Author: FLOW Editor

Take Action Today to Oppose Michigan’s Senate Bill 1197 and Save the Mackinac Bridge from Enbridge Line 5

FLOW President Jim Olson addresses the board of the Mackinac Bridge Authority at its Nov. 8, 2018, meeting in St. Ignace.


FLOW is urging supporters to contact your Michigan lawmakers today using our guidance below and to plan to join FLOW and other leaders of the Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign who are hosting a Line 5 lawmaker lobby day for Tuesday, November 27, in Lansing, to fight for the Great Lakes and the Mackinac Bridge by opposing Governor Snyder’s Enbridge oil tunnel scheme and shutting down Line 5 in the Mackinac Straits.

In coordination with the Snyder administration, departing State Sen. Tom Casperson, a Republican from Escanaba, on November 8 introduced Senate Bill 1197 to amend the Mackinac Bridge Authority Act to allow it to own and operate a “utility tunnel,” with the Enbridge Line 5 oil pipeline as the intended occupant. There’s also the uncertain prospect of adding gas or electric lines, which could rent space in the tunnel by paying Enbridge, not the bridge authority that is proposed to own it. In fact, if the fiber optic lines that currently cross the Mackinac Bridge were moved to the proposed tunnel, Enbridge could gain more than $500,000 a year in lease revenue currently going to operate and maintain the bridge.

Please use our updated Line 5 oil tunnel fact sheet to get informed and share it with your lawmakers and others who can help stand up for the Great Lakes and the Mighty Mac. Here are the three key points to make when contacting your lawmaker (You can look up your state representative here and state senator here).

Senate Bill 1197:

  1. Fails to address the imminent risk of the decaying Line 5 pipelines lying on the bottom of the Great Lakes for 10 years or more. The deal struck by Gov. Snyder and Enbridge would lock in, by right, the operation of the 65-year old, gouged, damaged, and deteriorating Line 5 dual pipelines across the Straits of Mackinac for at least the 10-year period it is expected that tunnel construction would take.  At any future time, if the Enbridge decides not to build the tunnel, the agreement would obligate future governors to keep Line 5 in the waters of the Mackinac Straits indefinitely!
  2. Compromises the mission of the Mackinac Bridge Authority (MBA) and the Mighty Mac itself. For more than 60 years, the Mackinac Bridge Authority has overseen and managed Michigan’s most iconic asset with no hint of controversy and with impeccable performance. This proposed legislation would draw the MBA into the middle of a major controversy with no other purpose than to allow a private, Canadian oil company to continue using a short cut across Michigan and through the Great Lakes to transport oil from western Canadian oil fields to eastern Canadian refineries, with some of that oil being shipped overseas.
  3. Exposes the Mackinac Bridge Authority, toll payers, and taxpayers to financial peril. Since its beginning, the Mackinac Bridge was designed to be funded through the tolls collected by those crossing the bridge. The proposed legislation, which is designed to authorize the backroom deal struck by Gov. Snyder and Enbridge, opens up numerous areas of financial risk for the MBA and the public, including the potential liability in the event of an explosion or other catastrophe associated with the proposed tunnel or if Enbridge fails to keep its commitments to build and maintain the tunnel during the 99-year lease.

The Michigan Senate could quickly approve the bill in the lame duck session after Thanksgiving, and send it to the House. Gov. Snyder is seeking to sign and tie the hands of the incoming administration of Governor-elect Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General-elect Dana Nessel, who both campaigned for shutting down Line 5, not replacing it with a tunnel. Gov. Snyder also released a draft of a third oil tunnel agreement with Enbridge, which Senate Bill 1197 seeks to enact.

Click here for FLOW’s summary of recent action at the November 8 meeting of the Mackinac Bridge Authority. Stay tuned to the FLOW’s website for additional updates, legal analyses, and more steps that citizens, communities, and businesses can take to protect the Great Lakes and the Mighty Mac.


Contact Your Michigan Lawmakers Today to Oppose Risky Line 5 Oil Tunnel Scheme

FLOW is urging supporters to contact your Michigan lawmakers today using our template message as a starting point, and to join FLOW and the other leaders of the Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign who are hosting a Line 5 lawmaker lobby day for Tuesday, November 27, in Lansing, to fight for the Great Lakes and the Mackinac Bridge by opposing Governor Snyder’s Enbridge oil tunnel scheme and shutting down Line 5 in the Mackinac Straits.

Use our updated Line 5 oil tunnel fact sheet to get informed and share with your lawmakers and others who can help stand up for the Great Lakes and the Mighty Mac.

In coordination with the Snyder administration, departing State Sen. Tom Casperson, a Republican from Escanaba, on November 8 introduced Senate Bill 1197 to amend the Mackinac Bridge Authority Act to allow it to own and operate a “utility tunnel,” with the Enbridge Line 5 oil pipeline as the intended occupant. There’s also the uncertain prospect of adding gas or electric lines, which could rent space in the tunnel by paying Enbridge, not the bridge authority that is proposed to own it.

The Michigan Senate could quickly approve the bill in the lame duck session after Thanksgiving, and send it to the House. Gov. Snyder is seeking to sign and tie the hands of the incoming administration of Governor-elect Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General-elect Dana Nessel, who both campaigned for shutting down Line 5, not replacing it with a tunnel. Gov. Snyder also released a draft of a third oil tunnel agreement with Enbridge, which Senate Bill 1197 seeks to enact.

Click here for FLOW’s summary of recent action at the November 8 meeting of the Mackinac Bridge Authority. Stay tuned to the FLOW website for deeper analysis of Senate Bill 1197 and the third oil tunnel agreement, and more steps that citizens, communities, and businesses can take to protect the Great Lakes and the Mighty Mac.


Public to Mighty Mac Board: Don’t Risk the Great Lakes and Mackinac Bridge by Owning Private Oil Tunnel

Protect our greatest treasures — the Great Lakes and the Mackinac Bridge. Stop Gov. Rick Snyder’s rush to lock in a 99-year deal for a private oil tunnel in the Mackinac Straits. Never stop fighting for clean water and democracy.

Those were the messages loud and clear from a big crowd of residents, business owners, tribal leaders, environmental and social justice groups, and many others who spoke out Thursday in St. Ignace in favor of protecting the Great Lakes and Pure Michigan economy and against rushing to make the Mackinac Bridge Authority the owner of an oil tunnel for at least 99 years.

Snyder administration officials pushed their deal with Enbridge to keep the decaying Line 5 oil pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac running at least through 2028 while exploring a possible tunnel. The authority board — recently packed by Snyder with pro-tunnel appointees — asked few questions.

But the public had many pointed questions for the Mackinac Bridge Authority. What’s the rush on a decision with century-long consequences? Why partner with deceptive and spill-prone Enbridge? Why try to exempt Enbridge from laws protecting our public health, private property, land, and water? Why give away our public lands and waters to benefit a private foreign corporation? Why ignore tribal treaty rights in the Straits that pre-date the state of Michigan? 

The questions kept coming as nearly 40 people took turns. Why lock in this Great Lakes shortcut for Canadian oil for another century when our changing climate demands clean energy solutions in the immediate future? How will our tourist-based businesses survive a Great Lakes oil spill catastrophe? Why politicize and dilute the single-purpose mission of the authority to operate and protect the Mackinac Bridge? Why tie the hands of the incoming governor and attorney general, who campaigned on shutting down Line 5 before it blows?

Bill Gnodtke, immediate past MBA chair

Immediate past chair of the Mackinac Bridge Authority Bill Gnodtke drew a standing ovation after questioning the lack of transparency and attempt to weaken the single-purpose mission of the authority board. He submitted a letter from himself and seven other former members of the authority board with a collective 88 years of service to the Mackinac Bridge. The letter notes that the endorsers, including Mackinac Island Grand Hotel owner Dan Musser III, were appointed under Democratic and Republican Governors Blanchard, Engler, Granholm, and Snyder.

The only voice in support of the oil tunnel deal came from a woman identifying herself as an Enbridge employee, although it appeared that dozens of Enbridge employees arrived in company trucks, and sat silently in rows of seats, wearing pro-tunnel buttons on their shirts.

The authority board had no answers, then left without discussion or voting. The board set its next meeting for Feb. 12-13 in Lansing, but retains the option to schedule an ad hoc meeting before year’s end to further consider or approve the bridge-tunnel scheme.

Shortly after the meeting and in coordination with the Snyder administration, departing State Sen. Tom Casperson, a Republican from Escanaba, introduced Senate Bill 1197 to amend the Mackinac Bridge Authority Act to allow it to own and operate a “utility tunnel,” with the Enbridge Line 5 oil pipeline as the intended occupant. There’s also the uncertain prospect of adding gas or electric lines, which could rent space in the tunnel by paying Enbridge, not the bridge authority that is proposed to own it. The Michigan Senate could quickly approve the bill in the lame duck session after Thanksgiving, and send it to the house. Gov. Snyder is seeking to sign and tie the hands of the incoming administration of Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel, who both campaigned for shutting down Line 5, not replacing it with a tunnel. Gov. Snyder also released a draft of a third oil tunnel agreement with Enbridge, which Senate Bill 1197 seeks to enact.

FLOW and other leaders of the Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign are planning a Line 5 lawmaker education day for November 27 to fight for the Great Lakes and the Mackinac Bridge. Stay tuned to the FLOW website for deeper analysis of Senate Bill 1197 and the third oil tunnel agreement, and steps that citizens, communities, and businesses can take to protect the Great Lakes and the Mighty Mac.


FLOW’s Jim Olson speaks about Line 5, a proposed private oil tunnel, and the law on behalf of the Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign at the November 8, 2018 meeting of the Mackinac Bridge Authority. 

Liz Kirkwood speaks at the November 8, 2018 Mackinac Bridge Authority Meeting on risk and due diligence

Kelly Thayer speaks at the November 8, 2018 Mackinac Bridge Authority Meeting on not partnering with Enbridge.

Or click here to view the full MBA meeting!

Watch Jim Olson’s presentation to the Board at 0:17:12

Kelly Thayer at 1:28:54

Liz Kirkwood at 1:33:15

Bill Gnodtke at 2:26:45


It Speaks Volumes

It speaks volumes: The public has raised its voice in support of the Mighty Mac in a mighty way! The super-sized binder at right contains public comments uniformly against the Mackinac Bridge Authority agreeing to own and take on liability for a risky oil pipeline tunnel in the Straits of Mackinac. That scheme is proposed by departing Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder in an agreement with Enbridge, which owns the decaying Line 5 oil pipelines currently in the straits. Snyder wants to lock in a 99-year deal ASAP that would chain the fate of the Mackinac Bridge to Enbridge. 
 
The regular-sized binder at left holds the agenda and board materials for the 9 a.m., November 8 public meeting of the Mackinac Bridge Authority in St. Ignace, where the tunnel deal will be considered. There’s reason for deep concern: Gov. Snyder just stacked the board with a majority to approve his tunnel vision. FLOW’s legal analysis has concluded that the use of the legal powers of the Mackinac Bridge Authority to facilitate an oil tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac violates environmental provisions of Michigan’s Constitution and laws, threatens the fiscal integrity of the MBA and its Mackinac Bridge, and could subject the authority and taxpayers to billions of dollars of liability in the event of a tunnel accident. Plan to attend the Nov. 8 meeting if you can. And stay tuned for updates from FLOW staff who will be there speaking up for the Mackinac Bridge and the Great Lakes.
 

A Fresh Start for Fresh Water in Michigan


It is a fresh start for fresh water in Michigan.

Tuesday’s election of a new governor who stressed clean water issues offers opportunities that did not exist before the vote. A chief executive who champions water not only can persuade legislators to act, but also has the ability to act on her own by appointing water protectors to run state agencies and to serve on boards and commissions. And by directing them to take the steps needed to protect our water and our environment generally.

Gretchen Whitmer’s election also provides an opportunity for the state at last to take decisive action to protect the Great Lakes and the Pure Michigan economy from Enbridge’s Line 5 pipelines. She and the new attorney general of her own party will have several legal options for doing so.

Just as important, the new governor can promote water justice. Along with decommissioning Line 5, this is a top priority for FLOW. She can take the lead on legislation that will prevent water privatization by companies like Nestlé and help hard-pressed citizens of urban and rural areas access clean, affordable drinking water. FLOW has drafted model legislation that will serve as a template.

At the same time, the opposing party retains control of both houses of the state Legislature. This sometimes leads to gridlock, but water and health should not be partisan issues. Michigan government has served the people best when protecting the environment was a value shared regardless of party — as in the 1970s, when Republican Governor William Milliken and a Democratic Legislature enacted our landmark environmental laws.

Our new Governor and Legislature are guided by the same state constitution, which says: “The conservation and development of the natural resources of the state are hereby declared to be of paramount public concern in the interest of the health, safety and general welfare of the people. The legislature shall provide for the protection of the air, water and other natural resources of the state from pollution, impairment and destruction.”

If the governor-elect and new Legislature operate together in accordance with that mandate, our water will be well protected.


Supreme Court Rejects Trump Administration’s Last Ditch Maneuver to Avoid Trial on Children’s Climate Change Lawsuit

photo: Beth Price


What better way to divert attention on Election Day than to write something beyond political parties and votes—but wait, maybe it’s not so far beyond, as this election could make the difference for the future of the planet, and our children and grandchildren.

On November 2, the U.S. Supreme Court, with its newly constituted mix of justices rejected a maneuver by the Trump Administration to block a lower court trial scheduled to start on October 29th brought by young plaintiffs, known as the Children’s Trust. The purpose of the lawsuit is to force the federal government to reduce greenhouse gases and mitigate the otherwise certain dire effects of climate change.  The young people’s claim is to protect their constitutional rights of life and liberty and public trust resources, like water and the hydrosphere from further irreparable harm attributable to the rise in the earth’s temperature that has increased the intensity, frequency, and size of extreme drought, floods, hurricanes and cyclones.  The effects of events like last year’s hurricanes Maria and Harvey or California’s blazing forest fires will only worsen. 

The Court’s decision dissipated the politically motivated desire by the Trump Administration to get its climate change denial agenda in front of what it thought would be a more favorable Court (ala appointment of Justice Brett Kavanaugh).  In a 7 to 2 decision, with only Justices Gorsuch and Thomas dissenting, the Court signaled a green light for one of the most momentous trials, perhaps the most momentous for us homo- sapiens in the past 100 years. A decision in which the fate of the earth hinges on a collective effort, undeterred by government climate deniers and political influence, to hold the 1 degree rise in temperature of the earth to another .5  degrees in the next two decades, or face dire consequences as early as 2050—when the children plaintiffs in the case will be grandparents, and their children will sit in the cross-hairs of either humanity’s success or ultimate failure.

In 1925, in the Scopes Monkey Trial, John Scopes was acquitted for teaching the science of evolution in violation of Tennessee’s Butler Act.  In the 1954 Brown v Board of Education decision, the Supreme Court ruled that state laws requiring segregated schools based on race, in that case the segregation of African Americans and other races by Kansas, denied equal protection of the law under the 14th Amendment of the Constitution.  In the 1945 to 1946 Nuremberg Trials, the international law tribunal adopted the principles that acting as a leader of a country or under the orders of a superior could not be used to excuse criminal prosecution, conviction, and punishment under international law. In the 1965 Scenic Hudson case, a federal court of appeals court found that a group of public citizens who used and enjoyed the beauty and recreation along the Hudson River had the right to bring a lawsuit (legal standing) to protect the river.  In 1973, the Court in Roe v Wade nullified a Texas law that would make it criminal for Jane Wade’s constitutional right of privacy to terminate her pregnancy in the first three months.

The timing for the Supreme Court’s decision to send the federal government back to trial couldn’t be better. The U.N.’s  International Panel on Climate Change (“IPCC”) last month warned that humans individually and collectively have about 12 to 20 years to reduce carbon and methane emissions to keep the planet from scorching or flood and destroying the lives of our children and grandchildren.

The Supreme Court’s decision last week chastised the government for bringing a request for mandamus and request to block the trial. The Court observed these are “extraordinary” requests, and are only granted when a trial court exceeds or abuses its authority in handling a trial. The trial court had already denied the government’s motion to dismiss, ruling last year that the young children had filed a valid complaint to address the threat to due process caused by climate change that literally has caused and will harm seriously in the future their fundamental right to life and liberty. The trial court also ruled that the children, as beneficiaries under the public trust doctrine, had filed a proper claim to protect water and essential public trust uses like fishing, navigation, drinking water and sustenance. Under the public trust doctrine, each state holds these waters in trust for the benefit of and under a duty to protect these special uses.

The trial promises a full-blown review of the data, science, and remedies that exist to keep the temperature of the planet from rising more than 1.5 degrees. Finally, the influence of ideology and greed will no longer control the truth and orderly due process and justice, the very purpose of our judiciary and courts.  But does this mean that Juliana and the other children, standing in for all of us really, have won the cause of climate change?  No, not yet.  

It means the federal court in Oregon will hear the evidence and decide the claims based on the evidence, data and science, not unlike the science of evolution played out in the drama of the Scopes and other trials 100 years ago.  It means, finally, there will be an open process with witnesses and experts under oath and subject to cross examination on the questions of global warming, climate change, and human and governmental duties to prevent tragic and catastrophic loss of life, water, soils, and property.  It means climate change will not be buried by an oppressive regime as in a Chekov short story or by a President and his political mob hell-bent on risking the future of humanity and earth for their own fossil-fueled addiction.

Jim Olson, President and Founder

The Supreme Court has spoken:  People have a right to bring a claim and have a trial to address deliberate government action or inaction that destroys the life and property of people and the air, water, and environment they depend on for life. What more can we ask and be thankful for than a hearing, overseen by a member of the federal bench, aimed at the truth, fairness and climate justice?  

When you vote today, vote as the earth and your life depends on it, because it does!


Vote for Water: Michiganders Can Choose Great Lakes Protection and Prosperity

By Paul Hendricks, Manager of Environmental Responsibility, Patagonia, Inc.
All photos courtesy of Paul Hendricks.


Every fall, strong north winds bring in a steady flow of storms that rip across the Great Lakes. You’ve probably witnessed one of these storms, where waves crash over pier heads and howling winds cut through your parka, chilling you straight to the bone. Over the years, these storms have tormented sailors, bringing thousands of ships to the icy lake bottoms. These days, they beckon surfers to brave the chilling waters in search of “unsalted” swell. From any perspective, there is something powerful about this time of year on the Lakes. It is raw, unharnessed nature that is both beautiful and prideful for those who call these waters home.

Right now, there is a different kind of storm brewing on the Great Lakes. For 65 years, a decaying pipeline known as “Line 5” has been pumping 23 million gallons of oil each day through the heart of the Great Lakes. Operated by Enbridge Energy – who was responsible for a 1.1 million gallon oil spill in the Kalamazoo River in 2010 – this pipeline is 15 years past its expected life. And it’s showing: Researchers have documented cracks, dents, bends, gouges, and failed supports on the pipeline’s path through the Straits of Mackinac, putting our freshwater and over 700 miles of our coastline at risk.

Concerned citizens have been fighting for the decommissioning of this line for years, believing that the Great Lakes – our public waters – are not worth risking for the short-term economic gains of a private company. These lakes provide the basis of this region’s identity and economy – 1.5 million jobs and over $62 billion in wages every year.

Yet, Enbridge Energy has been fighting to keep the oil flowing – touting the pipeline’s “as good as new” condition and importance on the region’s economy. Photo evidence of the decrepit pipeline and documentation of only 102 Enbridge employees in Michigan prove these claims don’t hold to the wind. To add insult to injury, Enbridge struck a deal with Governor Snyder to “explore” digging a tunnel to house Line 5 through the Straits, a billion-dollar deal that doesn’t stop an oil spill from happening.


I work for Patagonia, Inc., a company that makes apparel for outdoor recreation – skiing, hiking, climbing, fishing, surfing. We are a successful business, with growth that has far eclipsed our industry’s average – success which we attribute to our obsessive dedication to minimizing our impact and maximizing our influence to protect our most treasured natural resources.

Our company’s mission statement reads, “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crises.” In that statement, we acknowledge that our business will always cause some amount of harm, but we are mandated to not cause unnecessary harm – through claiming responsibility for our impacts and reducing them wherever we can.

Paul Hendricks, Manager of Environmental Responsibility, Patagonia, Inc.

Line 5 is the epitome of unnecessary harm. It has been proven that the oil flowing through Line 5 can be redirected through existing infrastructure that doesn’t put the Great Lakes at risk.  By asking to decommission Line 5, nobody is asking Enbridge to go out of business, but to act responsibly, and respect this region’s greatest resources.

This month, the Line 5 storm is coming to a head as our politicians are making decisions that will last for the next 100 years. As Michiganders head to the polls on Election Day, I urge you to think through the multi-generational impact your vote will have on this region. Vote for policy makers that value the lasting protection of this region’s backbone. Vote for Water.


The Drinking Water Crisis: It’s Rural, Too

Groundwater is out of sight, but its mismanagement has real consequences for our health.

An article in Saturday’s New York Times confirms what FLOW reported in November: elevated levels of nitrate in groundwater have polluted thousands of rural wells in the Midwest. The Times notes that up to 42,000 wells in Wisconsin may contain nitrate at levels that exceed the national drinking water standard. FLOW found that almost 15,000 Michigan wells tested by state government’s drinking water laboratory between 2007 and 2017 had detectable nitrate, and about 10 percent of those exceeded the health standard.

FLOW’s report also noted a U.S. EPA estimate that 3,254 square miles of groundwater in Michigan are contaminated with nitrate concentrations that are at least half the level of the drinking water safety standard. This is 6 percent of the state’s land area.

Nitrate is a form of nitrogen combined with oxygen that can be converted in the body to nitrite. Agricultural sources of nitrate include wastes from livestock operations and farm fertilizers. Nitrate in drinking water can cause a disease called methemoglobinemia, a blood disorder primarily affecting infants under six months of age. Some studies suggest maternal exposure to environmental nitrates and nitrites may increase the risk of pregnancy complications such as anemia, threatened abortion/premature labor, or preeclampsia.

The Times calls the problem, “Rural America’s Own Private Flint,” because, as in Flint, weak government policies and poor enforcement have enabled health-threatening contamination of drinking water. Excessive commercial fertilizer use and application of agricultural animal waste are the leading culprits in nitrate contamination. Government has a duty to protect all waters, including groundwater, for the benefit of the public. But in Michigan and surrounding states, governments are shirking that public trust duty.

Agriculture can thrive without spreading contamination throughout our groundwater. Enacting and enforcing laws that prevent excessive application of commercial fertilizer and animal wastes can be done without harm to the agriculture economy. The public deserves no less.

The next governor and legislature of Michigan have much work to do to protect the Sixth Great Lake – the abundant groundwater underlying our land that provides drinking water for nearly 4.5 million Michiganders.


On its 61st birthday, the Mackinac Bridge faces its biggest threat to date

FLOW’s Legal Analysis: Snyder-Enbridge Oil Tunnel Deal Risks the Mackinac Bridge’s Fiscal Integrity, Violates Environmental Laws

On its 61st birthday, the Mackinac Bridge faces its biggest threat to date

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                       November 1, 2018

Contact:  Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director                                             Email: Liz@FLOWforWater.org
FLOW (For Love of Water)                                                     Office: (231) 944-1568, Cell: (570) 872-4956


TRAVERSE CITY, MI – The use of the legal powers of the Mackinac Bridge Authority (MBA) to facilitate an oil tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac, as proposed by outgoing Gov. Rick Snyder in a secretly negotiated deal with Enbridge Energy Partners, violates environmental provisions of Michigan’s Constitution and laws, threatens the fiscal integrity of the MBA and its Mackinac Bridge, and could subject the authority and taxpayers to billions of dollars of liability in the event of a tunnel accident, FLOW said today in a letter to members of the authority.

FLOW called on the MBA to reject the proposed public-private partnership, or any other agreement with Enbridge, for the proposed tunnel or other privately owned utilities. The MBA Board on November 8 in St. Ignace will, for the first time, hold a public meeting to learn about and discuss its proposed role in the Snyder-Enbridge agreement that’s been hashed out covertly by Gov. Snyder for at least a year. Snyder in recent months has stacked the MBA Board with a majority that shares his tunnel vision.

“In law and practice since the day the Mackinac Bridge opened on November 1, 1957, exactly 61 years ago today, the MBA and the bridge have been jealously protected as a completely independent and stand-alone entity,” said FLOW Founder and President Jim Olson, who is an environmental attorney. “The bridge was a singular, and wholly public, state project for its citizens and the general motoring public connecting the people of both peninsulas. A key provision of the Snyder-Enbridge deal would do just the opposite. It demands that the MBA agree to and participate in a ‘public-private partnership,’ which is vastly different from a state-sponsored project for a singular public purpose like transporting the citizens and general public.”

The Snyder-Enbridge deal provides that the MBA would own the proposed oil tunnel and lease it to Enbridge for 99 years. However, while a lease in theory could provide for indemnification of the MBA for any liabilities, damages, or losses, these are only contractual assurances and will not prevent the MBA from being held liable for any occurrences, including catastrophic damages and losses, as owner and overseer of the project and its operation for essentially a private function. In essence, the MBA’s protection through such contractual promises is a fantasy.

“The MBA should postpone any hasty decisions that dilute its single-purpose mission to protect and maintain the Mackinac Bridge and that burden this authority for the next century to take ownership responsibility for a risky private tunnel venture,” FLOW wrote.

FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood observed, “Enbridge has other alternatives not threatening the Great Lakes that this foreign corporation can and should use its own financial resources and borrowing power to apply for the necessary lands, authorizations, and permits to implement those options.”

Michigan’s legislature enacted the Mackinac Bridge Authority in 1952 for the express and singular purpose of building, maintaining, and operating the Mackinac Bridge. The bridge was opened for traffic on November 1, 1957. To this public end, the MBA has operated for more than six decades as an independent authority designed to be free from outside influence and political pressure. Each of Michigan’s governors since that time has appointed members to the MBA who have fiercely defended its independence. The MBA’s singular mission is to maintain and govern this iconic infrastructure that spans and unites our Michigan peninsulas.

In 2004, the Michigan Department of Transportation sought to increase the control of over the MBA and its engineering, finances, and employees. In response, the state legislature voted the next year in unanimous, bipartisan fashion (107-0 in the house, 38-0 in the senate) to amend to the MBA law to prohibit state government interference. The 2005 amendment expressly directs that the MBA and its core tasks must be kept “independent” and free of interference by state agencies and officials.

“The principle of MBA independence, so critical to lawmakers for six decades, is too important to be cast aside by a lame-duck governor in the waning weeks of his administration,” Olson said.

The MBA’s stand-alone powers also do not satisfy the modern legal regime designed to protect the public interest and public trust resources. For example, the MBA Act exempts the actions of the authority to transfer public lands, bottomlands, and construct the bridge from “any approvals required from state boards or agencies.” However, using the MBA Act to authorize Great Lakes oil tunnel construction would be inconsistent with the mandates, policies, and standards of the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act; Article 4, Sec. 52 of the state’s 1963 Constitution; the 1970 Michigan Environmental Protection Act; and the 2002 Michigan statute banning oil and gas drilling under the Great Lakes.

The waters of the Great Lakes and the lands beneath them are held in and protected by a public trust, Kirkwood explained. “The public trust doctrine means that the state holds these waters and soils beneath them in trust for the public for the protection of preferred or dedicated public trust uses of navigation, fishing, boating, swimming, bathing, drinking water, and other recreation, said Kirkwood, an environmental attorney. “As a general rule, there can be no disposition, transfer, conveyance, occupancy, or use of any kind of these public trust waters and the soils beneath them, unless there is a statute authorizing this and the action predominantly serves a public interest, not a private one.”

For more information:


Political Winds Threaten the Mackinac Bridge on Its 61st Birthday

Photo credit: Nancy May

Happy Birthday to the Mackinac Bridge!

Today marks its 61st birthday. The Mighty Mac, as it is affectionately known, opened to traffic on November 1, 1957. Perhaps no other piece of public infrastructure in Michigan evokes the same pride and sense of majesty as does the Mackinac Bridge. It draws tens of thousands of people each year from across Michigan and far beyond to stride across its five miles on the annual Mackinac Bridge Walk on Labor Day. And perhaps at no other time in its history has the future of the bridge been so threatened by political winds.

Gov. Rick Snyder is pushing by year’s end to bind the Mackinac Bridge Authority for least 99 years to owning and overseeing not just the bridge, but also Snyder’s proposed oil tunnel under the Mackinac Straits for use by Enbridge, a private Canadian oil pipeline company with a terrible track record of oil spills and damage across Michigan. Barbara Brown, vice chair of the Mackinac Bridge Authority, is urging the public and elected officials to protect the Mackinac Bridge from Enbridge. Ms. Brown is an extremely well-informed voice, having served on the bridge authority since 2005. Public service on behalf of the bridge is part of her family’s legacy. Her grandfather Prentiss Brown (see accompanying photo) was the first chairman of the bridge authority’s board, on which he served from 1950 to 1973, including several years before and during construction of the Mighty Mac.
 

Courtesy Michigan Department of Transportation. November 1, 1957 (left to right) State Highway Commissioner John Mackie, bridge designer David Steinman, Governor G. Mennen Williams, Prentiss Brown, former governor Murray Van Wagoner, Sault Ste. Marie businessman George Osborn, William Cochran and Lawrence Rubin.


Photo credit: Nancy May

A few facts about the Mackinac Bridge
(from the Mackinac Bridge Authority):

  • The Mackinac Bridge is 5 miles long (26,372 ft)
  • The main towers stand 552 ft above the water
  • The towers reach 210 ft below the water
  • There are 42,000 miles of wire in the cables
  • The bridge weighs 1,024,500 Tons
  • It took 85,000 blueprints to fully design the bridge
  • Construction began: May 7, 1954
  • The Mackinac Bridge was open to traffic: November 1, 1957