If Line 5 Ruptures, Shut Mackinac Island Water System, Evacuate Everyone

Photo: Bryan Newland, chair of the Bay Mills Indian Community, addresses the 2019 Mackinac Island Community Forum.

By Jacob Wheeler

During conversations at a home on the West Bluff of Mackinac Island on Friday afternoon, July 19, summer resident Susan Lenfestey described what she had learned at a previous community meeting about the immediate consequences if Line 5 ruptured and an oil spill in the Straits of Mackinac.

The municipal water plant would have to be shut down immediately to prevent oil from getting into its pipes and filters, and an immediate and unprecedented evacuation of the island would ensue because of the oil flowing from the pipelines underwater west of the Mackinac Bridge.

The island’s residents, thousands of seasonal workers, and deluge of tourists would all need to flee for mainland Michigan. Soon, however, the oil would engulf Mackinac Island and stop all boat traffic, stranding passenger ferries from Shepler’s and Star Line in Mackinaw City and St. Ignace. Small aircraft landing on the island’s small strip would be the last resort for evacuating masses of people.

The cherished horses—an iconic presence and primary source of transport on this automobile-less island—would be left behind, at least initially.

“That really hit home when people realized what that would mean on a hot summer day, with thousands of tourists camped out in Marquette Park, not to mention no water for the approximately 500 horses on the island,” said Lenfestey. “A question followed about what would a spill would mean in the winter? How would there be a clean up under the ice?  The answer: ‘No idea.'”

Gasps were audible among those gathered, suggesting that some hadn’t fully considered the true magnitude of what a spill from Enbridge’s old and decaying pipes would mean for the island, which is adored not just by residents, but by people all over Michigan.

The Mackinac Islanders who earlier that day attended FLOW’s sixth annual Community Update on Line 5 at the local Community Hall were an economically and politically diverse crowd. What united them was a concern over Line 5, and a desire to learn from FLOW and tribal representatives, lawyers, and risk experts about this sunken hazard in the fragile Straits of Mackinac — and how we are pressuring the State of Michigan to restore the rule of law and shut down Line 5 before an oil spill happens. FLOW has been working with Mackinac Island residents for six years on this issue because they’re at the epicenter of the threat of a Line 5 oil spill.

Lenfestey credited FLOW for its rational, fact-based and evidence-based approach to fighting this battle.

This year’s Community Update featured a welcome by George Goodman, board chair of the Mackinac Island Community Foundation, which co-sponsored the event. The welcome was followed by an introduction by FLOW executive director Liz Kirkwood and a synopsis by FLOW founder and president Jim Olson of the legal fights playing out on multiple fronts. FLOW board member and international risk expert Rick Kane followed with a tutorial about the logistics and economics of oil pipelines, soundly debunking Enbridge’s falsehood that shutting down Line 5 would deprive Upper Peninsula residents of propane or Detroit Metro Airport of jet fuel). And Bryan Newland, chair of the Bay Mills Indian Community, delivered a rousing speech by about what Mackinac Island means, spiritually, ecologically, and legally, to Native peoples of the Great Lakes.

Newland describe the Anishinaabek story of the great flood over the earth and how the Creator then recreated land and put it on the back of a turtle. The Anishinaabek word for turtle is “Mackinac.”

“Right here on this island is where our story tells us this happened,” said Newland. “If the pipelines were to burst, if oil were to wash upon these shores, it would degrade the very place where we say that life was reborn.”

This year’s Line 5 Community Update was streamed live on FLOW’s Facebook page (watch a recorded version below). You can click here to view the slideshow presentation. And click here for our updated Line 5 fact sheet and new Key Facts list, with the most up-to-date information about Line 5, the proposed oil tunnel, and actions you can take to protect Mackinac Island and the Great Lakes from an oil spill.    

Attendees of the Community Update engaged the presenters with important questions such as whether Enbridge is “winning the PR campaign.” The Line 5 owner/operator is spending millions of dollars on an advertising and disinformation “Chicken Little” campaign around the state—from billboards in the Upper Peninsula, to full-page advertisements in regional newspapers, to the aforementioned, hyperbolic, oversimplified narrative that shutting down Line 5 would affect statewide fuel supplies.

In fact, 95 percent of the oil pumped through Line 5 flows through Michigan and back to Canada. Only 0.25 percent (that’s just one-quarter of 1 percent) becomes propane for the Upper Peninsula, which can be replaced by a few trucks or rail cars. When the pipeline shuts down, Detroit jets will still fly and refineries in Toledo, Ohio, will still exist. For more on that, check out our Fact Check: When Line 5 Shuts Down, Detroit Jets Will Still Fly and Union Refinery Jobs Will Still Exist.

And check out these videos by the Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign that refute Enbridge’s wild claims that the Upper Peninsula will freeze without propane from Line 5 and that building a tunnel for Line 5 would protect the Great Lakes. 

“The world won’t end if Line 5 shuts down,” said Liz Kirkwood.

Kirkwood reminded the Mackinac Islanders that July 25 marks the nine-year anniversary of the Kalamazoo River oil spill when Enbridge’s Line 6B ruptured in southern Michigan.

FLOW’s gathering on Mackinac Island also took place one day before the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission landing on the moon.

“If we can put a man on the moon, we can certainly shut down an oil pipeline,” said Kirkwood. 

Jacob Wheeler is FLOW’s Communications Coordinator.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *