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State advisory council members ask Whitmer to slow Enbridge tunnel permit

The Mackinac Bridge connects Michigan's Upper and Lower Peninsulas, and is five miles long.
Dan Wanschura / Interlochen Public Radio
The Mackinac Bridge connects Michigan's Upper and Lower Peninsulas, and is five miles long.

On Wednesday, Enbridge submitted an application for a permit to build the Line 5 tunnel.

The planned bedrock tunnel would encase the replacement for 67-year-old oil pipelines that currently sit on the lakebed beneath the Straits of Mackinac.

Last week, tribal leaders raised the alarm about the state reviewing permits, holding public comment or engaging in tribal consultation during the COVID-19 pandemic. Tribal governments in the Straits area are unilaterally opposed to the tunnel.

On Sunday, more than half the members of the Michigan Advisory Council on Environmental Justice sent a letter to Governor Gretchen Whitmer, asking her to use executive action to extend deadlines for public comment and participation on Enbridge's permit.

"Starting the permitting process for this tunnel is inappropriate at a time when many tribal government offices are shut due to COVID-19," said the letter. "During this time of unprecedented crisis, it will be impossible for important stakeholders to adequately participate in the permit process. This not only includes tribes, but citizens, conservation organizations, businesses, and city governments."

On Thursday, the Governor's Office had not yet replied to the letter. However, the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy said the pandemic may slow the process down. 

EGLE has 30 days to review the application before anything happens, said spokesman Scott Dean.

“It’s difficult to comment what the next steps will be in terms of timing," he said. "It’s a very dynamic situation with the pandemic.”

According to a press release on the Canadian company's website, Enbridge still expects the replacement segment of the lines to be operational by 2024.

“The Great Lakes Tunnel Project unequivocally is the most practical, long-term solution to delivering a secure energy supply to the region while enhancing environmental safeguards in the Straits,” said Amber Pastoor, Enbridge Tunnel Project Manager. “The existing Line 5 was designed to last and has served this region well for more than 60 years. With today’s technology, the Great Lakes Tunnel Project will help deliver an enhanced level of safe, reliable energy, along with measures to protect our waterways for generations.”

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.