Hundreds line up to comment on proposed Line 5 tunnel
Hundreds of people filled a hockey arena in St. Ignace on Thursday to share their thoughts on a tunnel project which, if approved, would contain Enbridge Energy’s Line 5 pipeline if approved.
The Army Corps of Engineers is tasked with deciding whether or not the Canadian company should receive a permit to start the project. The tunnel would replace the 69-year-old dual pipelines that run along the lakebed carrying crude oil and natural gas liquids.
The meeting was held to gather public comment for the Army Corps’ Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). It’s a document —- normally hundreds of pages long — that’s supposed to give a full and fair analysis of potential environmental impacts.
Public comment is the one of the first of many steps in drafting the statement.
Army Corps Detroit District Commander Lt. Col. Brett Boyle said in a press release that it's extremely important to get feedback from tribal nations, agencies and the public
"Comments should help identify areas for in-depth review, including historic properties, water quality, general environmental effects and other public interest factors," he said in the statement. "This is a great opportunity to have an impact in the Corps of Engineers scoping process for developing the Draft EIS.”
The Army Corps issued a public notice for Enbridge’s application in May 2020 and held a public hearing in December 2020.
After that 2020 hearing, and consideration of all public and tribal input received, the Corps determined the project may have significant impacts on the quality of the human environment.
THE ST. IGNACE HEARING
At this most recent event, on Thursday, the majority of commenters spoke against the pipeline and Enbridge’s activities in general. In 2020, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered Enbridge to shut down Line 5 by revoking and ending a 1953 easement. The pipeline is still in operation, which many commenters called illegal.
Many cited the catastrophic 2010 Line 6B rupture that sent over a million gallons of crude oil down the Kalamazoo River.
Many commenters stressed the need for indigenous voices to be represented since the pipeline runs through some culturally important tribal land.
Whitney Gravelle, president of the Bay Mills Indian Community executive council was there with other members of the community.
“In the line of creation men and women were not created last because we are the most important, it's because we’re the least important,” she said. “We rely on all of those natural resources to be able to live, to be able to support our families and just exist as Anishinaabe people.”
All 12 of Michigan’s federally recognized tribes signed a letter to President Biden asking him to allow the state’s efforts to shut down Line 5 play out.
Other commenters against the pipeline called for the Army Corps research to extend beyond the straits to all areas where Line 5 is present from the Upper Peninsula down to Detroit. The groups also called for more public comment meetings to be held downstate to hear from additional stakeholders.
Some who attended the meeting represented the other side of the dispute. Many represented groups of trades workers, contractors and fossil fuel stakeholders.
Mike Love is a member of Operating Engineers 324. He said the tunnel project would bring some much-needed work for Michigan contractors and other blue-collar labor forces.
“That tunnel will employ some of the greatest tradesmen Michigan has to offer. Hundreds of skilled tradesmen from our communities will be working on this project,” he said. “If that was the only impact on us it would be enough.”
FACTORS THEY CONSIDER
The Army Corps Detroit District Regulatory Section has identified the following categories of issues:
- Potential direct effects to waters of the United States (including wetlands, water and sediment quality, aquatic species and fisheries, threatened and endangered species)
- Archaeological and cultural resources (including the Straits of Mackinac as a Traditional Cultural Landscape, Tribal treaty rights and interests)
- Recreation and recreational resources: waste management, aesthetics, noise, air quality, climate change (including greenhouse gas emissions and the social cost of greenhouse gasses)
- Public health and safety during construction and operations, navigation, erosion, invasive species, energy needs, environmental justice, needs and welfare of the people, and cumulative effects
There will be another public comment meeting from 1-4 p.m. on Oct. 6, held virtually.
After that, the Army Corps starts to put together a draft version of their Environmental Impact Statement which should be finished by next fall, according to Army Corps Public Affairs Specialist Carrie Fox.
After publishing the final EIS, the Corps of Engineers will prepare its Record of Decision, which is the document that will officially decide if Enbridge gets its permit.
All of those documents will be public when they’re finished.
See a breakdown of the Army Corps EIS process below: