Digging a Hole for Future Generations

By 4-3 Vote, Grand Traverse County Commissioners Support ‘Line 5’ Oil Tunnel in the Great Lakes

By Kelly Thayer

After a brief rally outside with many participants wearing black t-shirts saying, “No Line 5 Oil Tunnel,” dozens of people this morning (August 21) overflowed the meeting room and lobby of the Grand Traverse County Board of Commissioners in Traverse City. In all, 54 residents spoke out for the next 2 ½ hours against a resolution supporting a proposed tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac. Only two people — one an owner of a local gas and oil company — spoke for the oil tunnel.

And then the county commissioners had the final say, with the majority ultimately disagreeing with their own constituents and voting 4-3 for the resolution. (Click here to view a video of the meeting.)

The outcome was disheartening to many in attendance who spoke of Enbridge’s spill-laden track record and the risk to the Great Lakes, drinking water, the economy, tribal rights, the climate, and a way of life that could be denied to future generations.

“It’s not a good pipeline. And for all the reasons already said, it needs to be shut down. And so promoting the life of it isn’t exactly helpful for my generation, or generations that come after me – or your generation! It’s not good for our water, it’s not good for our state, it’s not good for the world! So just consider that, please,” said Kellyn Walker Hundley, a teenager who attended and also is the daughter of Commissioner Bryce Hundley, an opponent of the resolution.

The pro-tunnel result delivered a boost for Enbridge, which didn’t comment at the meeting, but instead is letting its money do the talking by spending heavily on public relations and lobbying to gain support among counties statewide for their proposed oil tunnel. Only three other counties — all in the Upper Peninsula — to date have approved the model resolution that bears close resemblance to talking points that Line 5-owner Enbridge has circulated for months.

The Canadian energy transport giant’s goal is to build political backing for a tunnel as a replacement for its decaying oil pipelines crossing the open waters and bottomlands of the Straits of Mackinac, where Lake Michigan meets Lake Huron. Enbridge thought it had secured the oil tunnel in late 2018, when Michigan lawmakers rushed through a bill in lame-duck session. In March, however, newly elected Attorney General Dana Nessel found that the oil tunnel legislation to be unconstitutional.

Enbridge sued the State of Michigan in early June to resuscitate the law, and the multibillion-dollar company also is working with the Republican majority, as well as some Democrats, in the state House and Senate to introduce a new oil tunnel bill as early as this month to overcome the flaws flagged by Nessel. Nessel in late June also sued Enbridge to revoke the 1953 easement that conditionally authorizes Enbridge to pump oil through the twin pipelines in the Straits.

FLOW and its team of lawyers, scientists, engineers, and an international risk expert since 2013 have studied the increasing threat from Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac and, more recently, the proposed Line 5 oil tunnel.

FLOW Deputy Director Kelly Thayer read a statement calling on the county board to reject the oil tunnel resolution, which claims an admirable safety record that is at odds with the reality that Line 5 has leaked at least 33 times, spilling a total of 1.1 million gallons of oil in Michigan and Wisconsin.

“It is vital to understand that with a ‘yes’ vote today for the oil tunnel resolution, you would effectively be interfering in ongoing litigation between Enbridge and the State of Michigan,” Thayer said. “Why entangle Grand Traverse County in these legal fights on Enbridge’s behalf?”

Enbridge wants the right to bore a tunnel in the next 5-10 years for Line 5 through State of Michigan public trust bottomlands under the Straits. Enbridge also wants to keep pumping up to 23 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids a day through the decaying, 66-year-old Line 5 pipelines in the Straits during tunnel feasibility studies and construction.

An oil tunnel also would fail to address the risk posed by Line 5’s more than 400 stream and river crossings in the Upper and Lower Peninsulas and would conflict with Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s plans to combat ongoing climate change.

FLOW and other Great Lakes advocates have long called for shutting down Line 5, which primarily serves Canada’s, not Michigan’s, needs and threatens the Great Lakes. FLOW research shows that viable alternatives exist to deliver propane to Michigan and oil to regional refineries, and Gov. Whitmer has formed an Upper Peninsula Energy Task Force to identify energy supply options. The system can adjust with smart planning.

You can learn more by visiting FLOW’s Line 5 program page and by downloading a copy of FLOW’s latest:

Kelly Thayer is FLOW’s Deputy Director

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