its potential environmental impact. But Creagh indicated state officials’ desire to have their end of the deal finalized with Enbridge before Snyder leaves office at the end of December.
As Enbridge and the Mackinac Bridge Authority work out their agreement, opportunities for public input will be provided, Creagh said. Some have questioned the Bridge Authority’s role in the agreement, as the agency does not directly report to the Michigan Department of Transportation, the governor or the legislature.
The Michigan Chemistry Council applauded the tunnel deal Wednesday. The Lansing-based agency represents the state’s chemical industry.
“Just as the Mackinac Bridge and the original Line 5 did in the 1950s, this new project will help connect Michigan’s two peninsulas in an innovative and forward-thinking way,” executive director John Dulmes said. “We are excited to see how the scientists, engineers and laborers will put this plan into place.”
The deal is sure to be a contentious issue in the campaign to succeed Snyder. Democratic nominee Gretchen Whitmer has pledged to shut down Line 5 if elected governor in November. Her Republican opponent, state Attorney General Bill Schuette, has endorsed the tunnel option.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether the next administration would have legal authority to undo the agreement. Michigan owns the straits bottomlands and granted Enbridge an easement when the pipes were laid in 1953. Creagh said any effort to revoke it would trigger a lengthy and expensive court battle.
Anchor strike bills pass House
On the same day the deal was announced, the state House of Representatives passed a five-bill package to prohibit ships from dropping anchor in the Straits of Mackinac. The bills would also require the state DNR to place markers in the Straits to alert ship operators of the designated area; impose penalties of two years in prison and a $10,000 fine for violations of the law; and provide protections to whistleblowers who report violations. The bills came after a tugboat hauling a barge dropped anchor in the Straits in April, damaging a high-voltage power line and causing a release of about 600 gallons of dielectric coolant into the Straits. That same anchor-strike incident also slightly damaged the exterior of the nearby Line 5 oil pipeline.
“These are necessary protections to our natural resources and Great Lakes, which are not just a contributing part of our economy, but a vital part of our way of life,” said state Rep. Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, a sponsor of one of the bills. “We drink this water, we swim in this water. This is what makes us pure Michigan.”
The bills — HB 6187, 6199-6201 and 6398 — now move to the state Senate for consideration.
Contact Keith Matheny: 313-222-5021 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @keithmatheny. Free Press staff writer Kathleen Gray and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
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