Everyone wants Line 5 out of the water. Arguments about tunnel proposal agree on little else.

Aug 26, 2020

 

A proposed tunnel would run 60 to 250 feet beneath the lakebed at the Straits of Mackinac to house the Line 5 oil pipeline.
Credit Bailiwick Studios

Supporters of the Line 5 tunnel project showed up in full force at a state agency hearing this week. 


The tunnel plan, put forth by Canadian oil and gas company Enbridge, calls for a 30-foot wide tunnel buried in the bedrock beneath the Straits of Mackinac to house a four-mile section of the controversial Line 5 pipeline. The state would give the company a 99-year lease to use the tunnel, projected to cost $500 million to construct, according to Enbridge. 

The Michigan Public Services Commission invited callers to comment on the public recordMonday evening as part of the state’s review process

Proponents of the tunnel included state representatives, business leaders, members of the United Steelworkers Union in Ohio, and Enbridge employees. Many depicted the plan as a compromise — one that mitigates the greatest risk of an oil spill in the Great Lakes by moving the pipeline from the lakebed, while preserving its function and providing job security. 

“The current tunnel plan is the best option — it’s the quickest option — to protect the Great Lakes,” said State Rep. Sara Cambensy (D-Marquette). Throughout the meeting, callers insisted the project could be completed in five to six years. 

“To say that those of us — and there were 14 democrats — that voted for the tunnel are not concerned about the environment and are not environmentalists simply isn’t true,” Cambensy said. 

State Representative Beau LaFave (R-Iron Mountain), backed the plan as necessary to ensure continued access to propane for the region. 

“There is no alternative,” LaFave emphasized, saying that it would take thousands of semi trucks to carry the fuel in place of the pipeline. “They will not fit on U.S. 2. They will not fit on the Mackinac bridge.” 

Environmental groups, members from the Bay Mills Indian Community, other tribes, local landowners, and concerned Michigan residents painted a different story of the tunnel project. One opponent said Enbridge had “largely shut out the public voice” by filling pre-registration spots on the hearing with members of special interest groups. 

Many called the tunnel project a threat to the area’s water and land, saying that it hasn’t undergone sufficient environmental review. 

Others said the tunnel and its pipeline would soon be a “stranded asset,” obsolete in the coming decades as energy sources shift to renewables.  

“We need public policy to start dismantling our fossil fuel infrastructure now,” warned Oliver Warner, a member of the Sierra Club. 

“Rising temperatures are predicted to make some of the most densely populated areas of the globe uninhabitable, perhaps in my lifetime — and I am old. I wonder how that will impact jobs,” said a Petoskey resident. 

State agencies are still collecting public comments on the tunnel project. The proposal has been challenged in court by more than a dozen groups, including State Attorney General Dana Nessel, four Michigan tribes, the Michigan Environmental Council and Traverse City-based environmental group For the Love of Water. 

Next year, the state will hear testimony from the legal challengers. Meanwhile, Enbridge faces a second lawsuit from the Attorney General, filed last year, that challenges its right to operate Line 5 in the Straits.