Dec. 20–ST. IGNACE, Mich. — Gov. Rick Snyder has finalized a deal to run oil and gas through a tunnel-encased pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac for up to 99 years.
The bid to replace the controversial, 65-year-old Line 5 pipeline on the Straits’ floor was achieved less than two weeks before Snyder leaves office.
Snyder wanted the deal done and secured before successor and Line 5 critic, Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer, takes over Jan. 1.
“From the beginning of this four-year process, our fundamental goal has been to protect the Great Lakes against an oil spill through a solution we know will work,” Snyder said in a statement.
“Today’s actions will result in the removal of the oil pipeline from the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac, maintain critical infrastructure connections between our peninsulas, provide energy security for residents of the Upper Peninsula and northern Michigan and create good-paying jobs.”
Snyder, several state department heads and representatives of Enbridge Energy signed the tunnel agreement following the first meeting of the newly formed Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority (MSCA).
At the MSCA’s inaugural meeting Wednesday, Dec. 19 in St. Ignace, the board agreed to own and oversee an Enbridge-constructed tunnel under the Straits.
The agreement requires the MSCA to lease space within the tunnel to house a replacement of Enbridge’s controversial Line 5 oil and gas pipeline currently seated on the Straits’ floor.
“The replacement of Line 5 inside a tunnel will protect one of the most important and vital natural resources in the world,” Enbridge said in a statement. “Buried 100 feet below the lakebed, the chances of a product release into the Straits are reduced to near zero.”
The lease would be good for up to 99 years, placing a maximum pipeline operation date somewhere near 2128. It begins after the tunnel is completed.
Among other details, the agreement affords the leasing of other utilities in the tunnel and requires the attorney general’s office to pay attorney fees for the authority if the office declines to represent them in lawsuits.
“I see this as an opportunity to put an agreement in place to actually protect the greatest natural resource that we have here in Michigan, but also give the Upper Peninsula an opportunity at growth in the future with other utilities as well,” said MSCA chairman Michael Nystrom.
The authority, established just a week prior, was obligated by law to accept the agreement from the Snyder administration.
Numerous people attended the authority board’s inaugural meeting Wednesday in St. Ignace to voice their support or opposition to the agreement. Many proponents of the agreement said they work for Enbridge.
Under the agreements signed Wednesday, Enbridge would pay for the design, construction, operations, maintenance and eventual decommissioning of the tunnel. Cost estimates for the project are roughly $350 to $500 million.
Once the tunnel is completed, ownership will be handed over to the authority. The authority will have an oversight role during construction.
State officials estimate it will take seven to 10 years to construct the tunnel. The 65-year-old Line 5 pipeline on the Straits’ floor would continue to operate until completion.
Beth Wallace with the National Wildlife Federation Great Lakes Regional Center said the agreements keep the Great Lakes at risk of an oil spill.
“This backroom deal sets no end date for the twin pipelines currently sitting in the open waters of the Great Lakes. The Snyder administration is trying to disguise the status quo as progress,” Wallace said in a statement.
Wallace further criticized the short time period allowed for public comment on the agreements and charged that the Snyder administration has not heeded public input.
“This five-day comment period further illustrates the Snyder administration’s disregard for public input,” she said. “They have ignored hundreds of thousands of public comments calling for a shutdown of Line 5 and millions of mid-term votes for an incoming administration which pledged to protect our Great Lakes, not a foreign oil company’s profit margin.”
Draft documents of the agreements were put online late Thursday for public comment until the following Tuesday.
The three-member MSCA board has suffered two turnovers since it was established Dec. 12.
Snyder originally appointed labor leader Geno Alessandrini, a Democrat, geophysicist Tony England, a Democrat, and Michael Zimmer, a Republican and former director of the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, to serve six-year terms on the board.
Alessandrini’s resignation was announced a day after his appointment. He said in a statement he resigned due to “family and business constraints.”
He was replaced by James “J.R.” Richardson, a Republican, power company executive and vice chair of Michigan’sNatural Resources Commission.
Earlier this week, Zimmer resigned due to possible legal conflicts with his resignation from the Mackinac Bridge Authority to serve on the MSCA, the Detroit News reported.
He was replaced by Nystrom, a Republican and the executive vice president of the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association.
No more than two members of a political party can serve on the MSCA board at a time.
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