Tag: Oil

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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Enough is Enough: It’s Time to Decommission Line 5


Every year, a million visitors reach the shores of Mackinac Island, also known as Turtle Island to the Anishinaabe peoples who first settled here in the Great Lakes.  Unlike most visitors, every May I make an annual pilgrimage to the island to argue the case to decommission Line 5 to our top state and federal leaders at the Policy Conference.  Against the spectacular backdrop of the Straits of Mackinac, thousands of attendees gather on this tiny island to discuss the state’s most pressing economic issues.  But every year without fail, Line 5 is not even mentioned on the agenda.  And the irony could not be greater.

Let’s talk economics for a moment: Michigan will suffer an estimated $6.3 billion blow from damage to tourism, natural resources, coastal property values, commercial fishing, and municipal water systems, according to a new study by a Michigan State University economist commissioned by FLOW.  Mackinac Island and St. Ignace will immediately lose their Great Lakes drinking water supply, and the oil spill could threaten shoreline communities and their water source from Traverse City to Alpena and beyond.

Legislators often ask about the U.P. propane issue, which continues to be a red herring and barrier to clear decisive state action.  Research by engineers working with FLOW reveals that just 1-2 rail cars or a few tanker trucks a day from Superior, Wisconsin, could replace Line 5’s U.P. propane supply.  A state-sponsored study in October found that installing a 4-inch-diameter propane pipeline from Superior to Rapid River would meet demand.  State leaders should urgently pursue these options.

And where does all the Line 5 oil go?  It turns out that 90-95 percent of Line 5’s oil comes and goes back to Canada.  What this means is that the 5-10 percent of the crude oil in Line 5 headed to the Detroit and Toledo refineries could be replaced by oil from the Capline and Mid-Valley pipelines from the south that serve the same refineries, along with crude from Northern Michigan oil fields.  Alternative pipelines exist that do not threaten our globally unique Great Lakes that contain 20 percent of the world’s fresh surface water.  

The catastrophic nature of a potential spill became clear last month when a tugboat anchor slammed into Line 5 in the Mackinac Straits and dented and gouged the Line 5 pipelines, while also severing two submerged electric cables and spilling their toxic dielectric fluid into the water.  It was at least the second significant strike of Line 5 in the Straits, according to Enbridge’s inspection data.  

So here we are, another year later with little progress towards decommissioning Line 5.  Rather, Governor Snyder had high hopes of wrapping things up with his November 2017 back-room deal with Enbridge to authorize a tunnel under both the Straits and the St. Clair River.  Significant legal questions and challenges loom, not to mention engineering trials and staggering public work costs that make this a hazardous path to walk.  Bottom line, a tunnel (even if feasible) could take 7-10 years to build and utterly fails to address the ongoing and growing imminent threat as the pipelines continue to bend and age every day.

Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director

According to the Detroit Free Press, Line 5 is one of the “thorniest issues being grappled with by state leaders, including Gov. Rick Snyder and Attorney General Bill Schuette.”  This, however, should not be the case.  Our state leaders, in fact, have the legal power now to decommission Line 5 by revoking the easement it granted Enbridge in 1953 to build Line 5 and occupy our waters of the Great Lakes under public trust law.  Heightened state scrutiny and enforcement are warranted given that Enbridge continues to violate its legal easement agreement with the state and the express engineering requirements designed to prevent catastrophic rupture.  For example, in 2017, it was revealed that Enbridge for three years hid the fact that Line 5 had lost its anti-rust outer pipeline coating in more than 60 places in the Straits of Mackinac. 

Enough is enough.  It’s time to decommission Line 5.  


Great Lakes, Bad Lines film viewing at Spring Lake Library

I support keeping oil out of the Great Lakes

Join FLOW (For Love of Water) for a special of the Patagonia supported film ‘Great Lakes, Bad Lines’.

Learn about how you can help shut down Enbridge’s Line 5 Pipeline and protect Great Lakes waters.

Learn : Get up to speed on Line 5, the nation’s most urgent pipeline – what’s at risk? what happens next? how can you help?

Discuss: Stay after the screening to hear from Liz Kirkwood, Director of FLOW.

Mobilize: We must take action to decommission Line 5, and 2017 is the year to do it. Get connected and get organized!

Standing Rock decision sends strong message regarding Line 5

“This is a message to federal and state agencies to prioritize water over oil transport in vulnerable areas like the Great Lakes.” ~Liz Kirkwood (Detroit News, Dec. 4, 2016)

“This is a message to federal and state agencies to prioritize water over oil transport in vulnerable areas like the Great Lakes.” ~Liz Kirkwood (Detroit News, Dec. 4, 2016)

On Sunday, after seven months of legal battles and protests, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that they will not grant the final easement across the Missouri River necessary to build the 1,172-mile Dakota Access Pipeline to transport Bakken oil to Illinois and the Gulf.  The basis of this decision was the need to conduct a full environmental review that explores alternative pipeline routes that do not jeopardize the Missouri River or impact sovereign tribal lands and cultural resources.

The message of Standing Rock—Water is Life—resonates with the people of the Great Lakes who are working to shut down the 64-year-old Enbridge Line 5 oil pipeline that runs directly through Lake Michigan.  FLOW’s own Liz Kirkwood was quoted in this article from The Detroit News, saying: “This is a message to federal and state agencies to prioritize water over oil transport in vulnerable areas like the Great Lakes.”

We must take action and protect our water. It is our responsibility.

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Wisconsin Pauses Great Lakes Tar Sands

Congratulations to Alliance for the Great Lakes, citizens and organizations in Wisconsin and Michigan, and Council of Canadians for leading the way to deny Elkhorn’s request to improve a barge dock in Superior, Wisconsin to transport dirty tar sands oil over the Great Lakes.  With citizen vigilance, persistence, and growing awareness that these Great Lakes are a commons held and treasured as a perpetual public trust for benefit of all citizens, proposals to put the Great Lakes in harms way like this will more and more fall by the wayside treating these precious waters as a trust for each generation.  A basic principle of public trust and commons law and policy is the standard that requires full and complete information proving and assuring that a proposal, if authorized, will not violate or impair this public trust. If that cannot be shown, then it is never proper and should note be authorized. A huge thank you to Wisconsin Ministry of Natural Resources for holding Elkhorn to this standard.

 

Media Release via Council of Canadians

January 9, 2014

Council of Canadians applauds Wisconsin government pausing Great Lakes tar sands project

The Council of Canadians is congratulating Wisconsin’s Ministry of Natural Resources on its decision to reject Elkhorn Industries’ application for dock repairs that would eventually lead to the construction of an oil terminal from which tar sands and fracked oil would be shipped across the Great Lakes.

“We are heartened that the Wisconsin government has listened to the local community as well as communities around the Great Lakes,” says Maude Barlow, National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians. “The Ministry is doing the right thing by pressing pause on this bigger project to ask more questions about the plan to ship tar sands and fracked oil through the Great Lakes.”

Media reports noted that public comments influenced the agency’s decision to demand much more information from Elkhorn Industries.

“The fight to protect the Great Lakes from irresponsible and short-sighted oil projects is far from over,” says Emma Lui, Water Campaigner with the Council of Canadians. “Calumet’s oil barge dock is on the radar of U.S., Indigenous and Canadian groups and communities, and Calumet can expect a lot of noise if it tries to push this plan through.”

Earlier this year Calumet Specialty Products announced it was considering an oil shipping terminal at the harbour in Superior, Wisconsin, which is located on the western tip of Lake Superior. That same week, Elkhorn Industries submitted a permit application for a $25-million upgrade to its dock, which is connected by an existing pipeline to Calumet’s 45,000 barrels per day refinery in Superior.

In December, the Council of Canadians, on behalf of 16 of its local chapters and tens of thousands of supporters around the Great Lakes, made a submission to the Ministry raising concerns about the threats the project presented to the Great Lakes, the increase in tar sands expansion and the need to obtain free, prior, and informed consent of Indigenous communities like the Bad River Band. The Council urged the Ministry “to stop this dock repair project and shut down the broader oil terminal and shipment project in order to protect the Great Lakes and other shared waterways.”

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Dylan Penner, Media Officer, Council of Canadians, (613) 795-8685
dpenner@canadians.org | www.canadians.org/greatlakes | Twitter: @CouncilOfCDNs

Great Lakes, Bad Lines Film Viewing and Presentation

Join FLOW (For Love of Water) for a viewing of the Patagonia supported film ‘Great Lakes, Bad Lines’.

Learn about how you can help shut down Enbridge’s Line 5 Pipeline and protect our Great Lakes waters.

Learn : Get up to speed on Line 5, the nation’s most urgent pipeline – what’s at risk? what happens next? how can you help?

Discuss: Stay after the screening to hear from Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director of FLOW.

Mobilize: We must take action to decommission Line 5, and 2017 is the year to do it. Get connected and get organized!