Protecting the Great Lakes and the Mackinac Bridge from Enbridge – or Not

A view from the Mackinac Bridge of the Straits of Mackinac, just east of where the Enbridge Line 5 oil pipelines (not visible) cross along the bottom.

Action Expected Dec. 11 in House, After Michigan Senate Passes Oil Tunnel Bill Still Tied to the Mackinac Bridge

The Michigan Senate on Wednesday, December 5, voted 25-13, mostly along party lines with Republicans in favor, to pass a hastily revised “substitute 2” version of Senate Bill 1197 – the Line 5 oil tunnel bill – that utterly fails to protect the Mackinac Bridge, the Great Lakes, or Michigan taxpayers. (You can click here and go to page 1977 to see how each Senator voted).

Sobering news in the Senate

After a flood of public opposition to the proposed oil tunnel being owned and run by the same state authority board that owns and operates the beloved Mackinac Bridge, the Senate made and approved quick revisions that attempted, but failed, to address that concern – contrary to widespread reporting.

The resulting bill, which was not made public until after it passed, leaves the Mighty Mac in peril, taxpayers on the hook, and the Great Lakes at increased risk of an oil spill disaster during the decade that Enbridge would be granted to keep running the damaged Line 5 in the Mackinac Straits while deciding whether or not to build a tunnel.

The very first line of the passed bill, with changes indicated in capitals in the original text, says, “An act authorizing the Mackinac bridge authority to acquire a bridge AND A UTILITY TUNNEL….” And then in a new Section 14, the bill states at the outset, “THE MACKINAC BRIDGE AUTHORITY MAY ACQUIRE, CONSTRUCT, OPERATE, MAINTAIN, IMPROVE, REPAIR, AND MANAGE A UTILITY TUNNEL.”

A few paragraphs later, the bill says that these powers over the proposed tunnel eventually will transfer to the Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority, which does not exist yet. To get past that stumbling block, the bill gives all the powers, and likely all the liability too, to both the existing Mackinac Bridge Authority and the anticipated one, and declares the problem solved. The bill also anticipates draining $500,000 a year from Mackinac Bridge revenue, which is earned by allowing fiber optics to cross the bridge that instead would be moved to the tunnel.

The ill-conceived and unconstitutional Senate bill is the key vehicle in a Republican-led race to guarantee a private oil tunnel for Enbridge under the Mackinac Straits before January 1, when incoming Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel – both of whom are Democrats and tunnel opponents – take office.

In addition to risking the Mackinac Bridge, Michigan Senate Bill 1197:
  • Gives a shareholder-owned foreign company free access to the public’s Great Lakes water and bottomlands, untold millions of taxpayer dollars for state oversight (Gov. Snyder has requested $4.5 million in public funds so far) and a legal defense fund, and some cover from liability as the state takes on ownership of infrastructure that poses a risk to leak and/or explode, cripple the regional economy, and pollute the drinking water for Mackinac Island, St. Ignace, and half of all Michiganders.
  • Increases the odds of a catastrophic oil spill in the Mackinac Straits, where Lake Michigan meets Lake Huron, by allowing the cracked and dented Line 5 pipelines at least another decade of non-stop oil pumping through 2028, when Line 5 would be 75 years old, while Enbridge considers, but is not required to build, a tunnel.
  • Requires the as-yet non-existent Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority to approve by December 31– less than four weeks from now – a series of agreements being negotiated by the Snyder administration in private with Enbridge for building the tunnel, deeding it to the state, and then leasing the tunnel back for 99 years. The secret process shuts out lawmakers, citizens, businesses, and tribes from the opportunity to review, understand, and oppose or strengthen the pacts to benefit the public. 
Reasons for hope in the House?

Action now moves to the state House of Representatives, where a number of lawmakers in both parties have previously raised concerns about Senate Bill 1197’s potential impact on the Mackinac Bridge, Michigan taxpayers, and the Great Lakes, which provides drinking water for half of Michiganders. Initial information suggests we have a few days to regroup and reach out to state Representatives.  The Enbridge oil tunnel bill likely will be taken up on Tuesday, December 11, by the Michigan House Government Operations Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Lee Chatfield. 

We urge you to contact Rep. Chatfield and other members of the committee with your concerns, using our bulleted list from above. In addition, if your state Representative is not on that committee, you can contact your lawmaker using this lookup, in anticipation of the bill in some form possibly clearing committee next week and reaching the full House.

And please know that your email or call makes a difference and is magnified by all of the other supporters of FLOW and our allied groups , families, businesses, and governments in the Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign, which is co-directed by FLOW, and many others united by the threat from the oil tunnel scheme.  Simply put, the Great Lakes belong to all of us, and FLOW and our partners are working to keep it that way.


6 comments on “Protecting the Great Lakes and the Mackinac Bridge from Enbridge – or Not

  1. Robert DeBoef on

    Anyone who votes for this bill should prepare for a new occupation and relocation. If you live in this state you should have an understanding of how important the Great Lakes are to everyone who lives here. You should also understand the importance of the Lakes to the Country and the Planet. You can’t take risks with something that belongs to everyone. As elected officials for the State of Michigan you have a duty to protect the State, it’s natural resources and it’s inhabitants. Honor your State by voting NO!

  2. Thomas Roberts on

    This is not a good idea for the Great Lakes or the Bridge. This should not be approved. Enbridge needs to buck up & fix their own problems.

  3. James A. Stover on

    I agree any senator or sate Rep who votes in favor of,this bill should be impeached and thrown out of office for failing to honor 5hempeople of this state.

  4. Alice on

    Extremely disappointed in the chicanery that produced Senate Bill 1197. This bill endangers the Mackinac Bridge, hands taxpayer money to a foreign corporation, and endangers our Great Lakes. The House should vote this down.

  5. Marlaine Francis on

    YOOPERS everywhere are astoundingly horrified by this lack of foresight and planning by the politicians for the safety and wellbeing of Michigan citizens to protect our pristine waters of the Great Lakes. Senate Bill 1197 needs to be voted down.


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