Government, Manufacturing, and Sustainability

Gov. Snyder signs bill allowing Great Lakes oil tunnel

December 13, 2018
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LANSING — Gov. Rick Snyder has signed legislation establishing a panel to oversee construction of an oil pipeline tunnel in the waterway linking Lake Huron and Lake Michigan, while opponents insisted the battle isn't over and could widen from the state Capitol to the courts.

Snyder also appointed yesterday the three members of the new Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority, furthering his push to ensure that oil will continue flowing through Enbridge's Line 5 after he leaves office at the end of December.

The Republican governor praised the lawmakers who rushed the bill to enactment following the election of Democratic Governor-elect Gretchen Whitmer, a critic of Line 5 and the tunnel plan.

"By working together, they helped garner bipartisan support to ensure we are protecting the Great Lakes, while securing better energy infrastructure for Michigan," Snyder said.

Line 5 has carried crude oil and natural gas liquids used in propane 645 miles from Superior, Wisconsin through northern Michigan to the Canadian city of Sarnia, Ontario since 1953.

Critics have long sought to decommission a more than 4-mile segment lying on the lake floor. Snyder and Enbridge have agreed to replace the twin-pipe segment with a new pipe housed in a tunnel drilled through bedrock beneath the straits.

Enbridge, based in Calgary, Alberta, praised the new law and said the tunnel plan "makes a safe pipeline even safer."

Groups fighting to decommission Line 5 said they would renew the effort after Whitmer and Dana Nessel, a Democrat recently elected attorney general, take office next month. Both have criticized the tunnel proposal but haven't said how they may try to block it. With the state House and Senate remaining under Republican control, prospects are remote for repealing the new law.

Kelly Rossman-McKinney, spokeswoman for Nessel, declined comment on whether the new attorney general may challenge the law in court.

"Her top priority is to protect the people of Michigan," Rossman-McKinney said. "Line 5 would certainly be one of the issues that she, and I'm sure the governor, will be looking at very closely."

Opposition groups said lawsuits are likely, with potential targets including the law enacted this week and a series of agreements between Snyder's administration and Enbridge.

"We have no choice but to continue fighting this," said David Holtz of the Sierra Club. "The stakes are too high."

Under a deal announced in October, Enbridge would pay the estimated $350 million to $500 million cost of designing, building, operating and maintaining the tunnel. After completion, it would be owned by the state and leased to Enbridge for 99 years, overseen by the Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority.

The authority will include several members: Geno Alessandrini of Iron Mountain, business manager for the Michigan Laborers District Council; Anthony England of Ypsilanti, dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Sciences at the University of Michigan-Dearborn; and Michael Zimmer, Snyder's cabinet director.

Zimmer, a Republican, will resign a recent appointment to the Mackinac Bridge Authority to join the corridor panel. Alessandrini and England are Democrats, according to Snyder's office.

Still to be completed this month is a final deal with Enbridge detailing how the tunnel would be built and operated. Snyder said among its provisions would be a plan for using Michigan workers on the project, limits on the state's liability and a requirement that the tunnel be "built to last" in a way that would contain potential pipeline spills.

Liz Kirkwood, executive director of Traverse City-based For Love of Water, said the project carries substantial risks for Michigan's taxpayers and environment, particularly with the existing Line 5 pipes continuing to operate up to 10 years as the tunnel is built.

"The Snyder administration has failed to take action against an imminent and serious risk of allowing a 65-year-old pipeline to operate in the open waters of the Great Lakes," Kirkwood said.

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