Tag: MBA

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


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.”

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