Dec. 02–TRAVERSE CITY — The last days of Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration may end up among the most decisive for a controversial plan for a tunnel beneath the Straits of Mackinac intended for an oil pipeline and other utilities — a plan opposed by the governor’s successor who may not be able to renege on the deal.
Officials within the Republican governor’s team are pursuing an agreement with Enbridge to replace the underwater segment of its Line 5 pipeline, which daily carries approximately 23 million gallons of petrochemicals between Sarnia, Ontario, and Superior, Wisconsin. The argument for a new pipeline tunnel is touted by officials within the state’s Departments of Natural Resources and Transportation, who advocate for the Mackinac Bridge Authority to oversee the bedrock structure once completed.
“Everyone agrees the pipes need to come out,” said Keith Creagh, Michigan DNR director.
A pending deal
Creagh contends an agreement with Canadian company Enbridge is a more reliable way than a lawsuit to ensure the 65-year-old underwater pipeline is decommissioned, especially since the easement the state granted the company in 1953 came without an end date. A binding agreement is the best way to make progress and any such deal would then be enforceable through the courts if needed, he said.
Attorney Valerie Brader, a negotiator for Gov. Rick Snyder, said the pending deal with Enbridge is designed to not be broken by the incoming team for Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer.
“I’m sure they will look at this very closely, as they should,” Brader said. “You wouldn’t want something Enbridge can back out of, either.”
That doesn’t mean Whitmer’s team won’t investigate, though.
“Gov.-elect Whitmer has made her position on Enbridge Line 5 clear. She believes it poses a serious risk to the Great Lakes, to Michigan’s economy, and to our way of life. She is committed to protecting Michigan jobs and Michigan water and opposes actions that would impede her ability to do that,” said Clare Liening, communications director for Whitmer’s transition team.
An October 2018 agreement between the state and Enbridge builds on a November 2017 agreement that outlined alternatives for the company. It calls for Enbridge to build a Line 5 replacement utility tunnel within seven to 10 years, during which time additional safeguards along the existing pipeline must be implemented and $1.8 billion in financial assurance established for potential environmental cleanup.
Liz Kirkwood, executive director for Traverse City-based For Love of Water environmental nonprofit, said those promised safeguards are a joke. “They are absolutely de minimus and almost laughable,” she said.
Kirkwood also contends efforts to put Enbridge’s tunnel under the Mackinac Bridge Authority umbrella is deceitful.
“This deal is designed to shield Enbridge from complying with modern environmental laws that govern Great Lakes lake bed and the waters,” Kirkwood said.
Enbridge spokesman Ryan Duffy said there’s no reason to fear leaving the pipeline in place during tunnel construction. The company is working with the state on stricter rules, radar and other technology to protect the pipeline from ship anchor strikes and other threats — a serious concern following an April 1 anchor strike that dented both spans of the pipeline.
Plus, inline inspections show the condition of the pipeline is good, Duffy said, and the company has committed to inspecting the line’s exterior coating. The company will continue to shut down Line 5 should waves reach a height where responding to a spill would be impossible, he said.
While the final business deal for a utility tunnel remains in the works, legislation to make the Mackinac Bridge Authority the owner of the proposed structure has moved out of committee in Lansing and onto the Michigan Senate floor, but was bumped from the legislative calendar until at least next week.
William Gnodtke of Charlevoix County, outgoing Mackinac Bridge Authority chairman and Republican appointee by former Gov. John Engler, said he traveled to Lansing this week to testify about the bill while it was still in committee. He said he is adamantly opposed to the bridge authority being responsible for the proposed tunnel, as are his fellow members of newly formed Friends of Mackinac Bridge.
“We’re saying create a tunnel authority and let that tunnel authority have a laser focus on that tunnel, just like the bridge authority was created with a laser focus on the bridge,” Gnodtke said.
State Sen. Wayne Schmidt said he’s all for a utility corridor. He believes it’s a good way to protect the Great Lakes while ensuring propane keeps flowing to Upper Peninsula households, and that northern Lower Peninsula oil producers can move their product to market.
But Schmidt can’t support a bill that would task the Mackinac Bridge Authority with overseeing the utility tunnel, he said.
“They’ve had their one focus, their main focus, it’s to make sure the bridge is properly maintained, it remains affordable for people to cross and for commerce between the Lower and Upper Peninsulas, and that’s been their focus,” he said.
Schmidt might reconsider a different proposal that would create separation and “safeguards” between the authority’s bridge and tunnel tasks. Or, the state could create a new authority altogether, he said.
Gnodtke and current bridge authority member Barbara Brown are among the leaders in the newly formed Friends of Mackinac Bridge group, which will lobby state officials to slow down this process and establish a new tunnel authority rather than saddling bridge officials with additional tasks, said Jim Lively, of Traverse City-based Groundworks Center for Resilient Communities.
Lively said the state’s deal with Enbridge isn’t necessarily in the best interests of Michigan’s citizens, but instead seemingly the oil transportation giant.
“This deal was structured so much in their favor,” Lively said. “Why is Michigan bending over backward to help a foreign company move their products through our water?”
State Rep. Larry Inman, R-Williamsburg, said he’s concerned about what kind of expertise the bridge authority has concerning an underground tunnel and its various ramifications. He also worries that the plan so far is to delay the removal of Line 5’s straits crossing for up to 10 years while the tunnel is studied, designed and built. He called that delay unacceptable.
“What I object to is not taking that old pipeline that’s 65 years old out now and putting a new one in,” he said. “Then they can spend their seven years designing and engineering the tunnel, and so if the present bill stays on track, which means do nothing for the pipeline for seven to 10 years while they study the concept of a tunnel, then I’m going to be a no.”
The Associated Press contributed information for this article.
Tribes, state disagree about Line 5 deal input
BY SHERI MCWHIRTER
and JORDAN TRAVIS
TRAVERSE CITY — Tribal authorities are aligned with opponents to the state’s proposed deal with Enbridge to build a tunnel for its Line 5 pipeline currently running across the bottom of the Great Lakes’ Straits of Mackinac.
Tribal officials contend the pipelines should be immediately decommissioned and not replaced — tunnel or not — and their treaty rights to be consulted about decisions that impact their fishing and water rights have been ignored. State representatives argue they made efforts, but tribal requests to remove and not replace Line 5 haven’t amounted to constructive input.
Five Native American tribes in Michigan — the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians among them — have certain rights in the Straits of Mackinac as signatories of an 1836 treaty. That includes the right to be consulted on any agreements impacting its waters.
Attorney Valerie Brader, a negotiator for Gov. Rick Snyder, insisted his administration has made efforts to consult the tribes, while state Department of Natural Resources Director Keith Creagh said the tribes’ representatives failed to raise any “substantive, specific issues” that the state and tribes could resolve.
Each of the tribes’ chairpersons and natural resource department heads form the Chippewa Ottawa Resource Authority’s board, and it oversees tribal fishing rights and inland resources issues.
Mike Ripley, environmental coordinator for the authority, said he was underwhelmed at any attempts at consultation. One in October fell days before the state announced its latest agreement with Enbridge, including a proposal to task the Mackinac Bridge Authority with overseeing an utility tunnel.
“But we were never given a draft of that agreement before that consultation,” he said. “Now when you go into a consultation, you expect to have the information that you’re consulting about ahead of time, and we were never given that information.”
Desmond Berry, Natural Resources Department manager for the Grand Traverse Band, said tribal officials should have even more than advance review rights on deals that impact them. Tribal authorities should be part of the negotiations from the start, Berry said.
“We should be brought to the table to collectively work together on a plan,” he said. “We as a tribe have a property right interest in the Great Lakes, an interest affirmed by a federal court more than once.”
Ripley said there are parallels between current negotiations and those leading up to the 1953 agreement when the state and Enbridge’s predecessor inked the perpetual bottomlands lease. The five tribes were completely left out of that deal.
“There is a parallel there, although these days obviously the state is making an effort to check the box of consultation without having really substantial information given to us,” Ripley said.
Ripley said he’s still waiting for information ahead of another meeting set for Monday. He called it “disingenuous” that the state claims it’s reaching out to tribes while failing to keep them informed.
The Chippewa Ottawa Resource Authority opposes any oil pipeline in the Straits, tunnel or no, Ripley said. He believes the state could revoke its easement with Enbridge and that regulators have been much too lax with the pipeline operator. The tribes likely would help the state fend off any court challenge if it did revoke the easement.
Creagh said it’s true no draft agreement was provided ahead of the October consultation, but he insisted the consultations are earnest efforts to seek the tribes’ input. He ran through a list of issues state and tribal representatives discussed that day, from cameras to monitor ships going through the Straits to requiring Enbridge to have people on hand to shut down the pipeline within 15 minutes under all weather conditions.
Creagh also pointed to parts of the second agreement purposely left open so the tribes could weigh in, including what to do about Line 5’s inland water crossings that would cause major damage if they ruptured.
“And so to the various tribes, we continue to seek their concurrence or their objections to the path forward to decommission the line,” he said. “Thus far the position that we’ve heard articulated is they would like the line shut down, and we appreciate that position but it’s not that straightforward.”
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