Tag: Snyder

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:


A Tunnel for Line 5? – That Would be a Big Mistake

In an end-run around the public participation process they established, Governor Rick Snyder and Enbridge, Inc., the owner and operator of Line 5, are exploring the possibility of building a $500 million tunnel to replace the stretch of 65 year-old Line 5 pipeline that runs under the Straits of Mackinac. 

While a tunnel, properly designed and engineered, may be able to prevent harm in the event of a pipeline breach under Lake Michigan, there are compelling reasons why a tunnel should not be built.

First, the five-mile segment of a tunnel running under the Straits of Mackinac represents less than 1 percent of Line 5’s total length of 645 miles.  Long segments of this aging infrastructure run parallel to the Lake Michigan coast in the Upper Peninsula, crossing 400 rivers and streams that are tributary to Lake Michigan and numerous other water bodies.  Records from the Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration indicate that in the last 50 years, there have been at least 29 spills along the length of Line 5 outside of the Straits, resulting in the release of over 1 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids.

The threats to our freshwater lakes and streams will escalate over time as the other 640 miles of Line 5 age and degrade.

Second, aside from the fact that Line 5 crosses Michigan largely to serve markets outside our state, a tunnel for Line 5 is a fundamentally unsound investment – one that is unneeded, economically imprudent, and may soon be functionally obsolete.

Major new pipeline infrastructure investments assume the continued demand for transportation fuels.  But our fossil fuel-based economy is in transition and will be completely transformed within the coming decades.

Recent petroleum sector forecasts by firms specializing in energy trends like Bloomberg, Navigant, and Goldman Sachs, predict that the transition to electric vehicles will accelerate quickly with a corresponding, precipitous drop in the demand for transportation fuels. 

The world’s major auto manufacturers are validating these predictions.   General Motors, VW, Volvo, and others are making clear that petroleum-free electric drivetrains will dominate their future manufacturing investments and that future product offerings will not use transportation fuels.

At the same time, sovereign nations are intent on extinguishing demand for petroleum.  England, France, Norway, Netherlands, Slovenia, India and China have announced their intentions to ban future sales and, in some cases, the use of vehicles with internal combustion engines.  Ireland has gone even further, announcing that it will divest its sovereign interest in all oil, gas and coal.

And while Enbridge boasts that it transports 63 percent of all Canadian oil to the United States, Big Oil sees the writing on the wall.  Seven international oil companies – Exxon Mobil, Conoco Phillips, Statoil, Koch Industries, Marathon, Imperial Oil and Royal Dutch Shell – will not need Enbridge’s future pipeline services as they have announced that they are writing off tar sand assets in Alberta.

The confluence of these trends will result in demand for transportation fuels declining precipitously, rendering a Line 5 tunnel project a costly albatross.

Third, climate change is the elephant in the room.  Continued investment in fossil fuel infrastructure is fundamentally at odds with the global consensus on the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  The findings of our National Climate Assessment are unambiguous – decarbonization of the global economy is an imperative, entailing a “fundamental transformation of the global energy system” to one that is no longer dependent on fossil fuels.  As the need to address climate change becomes more acute, new pipelines proposals will be met with the scrutiny they deserve.

Finally, we should all be able to agree that there are exceptional places and natural features that are deserving of special protections.  Just as we would not allow a foreign corporation to build a tunnel under the Grand Canyon, the Great Lakes should be off limits to fossil fuel infrastructure.

Our Great Lakes are a globally-unique natural resource, the largest interconnected freshwater system in the world, containing 84 percent of all surface water in North America.  Recognizing that certain natural resource endowments are invaluable and irreplaceable gifts of nature, both state and federal law already prohibit all oil and gas development, even if done laterally from inland areas. 

Skip Pruss, FLOW Chair

Building a tunnel to perpetuate Line 5 makes little economic or environmental sense.  The decisions we make about how to use and protect our freshwater seas will ultimately be judged on whether they do or do not protect the ecological, social, cultural, and economic interests of future generations.

Simply put, our Great Lakes merit extraordinary protection, and their bottomlands must be off limits to oil and gas pipelines.