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Businesses, environmentalists, and Native Americans urge Governor Whitmer to shut down Line 5

A dive team works on Line 5 under the Straits of Mackinac.
Mark Brush
Michigan Radio

 This story was updated 8:00 p.m. August 19, 2020. 

Groups representing business, environmentalists, and Native Americans are calling on Governor Gretchen Whitmer to shut down Enbridge's Line 5.

The more than 600 mile long pipeline carrying crude oil and natural gas liquids is 67 years old. A section of Line 5 sits on the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac, which connects Lakes Michigan and Huron. The pipeline splits into twin pipelines under the Straits.

Bryan Newland is the Bay Mills Indian Community Tribal Chairman. He says the governor should revoke the state easement for Line 5.

“This gets framed as a false choice between allowing Enbridge to operate in violation of its easement or granting it an entirely new easement and permit for a tunnel in a different area of the Straits. And we act as though a decommissioning of the pipeline is simply off the table,” Newland said during an online news conference.

A deal with the administration of Governor Rick Snyder agreed to the concept of tunneling under the Straits. However, getting approval for the tunnel requires several steps.

The groups opposed say the timeline to build the five mile long tunnel is optimistic. Enbridge has stated it can complete the tunnel by 2024.

The National Wildlife Federation says that’s not in keeping with other such projects. The environmental group believes getting permits and construction could take seven years or longer. By then, Line 5 would be nearly 75 years old.

“Line 5 is a danger to our Great Lakes, to Michigan's economy, to our tribal rights and to the public health. The tunnel would only extend these risks along the entire Line 5 corridor into the future indefinitely,” said Newland.

The participants in the news conference outlined the damage an oil spill might do to the Great Lakes and the Michigan coastline where tourism and fishing are major industries.

“We know it's clear there's enough red flags to make any public official aware that it's time to act,” Newland said.

The groups said Governor Whitmer campaigned on a promise to shut down Line 5. They've been dismayed that the administration is not talking about shutting down Line 5, but instead saying they want the pipeline removed from the water. They think it's time for the governor to decommission the pipeline.

In an email, the governor's press secretary, Tiffany Brown, stated, “The Governor's number one priority has always been getting the oil out of the water as soon as possible while protecting the energy needs of the residents of Michigan. That commitment has not changed.”

Brown also noted, "The easement review process is nearing completion, but not yet done. We’re not going to speak to this matter until the process is complete.”

In response to a question about the governor's position on constructing a tunnel for Line 5, Brown wrote, "The Courts have determined that the tunnel project can proceed and the process is underway, including the permitting from state agencies, which will carry out their lawful duties and give the project close review.”

On August 24, the Michigan Public Service Commission will hold a public hearing on Enbridge’s request to replace and relocate a section of Line 5 in a tunnel.

Editor's note: Enbridge is one of Michigan Radio's corporate sponsors.

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Lester Graham reports for The Environment Report. He has reported on public policy, politics, and issues regarding race and gender inequity. He was previously with The Environment Report at Michigan Public from 1998-2010.
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