Bay Mills Indian Community moves to oppose tunnel for Line 5

May 13, 2020

The Line 5 oil pipeline.
Credit University of Michigan

The Bay Mills Indian Community announced Tuesday it will intervene in Enbridge’s application to build a tunnel underneath the straits of Mackinac. 

Enbridge filed an application with the Michigan Public Service Commission to replace and relocate the Line 5 pipeline into a tunnel on April 17th. The company is also requesting a declaratory ruling - arguing that because it has already received approval to build a pipeline it doesn’t need additional approval for a tunnel.

President of the Bay Mills Indian Community Bryan Newland says the tribe will be represented pro-bono by Earthjustice and the Native American Rights Fund.

“We’re really thankful that they’ve taken this on because litigation is expensive. The cost of fighting a company like Enbridge in court would have been almost prohibitive,” Newland said.

Earthjustice has also represented the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in its dispute over the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Newland said the Line 5 tunnel project is the linchpin that keeps the pipeline in operation.

“Two-thirds the span of the Line 5 pipeline run through tribal treaty territory,” he said. “Anything that prolongs the life of Line 5 increases the risk to our people. Not only at the straits themselves but at all these other crucial water crossings where we exercise our tribal treaty rights.”

Newland described Enbridge’s permit and application efforts during the pandemic as “vile.”

“You ask yourself what would a cartoon villain do in a situation like this? They would wait for people around the world to be suffering from a global disease outbreak and then they would move to drill an oil pipeline under the largest body of fresh water on the planet,” Newland said.

In a written statement, a spokesperson for Enbridge said the company is working under a set of deadlines as part of its agreement with the state.

The spokesperson said they would be happy to meet with representatives from the Bay Mills Indian Community and discuss their concerns at any time.

The Enbridge tunnel proposal has received approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Applications are still being reviewed by the Michigan Public Service Commission and the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy.

The Michigan Public Service Commission is taking public comment on Enbridge’s application, and its request for a declaratory ruling, through May 13th.

An MPSC spokesperson said a decision on the declaratory ruling can be expected not long after May 13th.

President Newland said if the MPSC grants Enbridge a declaratory ruling the Bay Mills community will seek to appeal that decision.