Tag: Mackinac Bridge

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.


 

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: [email protected]
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:


Political Winds Threaten the Mackinac Bridge on Its 61st Birthday

Photo credit: Nancy May

Happy Birthday to the Mackinac Bridge!

Today marks its 61st birthday. The Mighty Mac, as it is affectionately known, opened to traffic on November 1, 1957. Perhaps no other piece of public infrastructure in Michigan evokes the same pride and sense of majesty as does the Mackinac Bridge. It draws tens of thousands of people each year from across Michigan and far beyond to stride across its five miles on the annual Mackinac Bridge Walk on Labor Day. And perhaps at no other time in its history has the future of the bridge been so threatened by political winds.

Gov. Rick Snyder is pushing by year’s end to bind the Mackinac Bridge Authority for least 99 years to owning and overseeing not just the bridge, but also Snyder’s proposed oil tunnel under the Mackinac Straits for use by Enbridge, a private Canadian oil pipeline company with a terrible track record of oil spills and damage across Michigan. Barbara Brown, vice chair of the Mackinac Bridge Authority, is urging the public and elected officials to protect the Mackinac Bridge from Enbridge. Ms. Brown is an extremely well-informed voice, having served on the bridge authority since 2005. Public service on behalf of the bridge is part of her family’s legacy. Her grandfather Prentiss Brown (see accompanying photo) was the first chairman of the bridge authority’s board, on which he served from 1950 to 1973, including several years before and during construction of the Mighty Mac.
 

Courtesy Michigan Department of Transportation. November 1, 1957 (left to right) State Highway Commissioner John Mackie, bridge designer David Steinman, Governor G. Mennen Williams, Prentiss Brown, former governor Murray Van Wagoner, Sault Ste. Marie businessman George Osborn, William Cochran and Lawrence Rubin.


Photo credit: Nancy May

A few facts about the Mackinac Bridge
(from the Mackinac Bridge Authority):

  • The Mackinac Bridge is 5 miles long (26,372 ft)
  • The main towers stand 552 ft above the water
  • The towers reach 210 ft below the water
  • There are 42,000 miles of wire in the cables
  • The bridge weighs 1,024,500 Tons
  • It took 85,000 blueprints to fully design the bridge
  • Construction began: May 7, 1954
  • The Mackinac Bridge was open to traffic: November 1, 1957

 

Spending a Night Under the Stars along the Straits of Mackinac

This week’s Friday Favorite was written by Julius Moss, one of our summer interns who has since returned to Vermont Law School.


To me, the Mackinac Bridge is not just a bridge. It is also a portal. Every time I head north from my home in Traverse City, MI and cross the bridge, it feels like I have been transported to a simpler place. A place of boundless natural beauty, full of sandy beaches, clear blue water, dense pine forests, and mesmerizing sandstone cliffs. A welcoming place that is connected to the wild around it, embracing all four seasons mother nature has to offer. A place that is simply called the Yoop!

On one of my recent adventures to the Upper Peninsula, I headed north for a weekend bike trip in Marquette, MI. I was unable to leave Traverse City until that Friday evening, and did not want to drive late into the night. Although I had previously spent evenings on Mackinac Island, I found this to be the perfect opportunity to camp somewhere near the Straits for the first time.

After a short drive up US-31 and across the Mighty Mack, I set up camp in the Straits State Park on the North shore of the Straits. I was fortunate to claim a campsite just off the water, and was able to spend the evening walking the shores of the Straits. While listening to the water lap against the beach, I could only stop and wonder why we have a rusty 65-year old oil pipeline perched along the shifting bottom of the Straits, and why in the world would we continue to risk our precious natural resources by delaying the decommissioning of Line 5 for the construction of a tunnel.

The Straits of Mackinac are the heartbeat of the Great Lakes. In fact, more water flows through the Straits than over Niagara Falls on a daily basis. Furthermore, the Straits are home to the majority of the Lake Michigan commercial whitefish industry, allowing the Michigan Tribes to pass down their cultural connection to the water. The Straits are also home to destinations such as Mackinac Island, a place allows visitors from across the globe to venture back to a time before the automobile.

Julius Moss

It is crucial we as Michiganders do all we can do to protect the Straits. I encourage you all to contact your local representatives, the Mackinac Bridge Authority, and the governor and Attorney General’s office to express your concerns about Line 5 and the possibility of a utility tunnel. I also encourage you all to become informed voters this November and understand where candidates stand on Line 5 and protecting the Great Lakes. The Straits must continue to be a place that transports water, people, and culture. To do that – we must stop the transportation of oil in the straits and decommission Line 5 once and for all.


 

Friday Favorites – the Mackinac Bridge

Friday Favorites is our new series where we explore some of our favorite places in and around the Great Lakes.


The Mighty Mac, the Big Mac, the Mackinac Bridge.

One of the most iconic sights in the Great Lakes region, the Bridge has always been a source of wonder for me. My family took trips to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to go camping, and the best part of the car ride was the five miles over the Great Lakes. My brother and I would peer out the window down to see the water, then up to watch the enormous passing towers.

The structure itself amazed me, it still does today. Built just after the Line 5 pipelines in the Straits, the Mackinac Bridge opened in 1957. There is often work being done to maintain the bridge, and we would wave to the workers as we drove past. They never waved back, too immersed in their work.

Nayt Boyt, Office Manager

While camping is not permitted on the bridge, people can “hike” it. The Mackinac Bridge Walk every Labor Day allows people to walk the length of the bridge and witness the grandeur of the bridge and the surrounding Great Lakes. I have done so with my family several times.

Over the years, the Mackinac Bridge has served not only as a path toward camping along beautiful Lake Superior, but as a destination in itself, an impressive and beautiful bridge that I will always consider part of my home. 

Can the Mackinac Bridge be used to support the pipelines?

Gary Street bio photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Gary Street,

Chemical Engineer & FLOW Consultant

 

What if the two twenty inch diameter pipelines that cross the Straits (part of Enbridge Line 5) were hung from the Mackinac Bridge, rather than immersed in water in nearly 300 feet deep? The engineers on the staff at FLOW took a look at the concept. Is it possible? Does it make the situation less environmentally hazardous? What impact will it have on the Bridge? Was the Bridge designed for the extra load?

So we did some calculations.

The result: In addition to the regular car and truck traffic, for which the Bridge was designed, the pipelines would put the added weight of an additional 2000 to 3500 automobiles onto the Bridge. And not just for a short time, but continuously, 24 hours a day, 365 days per year.

Almost certainly the Bridge was not designed for all this extra weight. And what if the lines were to rupture? The oil still goes into the Straits.

Clearly, not a good idea!