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Enbridge selects Line 5 tunnel builders; state panel approves project docs

A conference room full of people facing the front, where a powerpoint is being given.
Kaye LaFond
Interlochen Public Radio
The Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority, which is responsible for overseeing construction of a proposed tunnel under the Straits, met Friday in St. Ignace.

ST. IGNACE — Enbridge Energy and the state of Michigan are moving forward with plans for a tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac.

Enbridge, a Canadian energy company, chose Great Lakes Tunnel Constructors to complete the project.

Great Lakes Tunnel Constructors was formed through a partnership with Michigan-based Jay Dee Contractors and the Japanese Obayashi Corporation.

Enbridge made the announcement ahead of a meeting with the Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority Friday in St. Ignace.

The Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority is a three-member panelcreated by former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder to oversee the tunnel's construction. At their meeting, they approved several project-related documents submitted by Enbridge, including a 2,600-page report on the geology under the Straits.

The proposed tunnel is meant to house a section of Enbridge's Line 5, replacing two 67-year-old pipelines that currently sit exposed on the lakebed.

The tunnel is controversial, as tribes and environmental groups have long called for a shutdown of the pipelines and are also opposed to construction of the tunnel.

Mike Nystrom of the Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority says Enbridge has been diligent and is ahead of schedule in some areas. He's glad for progress, despite ongoing legal challenges to the construction of the tunnel from Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel.

“We might get sidelined again," says Nystrom. "Who knows what happens in these court decisions? But for now, we're caught up, we're moving the thing forward, and that's a positive thing for all the citizens of the State of Michigan.”

He calls Enbridge's decision to hire a Michigan-based contractor “exciting.”

The meeting was attended by many union-affiliated supporters of the tunnel. Brent Pilarski of the Michigan Laborers' Union spoke during public comment.

"We have been partnering and talking with Enbridge throughout the process," said Pilarski. "We wanna work with them bringing well-trained, skilled labor to this project."

Mike Ripley spoke on behalf of the Chippewa Ottawa Resource Authority (CORA), which coordinates treaty fishing rights in the straits for five Anishinaabe tribes.

He said CORA opposes the tunnel, and that all 12 federally-recognized tribes in Michigan have passed resolutions calling for the shutdown of Line 5.

Representatives from environmental groups also expressed their continued opposition to Line 5.

Amber Pastoor manages the tunnel project for Enbridge. She says the meeting should settle questions about company's intention to follow through.

“Enbridge is committed to building this tunnel, and we are absolutely 100 percent moving forward with it," says Pastoor.

Kaye LaFond
Kaye is an alumnus of Michigan Tech's environmental engineering program. She got her start making maps for the Traverse City-Based water news organization Circle of Blue, and, since then, she's been pretty devoted to science communication and data visualization.