Tag: For Love of Water

Last Call: Army Corps on Oct. 6 to Hold Final ‘Scoping Meeting’ on Proposed Oil Tunnel in Great Lakes

Editor’s note: Learn more about FLOW’s efforts to shut down Line 5 and stop the proposed oil pipeline tunnel on FLOW’s Line 5 program page and new Line 5 fact sheet.


The public will have a last chance on October 6 to comment orally to the leadership and staff of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Detroit District, on the agency’s plans for a study of an oil tunnel proposed under the Great Lakes.

The Army Corps will hold an online meeting from 1-4 p.m. on Thursday to help set the scope of the agency’s environmental impact statement study of a proposal by Enbridge, Inc., of Canada, to build an oil tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac. The tunnel would house Enbridge’s Line 5 oil pipeline, which has leaked dozens of times across Michigan and Wisconsin while carrying oil since 1953 from western Canada primarily to refineries in Sarnia, Ontario. The Army Corps study is expected to continue through at least 2023.

In addition to the Oct. 6 meeting, the public can comment on the study of the tunnel proposal by October 14 by mail or the Army Corps project website. The Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign, of which FLOW is a founding steering committee member, also is collecting and forwarding comments to the Army Corps using an email template that suggests key points to make. FLOW’s preliminary tunnel comment also provides critical elements to convey.

Many Troubling Aspects of the Tunnel Proposal

Enbridge wants to bore and blast a 20-foot-in-diameter tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac, just west of the Mackinac Bridge, to house a new Line 5 pipeline. The Canadian company’s stated goal is to continue for another 99 years carrying up to 23 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids a day through Line 5 and State of Michigan public trust bottomlands where Lake Michigan meets Lake Huron, just west of the Mackinac Bridge.

FLOW and our partners have identified critical deficiencies in the project’s construction permit application, its legal authorization, and the review by State of Michigan environmental agencies of expected impacts to wetlands, bottomlands, and surface water, including from the daily discharge of millions of gallons of wastewater during construction. FLOW and our allies have expressed continuing concerns about the impact to the Great Lakes and lack of public necessity for the project, which would worsen climate change by adding greenhouse gas emissions each year equivalent to almost seven new coal-fired power plants or nearly 6 million new cars to the road, according to experts.

Enbridge also lacks adequate liability insurance, according to a report released by the Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office revealing that Enbridge’s subsidiaries, not its parent company, hold Line 5’s 1953 easement and signed the proposed tunnel agreement; the assets of the subsidiaries’ parent Enbridge are inadequate to cover the costs and economic damages in the event of a moderate spill.

At Prior Army Corps Hearing, a Strong Majority Rejected the Proposed Oil Tunnel

The Army Corps already has held a Sept. 1 online comment session to help scope its tunnel study and a Sept. 8 in-person hearing in St. Ignace, where more than 4 out of 5 people who spoke, from among a crowd of hundreds, said that an oil pipeline tunnel proposed under the Great Lakes was a dangerous idea that would rob future generations by threatening the most precious thing on earth—fresh water—and worsening the climate crisis. 

Hundreds of people attend a public comment session held by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on the oil pipeline tunnel proposed by Enbridge under the Straits of Mackinac, on Sept. 8, 2022, at Little Bear East Arena in St. Ignace, Michigan. Photo by Kelly Thayer.

Most commenters at the seven-hour, St. Ignace hearing expressed deep concern for the harm that construction or a potential explosion or spill from the operation of an oil pipeline tunnel could have on their children and grandchildren’s future, local residents, the Great Lakes, drinking water, tourist economy, and jobs—as well as tribal rights, tribal member survival, cultural heritage, the fishery, ecology of the Straits of Mackinac, and the climate. (Read FLOW’s coverage here).

FLOW’s Position on the Scope of the Army Corps Tunnel Study

FLOW’s position, as expressed at the hearing in St. Ignace, is that the Army Corps’ environmental study of the tunnel proposal and alternatives must under the law include, at a minimum:

  1. A “no action” alternative that would use existing capacity in other pipelines and, if necessary, other transportations solutions—such as rail and truck transport of natural gas liquids—in lieu of building new pipeline infrastructure.
  2. An alternative to connect Enbridge’s Superior, Wisc., and Sarnia, Ontario, terminals without crossing the Great Lakes. (See FLOW’s fact sheet on alternatives).
  3. A tunnel alternative that fully eliminates the risk of oil intrusion into the Straits in the event of an explosion or similar event.

Army Corps Process to Continue through at Least 2023

Enbridge has applied for a Army Corps permit under the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 and the Clean Water Act, seeking federal approval to discharge dredged or fill materials into waters of the United States, as well as the construction of structures or work that may affect navigable waters. The Army Corps also will conduct an ethnographic/traditional cultural landscape study as part of the environmental impact statement under the National Historic Preservation Act. After considering public comment and issuing the draft EIS likely by fall 2023, the Army Corps will seek additional public feedback, release a final study, and then issue a “record of decision” regarding whether to issue, issue with modification, or deny the Department of the Army permit altogether—consistent with the National Environmental Policy Act.

The Army Corps, Detroit District, to date has identified general concerns in the following categories:

  • Potential direct effects to waters of the United States including wetlands; water and sediment quality; aquatic species and fisheries; threatened and endangered species;
  • Archaeological and cultural resources, including the Straits as a Traditional Cultural Landscape; Tribal treaty rights and interests;
  • Recreation and recreational resources; waste management; aesthetics; noise; air quality; climate change, including greenhouse gas emissions and the social cost of greenhouse gasses;
  • Public health and safety during construction and operations; navigation; erosion; invasive species; energy needs; environmental justice; needs and welfare of the people; and cumulative effects.

FLOW’s Legal Team and Allies Helped Spur the Army Corps’ Full Environmental Study

FLOW continues to be deeply engaged in every step of the Army Corps study and committed to shutting down Line 5 and stopping the oil tunnel. FLOW’s legal team and allies helped spur the Army Corps’ full Environmental Study through our legal research, analysis, and comment, including FLOW’s formal legal comments submitted to the agency in July 2020The legal team challenged the proposed tunnel in December 2020 by submitting comprehensive comments to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers calling for an environmental impact statement on behalf of a dozen organizations: Chippewa Ottawa Resource Authority, Clean Water Action—Michigan, FLOW, Groundwork Center, League of Women Voters of Michigan, Michigan Environmental Council, Michigan League of Conservation Voters, NMEAC, Sierra Club Michigan Chapter, Straits Area Concerned Citizens for Peace, Justice and Environment, Straits of Mackinac Alliance, and TC 350. The comments demonstrated a serious gap in Enbridge’s evaluation of the presence of loose, unconsolidated rock and sediment in the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac that Enbridge has characterized as solid bedrock.

Hundreds Attend Army Corps Hearing, Strong Majority Speaks Out against Proposed Oil Pipeline Tunnel under the Great Lakes

Above: Hundreds of people attend a public comment session held by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on the oil pipeline tunnel proposed by Enbridge under the Straits of Mackinac, on Sept. 8, 2022, at Little Bear East Arena in St. Ignace, Michigan. Photos by Kelly Thayer.


By Kelly Thayer, FLOW Deputy Director

Katie Otanez, Regulatory Project Manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Detroit District, delivers a presentation on Sept. 8, 2022, in St. Ignace, Mich., while Army Corps staff look on.

Five-and-half hours into a marathon federal hearing that lasted seven hours on Thursday, September 8, in St. Ignace, Michigan, more than 4 out of 5 people who spoke said that an oil pipeline tunnel proposed under the Great Lakes was a dangerous idea that would rob future generations by threatening the most precious thing on earth — fresh water — and worsening the climate crisis.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers held the public comment session to help set the scope of its environmental impact statement study of a proposal by Enbridge, Inc., of Canada, to build an oil tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac to house its Line 5 oil pipeline, which carries oil from western Canada primarily to refineries in Sarnia, Ontario. The Army Corps study is expected to continue through at least 2023.

U.S. Army Corps welcome sign on Sept. 8, 2022, in St. Ignace, Mich.

Hundreds of people attended the meeting at Little Bear East Arena, a local hockey facility just north of the Mackinac Bridge in the eastern Upper Peninsula, with each commenter taking up to three minutes to address the Army Corps staff seated up front. Most people expressed deep concern for the harm that construction or a potential explosion or spill from the operation of an oil pipeline tunnel could have on their children and grandchildren’s future, local residents, the Great Lakes, drinking water, tourist economy, and jobs — as well as tribal rights, tribal member survival, cultural heritage, the fishery, ecology of the Straits of Mackinac, and the climate.

Whitney Gravelle, president of the Bay Mills Indian Community, was the first to speak at the Army Corps meeting against the tunnel proposal and sought to change the narrative promoted by Enbridge in its multimillion-dollar advertising campaign. “Line 5 is not about Enbridge. It is not about jobs. It is not about profit. It is about the continued existence of my people here in the State of Michigan.”

Whitney Gravelle, President of the Bay Mills Indian Community

“Line 5 is not about Enbridge. It is not about jobs. It is not about profit. It is about the continued existence of my people here in the State of Michigan.” — Whitney Gravelle, president of the Bay Mills Indian Community

“We rely on all of those natural resources to be able to live, to be able to support our families and just exist as Anishinaabe people,” said President Gravelle, emphasizing that more than half of Bay Mills tribe members depend on their treaty rights to hunt, fish, and gather for subsistence.

Ian Bund, venture capitalist

Ian Bund, a venture capital investor who attended the hearing on his birthday to oppose the tunnel project, said, “There’s no evidence that Enbridge’s board of directors has approved the tunnel. Is it a PR stunt? Enbridge is largely uninsured, uninsurable, and un-bondable…. There’s no evidence how Enbridge would finance the tunnel project. One wonders if they might look to taxpayers.”

Enbridge, in fact, lacks adequate liability insurance, according to a report released by the Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office revealing that Enbridge’s subsidiaries, not its parent company, hold Line 5’s 1953 easement and signed the proposed tunnel agreement; the assets of the subsidiaries’ parent Enbridge are inadequate to cover the costs and economic damages in the event of a moderate spill.

Many Troubling Aspects of the Tunnel Proposal

Enbridge wants to blast and bore an oil tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac just west of the Mackinac Bridge. Credit: Flickr

Enbridge is proposing to bore and blast a 20-foot-in-diameter tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac to house a new Line 5 pipeline. The Canadian company’s goal is to continue for another 99 years carrying up to 23 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids a day through Line 5 and State of Michigan public trust bottomlands where Lake Michigan meets Lake Huron, just west of the Mackinac Bridge.

FLOW and our partners have identified critical deficiencies in the project’s construction permit application, its legal authorization, and the review by State of Michigan environmental agencies of expected impacts to wetlands, bottomlands, and surface water, including from the daily discharge of millions of gallons of wastewater during construction. FLOW has expressed continuing concerns about the impact to the Great Lakes and lack of public necessity for the project, which would worsen climate change by adding greenhouse gas emissions each year equivalent to almost seven new coal-fired power plants or nearly 6 million new cars to the road, according to experts.

FLOW’s position, as expressed at the hearing in St. Ignace, is that the Army Corps’ environmental study of the tunnel proposal and alternatives must include, at a minimum:

  1. A no action alternative that would use existing capacity in other pipelines and, if necessary, other transportations solutions–such as rail and truck transport of natural gas liquids–in lieu of building new pipeline infrastructure.
  2. An alternative to connect Enbridge’s Superior, Wisc., and Sarnia, Ontario, terminals without crossing the Great Lakes. (See FLOW’s fact sheet on alternatives).
  3. A tunnel alternative that fully eliminates the risk of oil intrusion into the Straits in the event of an explosion or similar event.

Tribal Nations, agencies, communities, organizations, citizens, and other stakeholders can comment on the tunnel proposal through Oct. 14, 2022, via mail, through the Army Corps project website, or at the Army Corps’ Oct. 6, 2022, online meeting. The Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign, of which FLOW is a founding steering committee member, also is collecting and forwarding comments to the Army Corps using an email template that suggests key points to make.

Oil & Water Don’t Mix Campaign Mobilizes Great Lakes Advocates

The Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign chartered two buses that gathered people in Ann Arbor, East Lansing, and Traverse City to attend the Army Corps’ September 8 meeting, with FLOW, the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter, and several other allied groups helping organize the effort. Many riders wore the campaign’s black t-shirts with white letters proclaiming “No Line 5 Oil Tunnel.” At the session, Enbridge and some allied trade unions also wore bright blue or orange shirts expressing support for the proposed tunnel or labor to show their solidarity.

Kim Gribi of Traverse City

Lana Pollack, former U.S. Chair of the International Joint Commission

Several people, including Lana Pollack, former U.S. chair of the International Joint Commission, called Enbridge a “bad actor” with a long history of oil spills from Line 5, which runs through the Straits, and Line 6B in southern Michigan that burst in 2010 into the Kalamazoo River watershed.

Kim Gribi, a concerned citizen from Traverse City, also pointed to Enbridge’s “bad track record.” Gribi said that with her professional background in human resources and evaluating applicants for jobs, when it comes to the tunnel project and Enbridge, “I wouldn’t hire them.”

Barbara Stamiris of the Northern MI Environmental Action Council

Barbara Stamiris of the Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council and others questioned whether the tunnel proposal was a delay tactic by Enbridge to allow the Canadian energy-transport giant to keep running its Line 5 oil pipelines indefinitely in the open waters of the Straits of Mackinac, despite a standing order issued in November 2020 by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to shut down the risky 69-year-old pipeline segment.

A number of people in their public remarks in St. Ignace requested that the Army Corps extend the 60-day comment period on the proposed tunnel and hold additional in-person meetings downstate to reach more people on such a critical matter as the future of the Great Lakes and the drinking water supply.

FLOW: There’s No Alternative to Fresh Water

FLOW Board member Barbara Brown, a St. Ignace resident who served for 14 years on the Mackinac Bridge Authority, pointed to what the region must protect above all else: our freshwater heritage. “We are rapidly moving toward alternative forms of energy. Enbridge already has, in Line 78 [in southern Michigan], an alternative route of deliveryWhat we do not have is an alternative to water.”

FLOW Board Member Barbara Brown, a resident of St. Ignace, Mich., addresses the Army Corps staff.

“We are rapidly moving toward alternative forms of energy. Enbridge already has an alternative route of deliveryWhat we do not have is an alternative to water,” said Barbara Brown, FLOW Board Member and St. Ignace resident

In fact, the North American energy pipeline system operated by Enbridge and its competitors has available capacity and flexibility to meet energy demand in the Great Lakes region without threatening public waters and the economy, according to multiple studies. One of Enbridge’s own experts has concluded gasoline prices will rise by about only half a penny in Michigan if the Line 5 oil pipeline shuts down.

“We are sitting today at the very heart of 20% of the world’s fresh surface water,” Brown said. “With much of humanity and the animal world on the brink of death for want of water, and we being at the center of the largest body of fresh surface water on the planet, it is bordering on the immoral to even entertain the unnecessary, continued operation of Line 5 through the Great Lakes whether by pipe or tunnel.”

As FLOW’s Deputy Director, I (the author of this article) helped coordinate the bus from Traverse City and in my comments, said, “The Straits of Mackinac is the worst possible place to build and operate an oil pipeline tunnel. Any rupture, explosion, or other event resulting in a major oil spill in the Straits would contaminate the very heart of the Great Lakes, which hold 95% of the fresh surface water in the United States.”

As a result, “the Army Corps’ Environmental Impact Statement or ‘EIS’ review of the project should be scoped to eliminate the risk of a pipeline-related oil spill into the Great Lakes.” (Click to read Kelly Thayer’s full comment delivered on behalf of FLOW).

Regional and Binational Perspectives

Beth Wallace of the National Wildlife Federation

Michelle Woodhouse of Environmental Defence in Canada

Michelle Woodhouse, representing Environmental Defence Canada, came from Toronto to convey that many Canadians want to move rapidly away from oil extraction as a key driver of the economy in order to cope with the “climate emergency.” Woodhouse also pointed to indigenous cultural artifacts in the Straits of Mackinac that could be damaged by the tunnel proposal and said “clear alternatives exists” that would not harm the Great Lakes.

Beth Wallace of the National Wildlife Federation, Great Lakes Regional Center, spoke next and emphasized that Enbridge’s history of nearly three dozen oil spills from Line 5 and the 2010 oil spill disaster from Line 6B in Marshall, Michigan, are forewarnings of what could happen in the Straits of Mackinac.

Maya Ponton Aronoff pointed to better ways for Enbridge and trade workers to aid the residents of Michigan than building an oil pipeline tunnel under the Great Lakes.

“[Enbridge] could be replacing every lead-lined water pipe in Michigan that’s poisoning our children and our communities. They could be investing in renewable energy, creating jobs in solar and wind. They could be doing anything with their billions of dollars. But they’re making us believe this lie that we have to choose between jobs and our future,” said Maya Ponton Aronoff

“[Enbridge] could be replacing every lead-lined water pipe in Michigan that’s poisoning our children and our communities,” Ponton Aronoff said. “They could be investing in renewable energy, creating jobs in solar and wind. They could be doing anything with their billions of dollars. But they’re making us believe this lie that we have to choose between jobs and our future.”

Army Corps Process to Continue through at Least 2023

Enbridge’s has applied for a Army Corps permit under the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 and the Clean Water Act, seeking federal approval to discharge dredged or fill materials into waters of the United States, as well as the construction of structures or work that may affect navigable waters. The Army Corps also will conduct an ethnographic/traditional cultural landscape study as part of the environmental impact statement under the National Historic Preservation Act. After considering public comment and issuing the draft EIS likely by fall 2023, the Army Corps will seek additional public feedback, release a final study, and then issue a “record of decision” regarding whether to issue, issue with modification, or deny the Department of the Army permit altogether — consistent with the National Environmental Policy Act.

The Army Corps, Detroit District, to date has identified general concerns in the following categories:

  • Potential direct effects to waters of the United States including wetlands; water and sediment quality; aquatic species and fisheries; threatened and endangered species;
  • Archaeological and cultural resources, including the Straits as a Traditional Cultural Landscape; Tribal treaty rights and interests;
  • Recreation and recreational resources; waste management; aesthetics; noise; air quality; climate change, including greenhouse gas emissions and the social cost of greenhouse gases;
  • Public health and safety during construction and operations; navigation; erosion; invasive species; energy needs; environmental justice; needs and welfare of the people; and cumulative effects.

FLOW’s legal team aided in this effort in December 2020 by submitting comprehensive comments to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers calling for an environmental impact statement on behalf of a dozen organizations: Chippewa Ottawa Resource Authority, Clean Water Action—Michigan, FLOW, Groundwork Center, League of Women Voters of Michigan, Michigan Environmental Council, Michigan League of Conservation Voters, NMEAC, Sierra Club Michigan Chapter, Straits Area Concerned Citizens for Peace, Justice and Environment, Straits of Mackinac Alliance, and TC 350. The comments demonstrated a serious gap in Enbridge’s evaluation of the presence of loose, unconsolidated rock and sediment in the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac that Enbridge has characterized as solid bedrock.

Learn more about FLOW’s efforts to shut down Line 5 and stop the proposed oil pipeline tunnel on FLOW’s Line 5 program page and new Line 5 fact sheet.

FLOW to U.S. Army Corps: Oil Tunnel in the Great Lakes Is Not a Solution

Editor’s note: The following are comments made by FLOW Deputy Director Kelly Thayer on September 8, 2022, in St. Ignace, Michigan, at a public meeting of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Army Corps). The Army Corps, Detroit District, held the session to help set the scope of its environmental impact statement (EIS) study of a proposal by Enbridge, Inc., of Canada, to build an oil tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac to house its Line 5 oil pipeline, which carries oil from western Canada primarily to refineries in Sarnia, Ontario.

Tribal Nations, agencies, communities, organizations, citizens, and other stakeholders can comment on the tunnel proposal through Oct. 14, 2022, via mail, through the Army Corps project website, or at the Army Corps’ Oct. 6, 2022, online meeting. The Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign, of which FLOW is a founding steering committee member, also is collecting and forwarding comments to the Army Corps using an email template that suggests key points to make.

Learn more about FLOW’s efforts to shut down Line 5 and stop the proposed oil pipeline tunnel on FLOW’s Line 5 program page and new Line 5 fact sheet.


Good evening. My name is Kelly Thayer. I am Deputy Director of the nonprofit organization For Love of Water or “FLOW”, the Great Lakes law and policy center located in Traverse City, Michigan.

Kelly Thayer, FLOW Deputy Director

Thank you to Commander Boyle and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Detroit District, for this opportunity to comment. FLOW has supporters throughout the Great Lakes Basin, including right here in St. Ignace. They rely on us to ensure that the Great Lakes remain healthy, public, and protected for all.

Simply put, the Straits of Mackinac is the worst possible place to build and operate an oil pipeline tunnel. Any rupture, explosion, or other event resulting in a major oil spill in the Straits would contaminate the very heart of the Great Lakes, which hold 95% of the fresh surface water in the United States.

Simply put, the Straits of Mackinac is the worst possible place to build and operate an oil pipeline tunnel. Any rupture, explosion, or other event resulting in a major oil spill in the Straits would contaminate the very heart of the Great Lakes, which hold 95% of the fresh surface water in the United States.

In the best case scenario, Enbridge-contracted, oil spill response teams would be able to remove no more than 30% of the oil from such a spill.

With this in mind, the Army Corps’ Environmental Impact Statement or “EIS” review of the project should be scoped to eliminate the risk of a pipeline-related oil spill into the Great Lakes.

Unfortunately, the draft purpose and need statement limits the range of risk-elimination options by focusing only on connecting Enbridge’s existing North Straits Facility and Mackinaw City pump station. The purpose and need statement should be revised to eliminate these geographic constraints and focus more generally on liquid-petroleum product transportation solutions to approximate the existing capacity of Line 5.

The draft purpose and need statement’s language regarding the minimization of environmental risks is not specific enough in the context of project-related oil spills. The statement should be revised to include both minimizing environmental risks and avoiding any risk of a pipeline-related oil spill into the Great Lakes.

The environmental study’s focus “should be revised to include both minimizing environmental risks and avoiding any risk of a pipeline-related oil spill into the Great Lakes.”

The alternatives analysis must include, at a minimum:

  1. A no action alternative that would use existing capacity in other pipelines and, if necessary, other transportations solutions–such as rail and truck transport of natural gas liquids–in lieu of building new pipeline infrastructure.
  2. An alternative to connect Enbridge’s Superior, Wisc., and Sarnia, Ontario, terminals without crossing the Great Lakes.
  3. A tunnel alternative that fully eliminates the risk of oil intrusion into the Straits in the event of an explosion or similar event.

The relative risks of the proposed oil tunnel project don’t matter when Enbridge is unlawfully operating the existing oil pipelines in the Straits.

In performing this alternatives analysis, the EIS must evaluate the environmental risks of the proposed project independently of Enbridge’s existing oil pipeline infrastructure in the Straits.

Nearly two years ago, the State of Michigan revoked and terminated the 1953 Easement that allegedly authorizes Enbridge to occupy state bottomlands. The relative risks of the proposed oil tunnel project don’t matter when Enbridge is unlawfully operating the existing oil pipelines in the Straits.

FLOW looks forward to submitting written comments by the October 14, 2022, deadline, in addition to these preliminary, verbal comments.

In short, we recommend that the Army Corps scope its EIS review of the oil tunnel project to eliminate the risk of a pipeline-related oil spill into the Great Lakes, which provide drinking water for millions of people in the United States and Canada, drive our economy, and define our way of life. Thank you.

A Modest Proposal: The Biggest State Park in America

When Michiganders want to point out where a specific location lies in the state, we often raise our hands and point at a spot somewhere on our palms.  Indeed, our identity is tied up in nicknames like The Mitten State.

But the legal boundaries of Michigan look nothing like a mitten or a hand. They are far broader, too.

Michigan includes over 38,000 square miles of Great Lakes surface area and underlying submerged lands.  These often-forgotten lands, when added to the Michigan land base above water, move Michigan from 22nd largest state to 11th. The 38,000 square miles of underwater land constitute more than one-third of the total area of Michigan and are larger than 11 states in the Union. Over water, Michigan borders not just Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio, but also Minnesota and Illinois.

By virtue of the public trust doctrine, both the open waters of the Great Lakes and underlying submerged lands are held in trust by the State of Michigan on behalf of the people of Michigan. The title and ownership of these waters and underlying submerged lands vested in the State of Michigan on admission to the Union on January 26, 1837, to be held in trust for the benefit of its citizens.

The public trust doctrine confers an obligation on the State of Michigan, as trustee, to protect public ownership of these open waters and submerged lands and to protect public uses of them including swimming, boating, fishing, sustenance, drinking water, sanitation, and many others.

Great Lakes submerged lands contain significant historical, ecological, biological, geological and other features–everything from suspected ancient aboriginal hunting sites established when water levels were far lower, to lake bottom sinkholes that mimic the environment of the early Earth.

Great Lakes open waters and underlying submerged lands are a unique endowment belonging to the people of Michigan, unlike that of any other state, and should be a source of pride for all Michiganders. They should be even more than that. They should be declared a state park officially open to all, for enjoyment by all.

It is not a new idea. Legislators proposed an official state park designation for Michigan’s Great Lakes waters and submerged lands in 2007 and 2008. But the legislative clock ran out.

Designating Great Lakes water and submerged lands a state park will affect their use little if at all in the short run. There won’t be an entrance fee as exists at traditional state parks. But the park concept would open the door to education and awareness among Michigan residents of the beauty beneath the waters and the need to protect it. Michiganders would benefit from that.

It’s time to revive the idea. Talk about national notoriety–a new state park larger than the entire state of Indiana.

Progress and Hope for the Environment

Ten years to save the planet from climate change. PFAS, microplastics, and invasive species. Wetland destruction and failing, polluting septic systems.  Sometimes it seems as though the only environmental news is bad news.

Here’s an antidote, borne in a glass half-full.

Great Lakes Piping Plover

An endearing, small shorebird that nests on Great Lakes beaches, the piping plover is on the federal endangered species list.  Its preferred habitat is also a lure to people and their dogs.  But thanks to intensive recovery efforts by federal and state government officials and citizen volunteers, the population of Great Lakes piping plovers has rebounded from 13 nesting pairs in 1990 to approximately 65-70 nesting pairs today, and the outlook is favorable.

Protecting Wetlands

Wetlands are important because they filter water pollutants, store floodwaters, and provide habitat for fish and wildlife.  Yet they were regarded as wastelands from the time Europeans arrived to the 20th Century.  Draining and filling cost Michigan 4.2 million acres of its original endowment of 10.7 million acres of wetlands.  But the passage in 1979 of Michigan’s wetland protection law has made a dramatic difference. It has sl

owed the rate of wetland loss to less than 2000 acres a year, from a former pace of tens of thousands of acres a year. Meanwhile, private groups are working to restore wetlands.

Michigan’s Recycling Rate Improving

For years, Michigan’s recycling rate was the lowest in the Great Lakes region.  But things are changing. Michigan has significantly improved its recycling rate from 14.25% prior to 2019 to 19.3%, based on an analysis released by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) earlier this year.  An EGLE survey found that Michiganders’ understanding of recycling best habits has increased in every corner of the state. The recycling rate translates to 110 pounds per capita each year.

Public Drinking Water

The twin lead-in-drinking water disasters in Flint and Benton Harbor have raised public doubts about the safety of community drinking water systems.  The good news is that community systems in Michigan and the Great Lakes region generally maintain a high degree of compliance with federal health-based drinking water standards. Of the 19.5 million U.S. residents served by public water supplies that rely on the Great Lakes as their source water, 99.1% had drinking water that met all applicable health-based standards in 2020. In the Province of Ontario, approximately 60% of the population is supplied with treated drinking water from the Great Lakes. In 2020, 99.8% of municipal residential treated drinking water quality tests met Ontario Drinking Water Quality Standards.

Defending the Monarch Butterfly

The exquisite monarch butterfly is in trouble, but the Village of Elk Rapids has stepped up to do something about it, recently becoming the second Monarch City USA in Michigan. The designation commits the Village to several actions, including:

  • Converting abandoned lands to monarch habitat
  • Integrating monarch conservation into the Village’s future land use conservation
  • Working with garden clubs and citizens in planting milkweed and nectar gardens
  • Building sanctuary sites, installing signage and hosting an annual Monarch Butterfly Festival

The population of migratory Eastern monarchs (those east of the Rocky Mountains) declined 90 percent during the last 20 years. If more communities follow the lead of Elk Rapids, the monarch butterfly has a chance.

State of the Great Lakes

Is More of the Same Good Enough for the Great Lakes?

Give the U.S. EPA and its Canadian counterpart points for recycling. When they released the 2022 State of the Great Lakes report last week, they offered the same characterization as in previous reports: overall, the Great Lakes are fair and unchanging.

Merriam-Webster defines “fair” as ‘not very good or very bad: of average or acceptable quality.”

Is “not very good or very bad” what we want for the Great Lakes?  

Looking at the five lakes individually, the U.S. and Canadian governments grade Superior and Huron good, Michigan and Ontario fair, and Erie poor. Is this what we want?

That we have become accustomed to such evaluations of the conditions of the Great Lakes is unacceptable. That we are making little progress toward the goal of fully healthy lakes is deplorable.

In this 50th anniversary year of the signing of the original Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement by President Richard Nixon and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, it is appropriate to look at where we’ve been and where we’re going.

While the governments boast of their robust programs to protect and restore the lakes, they typically gloss over the trouble spots. The State of the Great Lakes report is the closest they come to accountability. In this report, they acknowledge that only two of nine indicators (beaches and fish consumption) show improvement. The other seven are unchanging and one, invasive species, is poor.

What are the reasons for treading water like this? The fundamental facts are that correcting past mistakes will cost taxpayers a fortune – and steering a new course for the future requires political will. That will is needed if we hope to keep new toxic chemicals out of the lakes, protect key habitats from exploitation, and once and for all control invasive species.

If the political will is lacking, it is not the fault of governments alone. We who live among the lakes are also conflicted. We want them to be healthy and beautiful yet we are not willing to make the changes that would enable this to happen.

There is plenty of talk in our region about the need for sustainability, a way of approaching the environment and the lakes that avoids doing damage by changing the way we live. Primarily, changing practices that provide short-term benefits and long-term harm. Like the excess fertilization on farms in the Lake Erie watershed, which fosters algae blooms that are reminiscent of the “dead” Lake Erie of the 1960s.

Like the production and disposal of plastic products that break down into the billions of pieces fouling the lakes. We do not need to buy most of them. The industries that manufacture them will not retire them out of the goodness of their hearts, but they will respond to market forces.

Of course, there is good news. It is true that there are many dedicated public servants, university researchers, local governments and citizen advocates who are making extraordinary efforts to understand the science of the lakes and to respond constructively.

There is also the fact that the U.S. government is spending over $300 million in dedicated money every year to restore the Great Lakes. That is a legacy of the late Peter Wege, a Grand Rapids philanthropist who in 2004 organized advocates to petition Congress for dedicated funding to clean up toxic hotspots, restore habitat and protect water quality. This is praiseworthy.

But it’s clearly not enough, or not the right stuff. The health of the lakes is stagnating and that’s unacceptable.

If we truly want Great Lakes that are great and improving instead of fair and unchanging, we need to make some changes. We need a new kind of agriculture, a new kind of consumption, a new approach by industry. Where is this going to come from? It begins with the residents of the Great Lakes watershed.

The history of conservation and environmental protection over the last 150 years teaches us that citizens lead and politicians follow. So it is time for us to lead by example and by engagement with our government processes, and to hold those who degrade the Great Lakes accountable.

Our job is to look at ways we can live among these lakes in harmony and to pressure our governments and institutions to do the same. Unless that happens, we are likely to see the same reports every three years indefinitely.

And is that what we want for great lakes?

 

Jake Bright to Swim the Manitou Passage to Benefit FLOW, North Manitou Light Keepers

Editor’s note: This is a FLOW media release issued August 3, 2022. Members of the media can reach open water swimmer Jake Bright at jake@jakebright.com, 347-204-7576; FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood at liz@flowforwater.org, 570-872-4956; and NMLK President Daniel Oginsky at dan@northmanitoulightkeepers.org, 810-360-3768. The event’s fundraising page can be found here at GoFundMe or https://gofund.me/267456f4.


TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. – Jake Bright, a trained open water swimmer originally from Traverse City who now lives in New York, will pursue the first official solo swim of the Manitou Passage following USA Swimming’s open water rules.  The swim will occur in late August and – upon completion – will receive ratification by the World Open Water Swim Association. The specific date of the swim will depend on weather conditions, but will occur between August 22 and September 3.  “The incredible fresh water of Lake Michigan and the amazing beauty of the Sleeping Bear Dunes are central to my upbringing, so I want to do something inspiring and charitable to celebrate them,” Jake Bright said. Jake will document the experience on social media via #ManitouSwim

A Challenging Swim: First of Its Kind

The 6.91-mile marathon swim will start at Sleeping Bear Point, in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, and finish at the South Manitou Island Lighthouse.  Depending on conditions, the swim will likely take around three hours to complete and be made in water temperatures ranging from 55 to 70 degrees fahrenheit.  In accordance with USA Swimming open water rules, Jake will navigate by sight, wear an International Swimming Federation (FINA) approved wetsuit that provides marginal additional buoyancy, and use no aids, such as fins, paddles, or flotation devices.  A safety boat will accompany Jake – without providing aid for the swim – and an observer will document the swim for World Open Water Swim Association ratification.  

Raising Support for Preservation and Protection in the Region

Jake wants to use his swim to raise money for two non-profit organizations dedicated to protection and preservation in the region.  One is North Manitou Light Keepers (NMLK), whose mission is to restore and maintain the North Manitou Shoal Light (an offshore lighthouse in the Manitou Passage) and make it accessible to the public.  The other is FLOW (For Love Of Water), which is a law and policy center dedicated to ensuring the waters of the Great Lakes Basin are healthy, public, and protected for all.

All funds raised for this event will be allocated equally between NMLK and FLOW, with no deductions made for administrative expenses. “I’m a huge fan of both of these organizations and what they are doing to step up and help preserve and protect two things I love so much: Michigan’s fresh water and the Manitou Passage,” Jake said.  Contributions to Jake’s #ManitouPassageSwim fundraiser event can be made via GoFundMe here

More about Jake Bright

Jake currently resides in New York.  He was born in Traverse City and grew up swimming in Lake Michigan.  He began recreational open water swim competition in 2007.  He has since completed over 45 races in distances of up to 10K.  Since moving from Northern Michigan, Jake said, “swimming in salt water has made me more fond and proud of all of Michigan’s freshwater spaces.”  Jake used to ride the school bus to Long Lake Elementary with Jake Kaberle, currently owner of Burritt’s Fresh Market in Traverse City and a founder of North Manitou Light Keepers.  His 4th grade teacher there was Moomers Founder Nancy Plumber.  Jake Bright said, “I’m so excited to reconnect with folks I grew up with in this adventure.”  In the 1990s, Jake canoed the Manitou Passage with a high school classmate.  “It’s funny now to remember how my buddy and I were chided by the island park ranger when we came out via canoe, and now I am going to swim it instead.”

More about FLOW, NMLK

North Manitou Light Keepers is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization with a mission to restore and preserve the North Manitou Shoal Lighthouse and make it and its history available to the public for education and appreciation. For more information visit https://northmanitoulightkeepers.org/.  

FLOW (For Love of Water) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit that serves as a Great Lakes law and policy center dedicated to ensuring the waters of the Great Lakes Basin are healthy, public, and protected for all. For more information visit https://forloveofwater.org/.

More about the Manitou Passage

Located in Northwest Lower Michigan, the Manitou Passage is a Lake Michigan waterway between the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and North and South Manitou Islands. 

The passage was named and first navigated by Native Americans and is steeped in Great Lakes Maritime history. The Manitou Passage has been used as a commercial shipping channel regularly since the early 1800s.  

While the passage remains relatively calm in late summer, it is also historically dangerous for maritime traffic in the fall and winter seasons. As such, the waters surrounding the Manitou Passage contain the remains of over 50 shipwrecks, many of which are documented by the Manitou Passage Underwater Preserve. 

Securing Public Ownership of Our Water as a Human Right, Public Trust, and Defense against Privatization

By Liz Kirkwood

Water is life. It is the resource that not only keeps us alive, but also powers everything we do on this small blue planet. Living here in the Great Lakes, we are stewards of some 20 percent of the planet’s fresh surface water. It is an enormous gift and an enormous responsibility, particularly in the face of the global water crisis

Water access and equity issues are striking the poorest communities the hardest, leaving 2.2 billion people worldwide without access to water and 4.2 billion people without sanitation. The United Nations estimates that by 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with water scarcity, and two-thirds of the world’s population could be living under water-stressed conditions.  

FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood

Water insecurity and climate change, in turn, are fueling the increased economic value of water supplies, an alarming interest in the financialization and commodification of water, and accelerated privatization of public water infrastructure. 

For the first time ever, in December 2020, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) listed California water futures as an investment to be bought and sold like grain or oil. In 2021, a private equity hedge fund called Blue Triton purchased all of Nestlé’s U.S. water bottling operations except Perrier. These and other privatization efforts degrade the singular importance of water, risk what is essential to all life on this planet, and exacerbate growing global and regional inequities between rich and poor to access potable water supplies. 

To counter this privatization trend, the UN’s recent report titled, Risks and impacts of the commodification and financialization of water on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, recommended “that States take urgent legal measures to prevent water, as a public good, from being managed in the futures markets as a financial asset under the speculative logic that presides over these markets, thereby avoiding the risks of price volatility and speculative bubbles that threaten the human rights to drinking water and sanitation of those living in conditions of poverty and vulnerability, the sustainability of aquatic ecosystems and the most vulnerable economies.” 

States and communities can accomplish this by resolutions, declarations, statutes and laws, or constitutional enactments or current ones, properly interpreted so that water remains in the public domain protected by public trust and commons principles.

In June 2021, the Board of Commissioners of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) unanimously approved a resolution affirming water as a human right and expressing concern about the trend toward treating water as a commodity. The resolution also affirms that “the water of the Great Lakes … shall remain in the public trust for the people of the Great Lakes region.” Read FLOW’s coverage here.

This resolution promises to be a milestone in the looming controversy over the creation of water futures markets and to establish clear principles to guide public policy and investments in water system infrastructure priorities in communities across the Great Lakes Basin. The issue of ownership and sale of Great Lakes water is not on the horizon; it is already here at our doorstep.

FLOW seeks to promote and extend this affirmation in Michigan communities and others across the Great Lakes watershed. Traverse City, whose City Commission will consider the resolution at 7 p.m. on December 6,  has a unique opportunity and responsibility to join this movement to assure public ownership of water. The opportunity lies in securing newly available federal funding to beef up our public water infrastructure and to ensure clean drinking water, eliminate sewage overflows, protect shoreline and prevent beach closures as a result of E. coli contamination and other contaminants. The responsibility lies in demonstrating stewardship by avoiding the trap into which other communities have fallen by privatizing ownership of water services. This has led to dramatically higher water rates for customers and deteriorating maintenance of infrastructure. Keeping water public provides avenues for accountability and keeps decisions in our hands as residents and voters.

Now is the time to clearly articulate our community values and principles around protecting our water as a public commons as  we prepare to make long-term water infrastructure investments and build climate resilience in communities across the Great Lakes. 

Please Support Keeping Water Public in Traverse City
The Traverse City Commission will hold its regular meeting at 7 p.m. ET on Mon., December 6, 2021, at the Governmental Center, 400 Boardman Avenue, Traverse City, Mich.
New business on the agenda includes this resolution being advanced by FLOW: A Resolution Proclaiming Water and Sanitation as Basic Human Rights, and that Water Shall Remain in the Public Trust. Please plan to attend or, if you cannot, watch the livestream.

FLOW Celebrates 10 Years, Honors Jim Olson and Dave Dempsey

Traverse City, Mich.—FLOW is celebrating our 10th anniversary of keeping the Great Lakes public and protected and kickstarting the next 10 years.

Founded in 2011 by Jim Olson and directed since 2012 by Liz Kirkwood, both environmental attorneys, FLOW is a nonprofit law and policy center based in Traverse City dedicated to protecting the Great Lakes, groundwater, and drinking water for all. Independent and nonpartisan, FLOW works with the public and decision-makers to hold the government accountable in protecting and providing access to public waters.

Notable highlights of our 10th anniversary year and celebration include:

  • Tuesday, September 21, from 7:00-8:00 pm EDT—“Confluence”—FLOW’s marquee 10th anniversary event, live-streamed and emceed by dynamic Traverse City talent Ben Whiting. Free and open to the public, the online event will include a special honor for FLOW luminaries Jim Olson and Dave Dempsey, and promises a fun and fast-paced frolic through FLOW’s history and heroes, with special guests, and prize-drawings for Patagonia gear! Register here.
  • The addition of FLOW’s first-ever full-time legal director, an achievement many years in the making. Environmental attorney Zach Welcker joined FLOW in July, after more than a decade representing Indian tribes in the Pacific Northwest on water, fisheries, and other natural resource issues. Zach now carries the legal torch borne since 2011 on a part-time and volunteer basis by Jim Olson.
  • Video reflections by FLOW supporters, staff, and collaborators who have been instrumental to our work and shared successes over the past decade—meant to inspire everyone to join us in protecting freshwater for all. See the video series here.
  • Illustrated timeline of FLOW’s progress through the years in partnership with the public. See FLOW’s 10-year timeline here.
  • Webinars with FLOW staff and partners on Line 5, Great Lakes high water levels, groundwater threats, and artistic efforts to inspire the protection of freshwater. See the collection of recorded webinars here.
  • Release of a penetrating groundwater-protection reportDeep Threats to Our Sixth Great Lake: Spotlighting and Solving Michigan’s Groundwater Emergency—and fact sheet authored by Dave Dempsey and conveyed via webinar. See FLOW’s groundwater program page for more.

Reality Check: Line 5 Threatens More Jobs Than It Sustains

By Maude Barlow and Jim Olson

Jim Olson

Maude Barlow

Editor’s note: This opinion piece appeared originally in Canada’s National Observer.

The United States and Canada are not only close friends and neighbours, but are also committed to resolving their differences with civility and common purpose. The 112-year-old International Joint Commission (IJC), which prevents and resolves disputes over boundary waters, is an example of this special relationship. So is the groundbreaking agreement among Ontario, Quebec and the eight Great Lakes states to ban water diversions from these shared and treasured waters.

The two nations, however, are clashing over energy policy and the effects of Line 5, the Canadian petroleum pipelines in the open waters of the Straits of Mackinac, a major shipping lane and important whitefish spawning ground where Lake Michigan meets Lake Huron. If both Canada and the U.S. take a hard look at these issues together, they will swiftly realize that co-operation, not confrontation, is in the best interests of both — and, significantly, the interests of the planet.

The current discord between the two nations is over the decision in November by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to exercise her state’s sovereign constitutional authority to revoke the 68-year-old easement that Enbridge has relied upon to transport petroleum by pipeline from Alberta to Sarnia, Ont., across the public bottomlands of the straits separating Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas.

The governor took this action in light of the clear and present danger from Enbridge’s appalling track record of easement violations in operating Line 5, including lake-bed erosion undermining support of the dual pipelines in the fierce currents where Lake Michigan meets with Lake Huron. Enbridge also lacks adequate liability insurance and has steadfastly refused to provide any of the financial assurances that Gov. Whitmer has demanded.

Enbridge knew at least 20 years ago that the original design of the Straits of Mackinac pipelines was failing. Year after year, the company quietly sought approval from the state of Michigan to shore up the pipeline, passed off as “repairs,” by installing supports — now 228 of them — in effect lifting about three miles of the dual pipelines into the water column. Government officials, however, never required Enbridge to get approval for such a radical change that poses a whole set of new and serious risks.

Then, as if fate were sounding a warning alarm, a 12,000-pound anchor from a passing vessel struck and dented the twin pipelines on April 1, 2018. Last summer, Enbridge disclosed two more strikes by anchors or cables. These foreseeable accidents could have opened a gash in the pipeline, exposing 700 hundred miles of the Great Lakes shoreline — potentially including those of Georgian Bay — to a catastrophic spill costing $6 billion in economic damages to tourism, drinking water and other interests. Even worse, such a spill could trigger a domino effect of damage disrupting Great Lakes commercial shipping and steel production, slashing jobs and shrinking the U.S.’s gross domestic product by $45 billion after just 15 days. Michigan will lose tens of thousands of jobs if Line 5 ruptures.

Many families, communities, tribes and businesses understandably are skeptical of Enbridge’s safety assurances. Enbridge calls Line 5 “as good as new” and says it can last “forever,” even though Line 5 has failed at least 33 times since 1968, spilling more than 1.1 million gallons of oil in Michigan and Wisconsin. In 2010, the company was the culprit in one of the largest petroleum spills in U.S. history. A leak in an Enbridge pipeline in southwest Michigan dumped 1.2 million gallons of heavy tarsands oil into the Kalamazoo River watershed, harming human health and damaging fish and wildlife habitat. The spill cost Enbridge over $1 billion to clean up to the extent possible. The U.S. agency that investigated the spill likened the Enbridge response to the spill to the “Keystone Kops” and cited “pervasive organizational failures at Enbridge.”

Many Canadians are concerned about the possible distortion of their energy supply. They shouldn’t be. Available capacity and flexibility to meet energy demand in the Great Lakes region already exists in the North American energy pipeline system operated by Enbridge and its competitors without threatening our public waters and the economy, according to experts from the Great Lakes protection group FLOW. They argue that when Line 5 shuts down, regional domestic energy needs and supplies for refineries will still be able to be met. The estimated increased cost to consumers would be a fraction of a cent per gallon of gasoline, according to a study commissioned by the National Wildlife Federation.

The threat to the Great Lakes, both U.S. and Canadian waters, is clear. Equally clear is the risk to the planet of another 99 years of transporting carbon-rich petroleum from the Prairies to Sarnia for refining and ultimately releasing massive carbon dioxide emissions. Government promises of a new commitment to action on climate change are hollow if Line 5 continues operation indefinitely.

The law in the U.S. and Canada recognizes the waters of the Great Lakes are held in trust to be managed by the governments as guardians for navigation, fishing and other paramount needs of citizens. Unfortunately, the Canadian and Ontario governments have joined forces with Enbridge to forsake this guardianship by pressuring Gov. Whitmer. As the company spends resources on a slick public relations campaign exaggerating the benefits of Line 5 to the U.S. while neglecting to mention its history of environmental negligence, the governments dispute Michigan’s concerns about a Great Lakes spill.

In 2016, the IJC urged governments in the Great Lakes region to adopt the public trust doctrine as a legal backstop to assure the majesty of the lakes and bottomlands is not impaired. The IJC recommendation makes sense for present and future generations. If Canada and the U.S. do so, they will inevitably support decommissioning of Line 5.

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About the Authors: Maude Barlow is an activist who served as an adviser on water to the United Nations and is Chancellor of Brescia University College. Her latest book is, “Whose Water Is It Anyway? Taking Water Protection Into Public Hands.” Jim Olson is founder and president of FLOW (For Love of Water) in Traverse City, Mich.