Tag: Pipeline 5

FLOW & Straits-Area Citizens Groups Call on State of Michigan to Deny Permits for ‘Line 5’ Oil Pipeline Tunnel in Straits of Mackinac

Citing inadequate legal authorization, an incomplete application, and lack of a comprehensive state review, FLOW and two Straits-area citizen groups called today in formal comments on the State of Michigan to deny pending permits sought by Enbridge to construct and operate a roughly four mile-long tunnel under the Great Lakes. 

The Canadian corporation’s giant tunnel, at roughly 20-feet in diameter, would house a new Line 5 pipeline to continue for another 99 years carrying up to 23 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids a day through the public trust bottomlands of the Straits of Mackinac, where Lake Michigan connects to Lake Huron.

The comments by FLOW, the Straits of Mackinac Alliance (SMA), and the Straits Area Concerned Citizens for Peace, Justice, and the Environment (SACCPJE) came at today’s deadline in legal and technical comments directed to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) and Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The groups’ comments identify critical deficiencies in the project’s construction permit application filed in April, its legal authorization, and the review by state environmental agencies of expected impacts to wetlands, bottomlands, and surface water, including from the daily discharge of millions of gallons of wastewater during construction.

“Enbridge’s attempted private takeover of the public’s bottomlands under the Straits of Mackinac for the tunnel project is not authorized by the state, not good for the climate or Gov. Whitmer’s goals, not good for public health, safety, and welfare, and not consistent with public need as the nation and world turn to clean energy for survival,” said Liz Kirkwood, executive director of FLOW, a Great Lakes law and policy center based in Traverse City. 

“We share the public’s deep concerns about the Canadian pipeline company’s tunnel proposal and its lack of necessity, and risks it would pose to the Great Lakes, drinking water, the fishery in the Straits, Tribal rights, the Pure Michigan economy, the climate, and a way of life,” said Kirkwood. “The biggest consequence right now of this proposed project is that it distracts the government from its duty to shut down the current Line 5 oil pipelines that pose a clear-and-present danger to the Great Lakes.”

To date, more than 2,600 members of the public—including individuals, families, business owners, community leaders, organizational leaders, and others—have filed comments with EGLE urging the agency to reject Enbridge’s proposed tunnel permits. Many groups, including FLOW and Oil & Water Don’t Mix, have articulated scientific and legal deep concerns about the Canadian pipeline company’s tunnel proposal and its lack of necessity, and risks to the Great Lakes, drinking water, the fishery in the Straits, Tribal rights, the Pure Michigan economy, the climate, and a way of life.

The comments Enbridge’s proposed oil pipeline tunnel submitted today by FLOW, SMA, and SACCPJE determined that EGLE:

  1. Cannot properly proceed on administering the Enbridge permit applications unless and until the December 2018 easement and tunnel lease have been authorized under the Public Trust Doctrine (PTD) and Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act (GLSLA);  
  2. Must undertake an analysis of the lifetime greenhouse gas emissions attributable to the proposed tunnel, particularly in light of Governor Whitmer’s Executive Directive 2020-10 setting a goal of economy-wide carbon neutrality by 2050. Extending the life of Line 5 for the next 99 years with  the tunnel project is fundamentally at odds with the reduction of greenhouse gases necessary to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change.
  3. Is required to measure the benefits of the proposed tunnel against its reasonably foreseeable detriments, under Part 303 of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act (NREPA), which includes determining the:
    1. Public and private need for the project; and 
    2. Availability of feasible and prudent alternative locations and methods to accomplish the expected benefits from the activity; and
  4. Is required to comprehensively and independently consider and determine whether the tunnel project is consistent with protection of Michigan’s natural resources under the Michigan Environmental Protection Act (MEPA). The state must determine whether extending the life of an oil pipeline that will emit approximately tens of  million tons of greenhouse gases annually for the next 99 years, under the state NREPA, “is consistent with the promotion of the public health, safety and welfare in light of the state’s paramount concern for the protection of its natural resources from pollution, impairment or destruction.”

EGLE expects to issue its final decision on the oil pipeline tunnel permits and for wastewater impacts in late November and impacts to wetlands and submerged lands in early December. While Enbridge takes an estimated 5-10 years to study, seek permits, and build an oil tunnel, the 67-year-old Line 5 oil pipelines in the Straits would continue to decay and endanger the Great Lakes, jobs, and the drinking water supply for half of Michiganders. 

“The unique characteristics of the Straits of Mackinac make the area incredibly susceptible to disruption and destruction if EGLE approves the permits for Enbridge’s proposed tunnel,” said Patty Peek, Chair of the Straits of Mackinac Alliance. “The surrounding wetlands, shorebirds, waterfowl, and aquatic species will be in jeopardy from the millions of gallons of wastewater to be discharged daily into the surface waters of the Great Lakes. Local drinking water wells may be polluted and/or drilling operations may imperil the aquifer. Missing information and a lack of specificity on applications cannot be acceptable. The risk to our precious waters is too great to allow this tunnel project to move forward.”

For more information, see:

Tribes and Environmental Groups Will Help Decide Fate of Proposed Line 5 Oil Tunnel in the Great Lakes

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MPSC seeks public comments online and at August 24 public hearing

Jim Olson is FLOW’s Founder, President, and Legal Advisor

By Jim Olson

Good news arrived recently for citizens concerned about Enbridge’s dangerous Line 5 pipelines that convey millions of gallons of petroleum each day, and the proposed massive new tunnel pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac — the very heart of the Great Lakes.

Administrative Law Judge Dennis W. Mack, who is handling the contested case for the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) on Enbridge’s application for the Line 5 tunnel and tunnel pipeline, issued a ruling August 13 granting intervention to participate in the case to several federally recognized Indian tribes in Michigan and key environmental groups, including FLOW, that petitioned to bring special knowledge and expertise to the case.

The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) granted intervention to a total of 13 entities, including four tribes — Bay Mills Indian Community, Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, and the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi, providing the first three tribes listed with an opportunity to formally assert their treaty rights this way for the first time. The Nottawaseppi Huron Band, based in Calhoun County, will bring their knowledge and experience gained by living near the site of Enbridge’s disastrous Line 6B pipeline spill in 2010 into the Kalamazoo River watershed. 

The ALJ also granted intervention to five environmental organizations — the Environmental Law & Policy Center with the Michigan Climate Action Network, For Love of Water (FLOW), Michigan Environmental Council, National Wildlife Federation, and the Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council — with reach across the state of Michigan, Great Lakes region, and nation. The Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority, Michigan Attorney General, Michigan Laborers’ District Council, and Michigan Propane Gas Association & National Propane Gas Association also were allowed to intervene in the case.

Enbridge filed a 17-page objection to the intervention by the organizations’ and tribes’ participation as parties in the case, taking the extreme position that since the MPSC granted approval in 1953 for the existing Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac, Enbridge doesn’t need approval now for the proposed half-billion-dollar tunnel and tunnel pipeline.

FLOW and other organizations filed replies to Enbridge’s objection to their intervening in the case, pointing out that the MPSC in June had already rejected the company’s attempt to cut off further review and obtain immediate approval of the project without a comprehensive review of necessity, public interest at stake, impacts, and alternatives to the massive project. Over Enbridge’s objections, Judge Mack recognized the significant interests and rights and the unique perspective and expertise these organizations and sovereign tribes will bring to the case.

The comprehensive review and proceeding before the MPSC will continue in stages addressed by a scheduling memorandum entered August 13 by Administrative Law Judge Mack. Legal questions involving the nature and scope of the review required by the MPSC governing laws and regulations, the Michigan Environmental Protection Act (MEPA), and public trust principles that govern the Straits of Mackinac will be argued and decided between now and late October. After that, the case will proceed with discovery and exchange of information, direct testimony, rebuttal testimony, and cross examination of the testimony and evidence from late November until next summer, with a decision by the MPSC expected in early fall of 2021.

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Comment Now or at MPSC’s Aug. 24 Virtual Public Hearing

The Michigan Public Service Commission has invited public comments on Enbridge’s tunnel proposal through written submissions, as well as by telephone during an online public hearing scheduled for August 24, 2020. Oil & Water Don’t Mix, which FLOW co-leads with allied tribal and environmental groups, has created this easy tool for you to submit your comment to the MPSC opposing an Enbridge oil tunnel through the public bottomlands in the Straits of Mackinac. You also can sign up here or here to comment at the MPSC public hearing.

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See FLOW’s recent coverage of the Michigan Public Service Commission review of the Enbridge oil pipeline tunnel here:

FLOW, Environmental, and Tribal Groups Urge U.S. Army Corps to Reject Enbridge Line 5 Tunnel Permit

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Enbridge’s request for federal approval of a Line 5 replacement oil pipeline in a proposed tunnel in the Straits of Mackinac should be rejected to protect the Great Lakes from the continued risk of a catastrophic oil spill and a pipeline that is no longer needed, 10 leading environmental and tribal groups said Tuesday in comments to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Citing a federal court order on July 6 involving the Dakota Access pipeline that also involves Enbridge, the groups told the Army Corps it cannot give rubber-stamp permit approval to Enbridge’s massive Great Lakes oil pipeline tunnel construction project without conducting an environmental impact statement (EIS) as required by the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA).

“The biggest consequence right now of this proposed project is that it distracts the government from its duty to shut down a risky oil pipeline in the Great Lakes. Instead, we are talking about a proposed oil tunnel that may or may not ever be built,” said Liz Kirkwood, executive director of FLOW. “However, if Enbridge insists on this, then a full environmental review of this tunnel proposal is required. That’s what a federal court told the Army Corps, and that’s what we are telling the Army Corps. There’s no shortcut when it comes to potential risks to the Great Lakes.”

In their 22-page comment to the Army Corps, FLOW, Sierra Club, Clean Water Action, Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council, Straits of Mackinac Alliance, Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities, TC350.org, Straits Area of Concerned Citizens for Peace Justice and the Environment, Chippewa Ottawa Resource Authority (“CORA”), and Michigan League of Conservation Voters (“MLCV”) requested a public hearing on the proposed permit and a thorough review of the tunnel project under the National Environmental Policy Act. So far the Army Corps has failed to set a public hearing or undertake an environmental assessment of the proposal. A federal judge in July ordered the shutdown of the Dakota Access pipeline in Missouri after ruling in March that the Army Corps failed to conduct a full environmental review of the proposed pipeline project.  Enbridge also has an ownership stake in the Dakota Access pipeline

In separate comments filed with the Army Corps, five Michigan tribes with treaty rights to the Straits, said the massive proposed tunnel project is a threat to the spawning and fishing grounds for 60 percent of the commercial tribal whitefish catch.

“Whether it is a 67-year-old pipeline aging under pristine freshwater, or a proposed tunnel creating pollution and causing disruption to tribal fishing industries for years, Enbridge should not be allowed to cut corners and bypass a full environmental review, something that Line 5 has never had,” said Bryan Newland, president of the Bay Mills Indian Community. “We’ve seen the exemptions made and lack of thorough pipeline equipment reviews result in surprises of corrosion, dents and the most recent screw anchor damage. With the company’s lack of transparency and poor track record, moving forward with a tunnel is putting pipelines and profits above the safety of Michiganders and the environment, allowing a potential oil spill to continue threatening our Great Lakes.”

In their comments, the environmental groups cited numerous concerns with Enbridge’s tunnel proposal and said oil and propane supplies that are needed can be delivered by other means. Major concerns with the proposal include impacts on drinking water quality from millions of gallons of wastewater discharge and a potential oil spill, significant impacts on the local tourism economy, rental housing, public safety and health systems from a multi-year construction project.  Additional risks include pipeline safety and financial exposure to the state from a tunnel abandonment by Enbridge or collapse, including the potential for an explosion involving hazardous liquids. Tunnel safety was cited in a 2019 letter by the American Transmission Company withdrawing any potential participation in the proposed tunnel project.

“This project tunnel project is a massive undertaking with huge water quality, coastal wetlands, drinking water contamination, and other impacts for the Great Lakes and Michigan,” said Anne Woiwode, Chair of the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter. “This involves a waterbody of international importance that is protected under the Clean Water Act and we expect the Army Corps to follow the law.”

Two Virtual Hearings, Two Real Steps Closer to Shutting Down Line 5 in the Great Lakes

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Take Action: Click Here to Urge Michigan’s Leaders to Shut Down the “Significantly Damaged” Line 5 Right Now

Jim Olson is FLOW’s Founder and Legal Advisor

 

 

By Jim Olson 

For the past 6 years, Canada’s Enbridge has maneuvered the State of Michigan into rounds of back-and-forth letters, meetings, and agreements that have done nothing but delay any enforcement action to shut down Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac, where Lake Michigan meets Lake Huron. After two pivotal hearings on Tuesday, June 30, however, Enbridge has begun to lose its grip on the fate of its dangerous twin Line 5 crude oil pipelines in the public waters of the Straits. Two hearings, and the State and its citizens are two steps closer to shutting down the unstable twin crude oil pipelines once and for all without replacement.

1st Hearing: The Michigan Public Service Commission on Enbridge’s Proposed Oil Pipeline Tunnel

On the morning of June 30, in a virtual public hearing with hundreds of participants, the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) approved 3-to-0 an Order that rejected Enbridge’s bid to avoid its obligation to prove it is entitled to locate and construct its proposed tunnel pipeline “in the public interest” and that it is necessary at this time in history. (See FLOW E.D. Liz Kirkwood’s reaction here).

The company argued that it didn’t need the MPSC’s approval of the pipeline tunnel because the State’s utility commission approved the necessity of the existing line in 1953. In an Order more than 70 pages long, the MPSC described the complexity and importance of the public interest and necessity for a crude oil pipeline in the Great Lakes in 2020, not 67 years ago. The Order included an outline of the depth of the issues posed by the tunnel proposal before the public panel, relying on extensive comments submitted by the Michigan Environmental Council and National Wildlife Federation, Michigan tribal governments, For Love of water (FLOW), Michigan’s Attorney General Dana Nessel, and many other organizations and citizens.

The submitted comments pointed to the overarching public interest and public trust in the Great Lakes, demand for crude oil, alternative routes, threats to the environment, and risks to the Great Lakes from climate change, such as high-water levels and damaged infrastructure. The Order requires Enbridge to prove under the scrutiny of the MPSC in a formal, trial-like proceeding that the pipeline tunnel proposal is in the public interest, necessary, and that there are no reasonable alternatives to shipping oil through its and North America’s massive pipeline system.

2nd Hearing: Ingham County Circuit Court on a Preliminary Injunction to Shut Down Existing Line 5 in Attorney General Dana Nessel for the People of Michigan versus Enbridge Energy

On the afternoon of June 30, after a 5-hour virtual hearing in Ingham County Circuit Court in Lansing, Circuit Court Judge James Jamo continued the temporary restraining order (“TRO”) he issued on June 22, shutting down the flow of oil through Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac. Enbridge argued that historical in-line inspections and video footage of scrapes to the exterior of the pipes and a twisted support structure designed to minimize damage from strong currents demonstrated the steel pipelines themselves were safe. Enbridge introduced a letter from the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) that stated the agency did “not object” to restarting the pipelines “based on the assurances of Enbridge.” Lawyers for Enbridge told the Court that if PHMSA says it’s safe, then the State and Court have no jurisdiction or power to interfere with restarting the lines, and that Enbridge should be able to reopen the lines. 

The Attorney General’s lead attorney told the Court that Enbridge hadn’t turned over all of the information related to Enbridge’s “assurances” to PHMSA and that the cause of the damage to the structure and lines remained unknown. He argued that without more information and independent review of what happened, there was no way Enbridge or the State could comply with the stringent due care and prudence obligations under public trust law to insure that the pipelines are not a danger to the waters, bottomlands, and people of Michigan. The public trust in the waters and bottomlands of the Great Lakes is derived from the State’s title granted to it when it joined the United States in 1837, and it can’t be impaired, endangered, or controlled by primarily private interests.

Judge Jamo probed Enbridge’s lawyers on whether PHMSA’s “non-objection” could deprive the State of its public trust jurisdiction by a letter based on only the assurances of Enbridge. The lawyers couldn’t give a clear answer, and by the end of the hearing it was clear that what PHMSA said was evidence of safety, was not conclusive of the broader duty of the State and the Court to determine whether there was a violation of the due care requirement to protect the public trust in the Straits.

At the end of the hearing, the Court continued the TRO issued June 22. On Wednesday morning, July 1, the Court issued an amended TRO, keeping the suspension of use of the lines in force, but allowing Enbridge to inspect the west leg of the dual lines in the Straits to see if it could be used in the near future “subject to any future order of the Court.”

Clearly, Judge Jamo has taken control of the risks associated with the location of crude oil pipelines in the Straits. The condition of the two lines has totally changed from 1953. Approximately 150 saddle supports (with 50 some more on the way) have been added since 2001 to stabilize the failure of the original lines because of powerful currents in the Straits. Two recent events damaged the coating on the west line and broke an anchor support on the east line. Enbridge inspectors were not sure what caused the damage, but they thought it appeared to be anchor strikes or other objects dragged by passing ships. This is alarming because this brings the total number of known strikes to dual lines to three in the last 18 months. It appears Judge Jamo is exercising due care in continuing the shutdown of the lines. He took the request for preliminary injunction under advisement. In the near future, he is expected to decide on a previous motion to rule that the 1953 easement allowing Enbridge to place the two lines in the Straits in the first place is no longer valid under the public trust laws that protect the Straits and all of the Great Lakes.

Ultimately, this case and the fate of Line 5 will turn on the reality that in 2020 the conditions and circumstances are not the same as 1953. The Line 5 twin pipelines in the water and across the lakebed are in the wrong place because of certain serious conditions that will continue to exist and cannot be controlled. Under public trust law, these lines and the easement that allowed them are no longer lawful. Attorney General Nessel did the right thing in filing this lawsuit—the lines in this location violate the public trust and constitute a public nuisance in the form of an “environmental ticking time bomb,” as the State has argued, that could go off at any time. How strong a current, how many near-disaster anchor-strikes or other errors will it take before the inevitable catastrophe happens? Now is the time to prosecute these claims to the right conclusion, a permanent and orderly shutdown.

In the meantime, Circuit Court Judge Jamo was correct in keeping this matter under his control and advisement, and to continue the temporary order suspending the use of these pipelines pending further proceedings. For the moment, the pumps and twin lines remain silent.

Decision Time Coming on Line 5 Oil Tunnel

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Thousands urge MPSC to bring Enbridge under rule of law to protect Great Lakes

By Emma Moulton, FLOW Milliken Intern for Communications

By Emma Moulton, FLOW Milliken Intern for Communications

During a three-week comment period that ended in mid-May, the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) received a flood of more than 3,100 public comments, with a strong majority firmly opposed, on Enbridge’s request to bypass the legal review process and plow forward with other permitting required to replace and relocate the decaying Line 5 oil pipelines crossing the Straits of Mackinac with a proposed 18- to 21-foot diameter tunnel housing a new pipeline.

MPSC spokesman Matt Helms called the volume of comments “definitely a high amount” even for an agency whose utility rate-setting cases sometimes draw intense public scrutiny. The submissions poured in from individuals, families, tribes, environmental groups, elected officials, business owners, political groups, and many others opposed to the Canadian company’s attempted legal maneuver.

Many comments, including from FLOW, highlighted deep concerns over due process, the rule of law, and tribal treaty rights in response to Enbridge’s request for a declaratory ruling that no approval from the MPSC is even necessary. The Canadian pipeline company justifies its request by claiming that a new, roughly 4-mile long tunnel through the bedrock and loose soil of the public trust bottomlands should be considered mere “maintenance” on the old Line 5 pipelines in the open waters that the MPSC approved 67 years ago.

It’s 2020, Not 1953, and A Momentous Decision Awaits

An overarching theme of the comments was that this is no longer 1953, when Dwight Eisenhower was president and color TV was new to America. Now climate change, water scarcity, privatization, and oil spills must be taken into account when considering this massive, new fossil-fuel infrastructure. The public comments demand that MPSC’s decision be based on actual necessity in light of societal clean-energy goals and public interest in a sustainable future. Line 5 only grows more dangerous with age, and it is decision time for Michigan’s leaders.

“There’s no free pass here,” said Jim Olson, FLOW founder and legal advisor. “The MPSC is charged with the responsibility of assuring this project is necessary and in the public interest of the people of Michigan in 2020, not 1953. The world has changed and with the current COVID-19 pandemic and global climate crisis, the MPSC’s decision will be momentous.”

Groups Point to Risks, Legal Tactics, Lack of Public Necessity

In their comments, many environmental groups spoke to the unacceptable risk a tunnel would pose to natural resources in Michigan. Several submissions cited the major catastrophe that would be unleashed by an oil spill under and gushing into the Great Lakes, including the damage to drinking water supplies, public health, jobs and the economy, public and private property, aquatic life and habitat, current and future generations, and a way of life in the Great Lakes State.

And the groups directly addressed the criteria the MPSC considers in weighing Enbridge’s request for a declaratory ruling. The Sierra Club, for instance, insisted that the MPSC deny Enbridge’s request, as it, “asks the Commission to ignore that its proposal is in fact to replace the dual Line 5 pipelines by building a new single pipeline, of a different size, in a new location”—noting that Sierra Club members from Michigan rely on the Great Lakes for their clean water and their livelihoods.

The citizen-led Straits of Mackinac Alliance questioned the necessity of the tunnel given the economic downturn here and beyond, writing, “Any projection of tunnel use beyond the next decade is highly speculative” due to Michigan’s change in oil demand. “Michigan’s need for oil products in 2020 is totally different than it was in 1953… Current demands for oil have dropped dramatically and industry projections for shale oil sources do not look promising. The shale oil producers may not be in business when the tunnel project is completed.”

On behalf of multiple groups and tribes, including the Michigan Environmental Council, the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, Tip Of The Mitt Watershed Council, and National Wildlife Federation, attorney Christopher Bzdok highlighted Enbridge’s thin reasoning in support of its request for a declaratory ruling and noted that the MPSC “reserved jurisdiction and authority over Line 5, and the right to issue subsequent orders as the Commission deemed necessary. That reservation gives the Commission ample authority to require a new approval for the project and a new contested case.”

Tribes Voice Concerns over Treaty Rights and Survival

Throughout the comments, there is a powerful presence of tribal organizations voicing their critical position on the request, most often citing the 1836 Treaty of Washington, which preceded Michigan’s statehood in 1837 reserved the tribes’ rights to hunt, fish, and gather throughout the territory, and asserted the need for an environment in which fish can thrive.

In addressing tribal rights, attorney Bzdok highlights the lack of tribal collaboration in the MPSC’s original 1953 decision on Line 5: “The Tribes – at least two of which will be intervening in this case – were the original occupants of the property that will be occupied by the project. They retain certain reserved rights to natural resources in the project area under the Treaty of Washington.”

On behalf of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, Tribal Chairperson Regina Gasco-Bentley states that the reserved treaty rights “remain central to our culture, economy, and physical and spiritual well-being. The Straits of Mackinac are the life blood of our Tribe. An oil spill or geologic mishap from tunneling under the Straits would devastate our Tribe beyond any economic valuation.”

Next Steps from the MPSC on a Line 5 Oil Tunnel

The MPSC through May 27 accepted any replies on the public comment that was submitted by the May 13 deadline. The public body expects to decide on Enbridge’s request for a declaratory ruling at a June or July meeting, or shortly after, according to spokesman Helms.

If the MPSC rightly rejects the request, then, according to FLOW’s Jim Olson, the MPSC in its review of Enbridge’s April 17 tunnel application should “fully consider and determine the effect on, and potential impairment to, the substantial risks, alternatives, costs, and damages, and the future of the State of Michigan under the public trust in the Great Lakes, environment, fishing, fishery habitat, and the communities, including tribal interests under long-standing treaties” of Enbridge’s tunnel pipeline proposal under the Straits of Mackinac to replace its existing four-mile Line 5 pipeline on the lakebed.

Courtroom Showdown Coming Friday over Line 5 Shutdown

Michigan A.G. Dana Nessel’s team to make arguments in historic public trust case to end threat of Great Lakes oil spill

Jim Olson is FLOW’s Founder, President, and Legal Advisor

By Jim Olson

Streaming live online this Friday morning, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel or members of her staff—attorneys Peter Manning, Bob Reichel, and Dan Bock, steeped in water and natural resources law—will make historic arguments to bring Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac under the rule of law and lead to its orderly closure. Nessel’s action was taken to protect the public trust of all of Michigan’s citizens, now and in the future, in Attorney General Dana Nessel On Behalf of the People of Michigan v. Enbridge Energy, Limited Partnership, et al., before Ingham County Circuit Court Judge James S. Jamo.

Click here to view FLOW’s amicus brief in the Nessel v. Enbridge case, as well as amici briefs also filed by the Sierra Club and three states in support of Michigan Attorney General’s lawsuit to shut down Enbridge’s Line 5. 

Line 5 in Court: Watch Live on Friday, May 22, at 9 a.m. EST

The public can watch this legal effort by the State of Michigan to shut down Line 5, which is supported FLOW and other organizations standing up for the public trust in our Great Lakes. This case is set for oral argument at 9 a.m. on Friday, May 22. According to the Court, you may watch the hearing by tuning in to the livestream on Judge Jamo’s YouTube Channel.

 

After 6 years of stalling and unfulfilled promises by former Governor Rick Snyder’s administration and former Attorney General Bill Schuette, Michigan voters in 2018 ushered in new leaders—Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel, who pledged to end Line 5’s threat to the Straits, where Lake Michigan converges and collides with Lake Huron.

Last June, Attorney General Nessel fulfilled her promise to take swift, strong action to bring an end to the unacceptable, massive, catastrophic risk of damage to the Great Lakes posed by Enbridge’s 67-year-old Line 5 the Straits of Mackinac.

Growing Pile of Evidence against Line 5

The State of Michigan’s legal action comes in response to growing evidence of Line 5’s failed design, anchor strikes, strong currents, sloughing and shored-up pipelines operating beyond their life expectancy, admitted inability to clean up a spill, and a conservative, worst-case scenario rupture from an anchor strike (which actually happened on April 1, 2018, narrowly avoiding a spill) forecast to trigger more than $6 billion of measurable damages. Scientific studies show that a spill would smother several hundred miles of shoreline, affect up to 60 percent of Lake Huron’s surface area and a substantial portion of Lake Michigan, close drinking water and sanitation systems of cities like Mackinac Island, shut down fishing, kill fish and fish habitat, halt shipping, and cause irreparable damage and impairment of public uses, private property, businesses, and the ecological diversity of the upper reaches of two Great Lakes.

enbridges-line-5-under-the-straits-of-mackinac-4f9997139d321d60As the chief legal officer of the people of Michigan, A.G. Nessel filed a lawsuit, not just as an attorney, but as the named Plaintiff for the People of Michigan—she is bringing this action as Attorney General and on behalf of the citizens of Michigan to decommission and shut down Line 5 because of its unlawful breach of the public trust in the Great Lakes, failing design and imminent risks in the Straits of Mackinac.

Historic Public Trust Case the First brought by a Michigan Attorney General for the People in 60 Years

The attorney general’s action is truly historic. Why?

It has been 60 years since an Attorney General of Michigan filed a lawsuit to protect the paramount public trust in the Great Lakes and legal rights of citizens as beneficiaries to enjoy and use our waters for navigation, fishing, boating, drinking water, swimming, historic and biological research, and recreation. That’s right. It’s been 60 years since then Michigan Attorney General, later state Supreme Court Justice, Paul Adams won a landmark victory in 1960 in Obrecht v National Gypsum Co. (361 Mich 399 (1960)), a landmark Michigan Supreme Court case putting a stop to unauthorized industrial encroachment and risk to the public trust and paramount protected uses of our Great Lakes.

Cottage owners and citizens along the shore of Lake Huron filed a lawsuit to stop the encroachment of a large industrial loading dock to reach ships a quarter-mile into Lake Huron. Justice Adams intervened as a party in the case and aligned himself and the People of Michigan with the cottagers and citizens whose use and enjoyment of the trust waters of Lake Huron would be subordinated to the private use of the industrial dock and mining company. After an extensive battle in the lower courts and arguments in the Supreme Court, the Court sided with Justice Adams and the people of Michigan.

Writing for the Court, Justice Black, a lawyer from the shoreline City of Port Huron, foreshadowed the future battles over the Great Lakes:

The last great frontiers of Michigan’s public domain lie submerged between her thousands of miles of shoreline… [T]he courts of these inland coastal states may well brace themselves for a series of new questions having to do with the nature and alienability of sovereign title to such domain and the inevitable collision of riparian rights… with the sovereign responsibility [of the state] as permanent trustee thereof. These cases become a notable forerunner. (Id. 361 Mich at 403)

The defendant National Gypsum Corporation claimed the private riparian right as owner of lake frontage to build a dock into the lake as far as needed to reach deep-draft ships. Justice Adams and his allies argued that the private right was subordinate to the public trust rights of citizens. Reaching back to 100 years of court fights over the St. Clair Flats and Lake Michigan, and relying on the 1892 U.S. Supreme Court Illinois Central case that ruled the Great Lakes were subject to the public trust doctrine, our Michigan Court ruled that a private corporation could not subordinate or alienate the public trust in the Great Lakes:

No part of the beds of the Great Lakes, belonging to Michigan can be alienated or otherwise devoted to private use in the absence of due finding of one of two exceptional reasons for such alienation or devotion to non-public use.

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No one… has the right to construct for private use a permanent deep-water dock or pier on the bottom lands of the Great Lakes… unless and until he has sought and received, from the legislature or its authorized agency, such assent based on the finding as will legally warrant the intended use of such lands. Indeed, and aside from the common law as expounded in Illinois Central, the legislature bids us construe its design and purpose ‘so as to preserve and protect the interests of the general public’ in such submerged lands and as authorizing the sale, lease, exchange or other disposition of such submerged lands when and only when it is ‘determined by the department of conservation that such lands have no substantial public value for hunting, fishing, swimming, pleasure boating or navigation and that the general public interest will not be impaired by such sales, lease or other disposition.’ (Id., at 412-413, citing and adopting Illinois Central R. Co. v. Illinois, 146 U.S. 387, 455-60 (1892)).

The Public Trust Imposes a High, Solemn Duty on the Government

Unlike other natural resource laws, the public trust imposes a high, solemn duty on the government to protect these waters, bottomlands, habitat, shorelines, and paramount public uses from private takeover or impairment (Collins v Gerhardt, 237 Mich 38, 49 (1926). The public trust doctrine imposes on the State as trustee “a high solemn and perpetual trust which it is the duty of the State to forever maintain.”). Justice Black and the Court agreed “with the attorney general that the public title and right is supreme as against National Gypsum’s asserted right of wharfage, and hold that the latter may be exercised by the Company only in accordance with the regulatory assent of the State. No such assent has been given and, for that reason alone, the chancellor erred in decreeing that National Gypsum might proceed with what in law has become, since entry of such decrees, an entry upon and unlawful detention of State property.” (Id., at 413-414)

So, in 2020 once again a collision looms over the right of a corporation to occupy for itself the state-titled trust bottomlands and waters of the Straits of Mackinac, the very heart of the Great Lakes, for its aged dual pipelines to transport crude oil to its private markets. It cannot do so without the assent of the State “in the absence of due findings” that the one or two of the narrow exceptions apply.  In short, public trust law as one would expect does not authorize any deed, occupancy, or alienation of public trust bottomlands and waters except where there are findings that the private use protects and promotes the public trust interests and protected uses—navigation, fishing, boating, drinking water, swimming, and other recreational or ecological purposes—or that these treasured public trust resources have no such public value.

Courtroom Context on May 22

Let’s return to the present, May 2020. Like Paul Adams in 1960, our State Attorney General Dana Nessel and her lawyers Manning, Reichel, and Bock have filed briefs and will argue Friday that the 67-year-old Enbridge Line 5, like National Gypsum’s private industrial dock in 1960, is unlawful under the high, solemn public trust law and duties of government that apply to our Great Lakes.

The facts are undisputed. In 1953, after the legislature delegated authority to grant public utility easements over or under state lands, including our public trust Great Lakes, the Department of Conservation never made any findings that the easement to Enbridge for its dual crude oil pipelines (1) would preserve and protect the public’s public interests and uses, or (2) do not have substantial public value for navigation, fishing, boating, swimming, other accepted public trust uses. Without these findings, Line 5 must be terminated. The only way the Enbridge’s private use can be validated is for the company to apply to the State for findings in 2020 that the known risks of devastating unacceptable harm to the Great Lakes, communities, property owners, businesses and citizens is consistent with and will protect these paramount public trust uses, or that the Straits of Mackinac has no public value for these uses.

A Powerful Mix of Duty, Integrity, Courage on Display

We applaud Attorney General Nessel and her legal staff for their courage to take a stand in fulfillment of their solemn duty to protect and preserve the integrity of the public trust in our bottomlands and waters of or Great Lakes. Yes, this case is about integrity, and it has all the hallmarks to become the next historical milestone in the history and jurisprudence over the great frontier of those lands and waters between our shores.

The State of Governor Whitmer’s State of the State Message

By Dave Dempsey

Early in each new year, the Governor of Michigan sets forth a policy agenda for the Legislature and the state as a whole. This year, Governor Gretchen Whitmer delivers her State of the State message on the evening of Wednesday, January 29.

Whitmer will inevitably tackle roads, jobs, infrastructure, education, and Michigan’s economic prosperity, but the environment must be a key part of her speech.

Whitmer would do well to emulate her predecessor Gov. William Milliken, who 50 years ago gave a 1970 State of the State speech that fought environmental degradation and deregulation and called for dramatic changes in state policy to better protect the air, water, land, fish and wildlife. The 1970 legislative session resulted in the Michigan Environmental Protection Act, the Natural Rivers Act, the Great Lakes Shorelands Act and more.

Environmental, natural resources and public health policies are a critical part of Michigan’s policy needs. Governor Whitmer has an important opportunity to move the state forward by outlining bold steps for the state to take to assure safe and affordable drinking water for all; assure our water remains public and is not captured by private commercial interests for profit; protect rivers, lakes and habitat; and promote solutions to the climate crisis.

(Whitmer will appear on an even bigger stage on Tuesday, February 4, when she delivers a Democratic response to the State of the Union address.)

Here are issues for Michigan citizens to listen for that FLOW urges the Governor to cover in her State of the State message:

FLOW’s State of the State Agenda

FLOW believes the Governor should:

Bring Line 5 Pipelines Under the Rule of Law:

• Direct that Enbridge obtain authorization under the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act (GLSLA) and public trust law for the new 2018 tunnel easement and long-term private control of the Straits of Mackinac for the tunnel and existing Line 5.

• Nullify, revoke, and/or terminate the 1953 easement to use the lakebed at the Straits under which Enbridge operates Line 5 for violation of public trust law, and the rule of law under the GLSLA.

Address the Climate Crisis:

• Issue an executive order setting state renewable energy and decarbonization targets and methods to achieve them.

• Direct a study of the future impacts of climate change to the Great Lakes, identifying measures to promote adaptation and resiliency.

Provide Safe, Clean, Affordable Water for All:

• Support legislation and policy that declares and protects the paramount public interest in the State’s water and the individual’s right and access to safe, clean, affordable water and prevents water shutoffs.

Stop Septic System Pollution:

• Call for the Legislature to enact a statewide sanitary code to protect the paramount public interest in groundwater and surface waters, setting environmentally protective standards for inspection and maintenance of on-site sewage (septic) systems.

Prevent Great Lakes Exports:

• As Chair of the Great Lakes Compact Council, call for revision of Compact procedures to prevent unlawful diversions and exports, and establish a framework to address impacts on waters of the Basin from the effects of climate change.

Invest in the Protection of State’s Water and Water Infrastructure:

• Support a funding mechanism or mechanisms, including conservation, efficiency, and innovative user fees, to close the huge gap between water infrastructure needs and available funds, and coordinate the funding mechanism with the right to water, health, and affordability.

Make Polluters Pay:

• Hold polluters rather than taxpayers accountable for contamination cleanup costs, and restore standards that require cleanup rather than containment of toxic pollutants from the waters of our State.

Dave Dempsey, FLOW’s senior policy adviser, wrote the award-winning biography William G. Milliken: Michigan’s Passionate Moderate (University of Michigan Press, 2006).

Michigan DNR Takes Steps to Hold Enbridge Accountable

Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Director Daniel Eichinger today set a 30-day deadline for Enbridge to submit key information regarding its ongoing violations of the state-granted easement conditionally allowing the Canadian company’s 66-year-old Line 5 oil pipelines to occupy the Straits of Mackinac.

Eichinger’s letter to Enbridge, which includes 20 questions to be answered by Feb. 12, is an appropriate step to conclude the DNR’s review ordered by Governor Whitmer last June, according to FLOW, the Great Lakes law and policy center based in Traverse City.

“It’s a welcome sign that Director Eichinger and his staff appear to be wrapping up their Line 5 investigation by asking for all other information and documentation that Enbridge has in its possession or control,” said Kelly Thayer, Deputy Director of FLOW (For Love of Water). “At the conclusion of this process, these serious and continuing violations of the easement by Enbridge should trigger the state to shut down the dangerous dual Line 5 oil pipelines in the Great Lakes before it’s too late.”

FLOW commended the DNR for taking this step to restore the rule of law on Line 5, the oil pipelines running through the open waters of the Straits of Mackinac, which researchers have called the worst possible place for a Great Lakes oil spill due to the powerful underwater currents, strong waves, seasonal ice cover, and extreme difficulty in responding to an oil pipeline failure.

“It’s clear that Line 5’s original design in the Straits is failing, as the powerful currents scour the public bottomlands and undermine the pipelines placed there in 1953,” said Jim Olson, FLOW’s President and legal advisor. “Enbridge’s continuing addition of more than 200 pipeline supports constitutes a risky redesign that never has been evaluated or authorized under the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act and public trust law.”

The State of Michigan already has documented evidence on Line 5 of anchor strikes, exposed metal surfaces, and deep scouring of bottomlands that undermine the pipelines and even bend some of the newly installed supports. There also has been evidence of bending of Line 5 beyond curvature limits, Enbridge has failed to provide proof of liability insurance and other financial assurances, and missing protective pipeline coating and delamination.

FLOW filed formal comments in mid-November 2019 to assist the State of Michigan’s Line 5 review, citing new and ongoing legal violations by Enbridge and rising risk to the Great Lakes, jobs, and drinking water. In those Nov. 13 comments, FLOW called on the state to increase and strictly enforce the requirement for comprehensive oil spill insurance and terminate the 1953 easement that conditionally allows Line 5 to occupy the Straits of Mackinac, triggering the orderly shutdown of the dual oil pipelines as soon as practicable after securing alternative sources for residential propane in the Upper Peninsula (which a state task force is studying).

FLOW’s request followed recent revelations that Enbridge and its subsidiaries lack adequate liability insurance for a potentially catastrophic oil spill from the Canadian company’s decaying dual pipelines snaking across the public bottomlands, where Lake Michigan meets Lake Huron. The new evidence further supports FLOW’s long-standing contention that Enbridge is operating Line 5 illegally while the risk rises to the Great Lakes, jobs, and the drinking water supply for half of Michiganders.

Until Enbridge has applied for and obtains authorization under the rule of law or Line 5 is shut down, FLOW urges the state to impose immediate emergency measures that reduce the flow of oil in Line 5 to its original limit of 300,000 barrels per day (1 barrel = 42 U.S. gallons of oil). Enbridge currently pumps 540,000 barrels a day through Line 5 in the Straits, which is 80% more than the original design approved by the State of Michigan.

Pending such authorization or shutdown, state officials also should implement more stringent requirements for a mandatory emergency shutdown, including when there is a wave height of 3.3 feet or more in the Straits or winds in excess of 18 miles per hour, conditions that render oil spill response equipment ineffective. Based on the level of risk from Line 5 to public waters, the state also should require Enbridge and its subsidiaries to secure adequate insurance, bond, surety and/or secured assets in the total amount of at least $5 billion, based on a study commissioned by FLOW that found that a Line 5 oil spill could deliver a multibillion-dollar blow to natural resource and Michigan’s economy.

FLOW, City of Mackinac Island Join Legal Fight on Invalidity of Existing Line 5 and Proposed Oil Tunnel under Great Lakes

Court accepts amicus briefs supporting enforcement of State of Michigan public trust duties in Enbridge’s lawsuit

Jim Olson, President and Founder

By Jim Olson

The Michigan Court of Claims has issued orders accepting FLOW’s and the City of Mackinac Island’s amicus briefs advancing key legal arguments in Enbridge’s Line 5 oil tunnel lawsuit against the State, rejecting opposing arguments by the Canadian oil pipeline company.

The ruling in Lansing by Judge Michael Kelly in late September means that vital issues raised by FLOW’s brief and the city’s brief will be considered by the Michigan Court of Claims, including the public trust rights of citizens to draw drinking water from and otherwise use the Great Lakes, and the soils and bottomlands beneath them, unimpaired by private interests.

FLOW’s Amicus Curiae Brief was prepared and submitted by Great Lakes environmental and public trust law experts Jeff Hyman, senior staff attorney at the Conservation Law Center in Bloomington, Indiana, and FLOW’s president and legal advisor Jim Olson. The brief traces the history of the public trust doctrine in Michigan and demonstrates the failure of Enbridge and the State to make the determinations required for authorization of the occupancy and use of waters and soils beneath the Great Lake by a private corporation under public trust law and the Michigan’s Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act (GLSLA).

“This is an important step in restoring the rule of law on Line 5,” said FLOW executive director Liz Kirkwood. “The Great Lakes belong to all of us and cannot simply be handed over to a private corporation through a hurried backroom deal by a lame-duck legislature. If Enbridge really wants a tunnel, it will have to apply under state law and demonstrate no potential risk of adverse impacts and no other alternative pipelines to transport crude oil that avoid the Great Lakes.”

Background on Amicus Briefs

On Sept. 10, FLOW filed a motion to submit an amicus brief before the Court of Claims in Enbridge v. Michigan on important questions involving violations of the public trust doctrine. FLOW noted that the future of the public trust rights of citizens and communities in the Great Lakes were violated by the 2018 “lame duck” agreements that would have contracted away the legally required review of impacts of a tunnel pipeline to the Great Lakes, fishing, drinking water, health, and the economy imposed by the constitution and law of Michigan.

In Michigan, people, organizations, and communities have a right as beneficiaries of the public trust in the Great Lakes to demand that government apply the rule of law. Where this interest would be seriously affected by the questions presented in a pending lawsuit, citizens and local governments may motion the court to file an amicus curiae brief—“friend of the court” written arguments submitted to aid the court regarding the questions and how the law should be applied.

The City of Mackinac Island, meanwhile, filed a motion and amicus brief submitted by Traverse City environmental attorneys Scott Howard and Rebecca Millican. The arguments in the city’s brief pinpointed for the Court the grave consequences to the city’s drinking water source, emergency and health services, ferry services, and tourist economy, in addition to the wellbeing of guests and residents from the continued operation of the decaying Line 5 oil pipelines in the Straits. The city’s amicus brief focuses on the invalidity of the 2018 agreements between the State and Enbridge, which purported to grant Enbridge the right to continue using and occupying the waters and soils of the Great Lakes without any authorization under the public trust or GLSLA requirements.

FLOW’s position remains that the attempt by the Snyder administration to allow Enbridge to continue operating the existing perilous Line 5 in the Straits while Enbridge spends 5 to 10 years or more designing, obtaining required authorizations under public trust law and constructing a tunnel is not a solution. An oil pipeline tunnel 10 years or more down the road does not address Line 5’s immediate threat of massive harm to the Great Lakes nor address the risk posed by the pipeline’s more than 400 stream and river crossings in the Upper and Lower Peninsulas. In addition, Enbridge’s proposal to allow electrical lines and other infrastructure to occupy the proposed oil pipeline tunnel poses an explosion risk. Oral arguments in the case have not been scheduled, so stay tuned to FLOW’s website and Facebook for periodic updates. At stake are the integrity of the State of Michigan constitution, state law, public trust doctrine, and protection of the Great Lakes, public health, and the rights of its citizen to use their public waters.

Lame-Duck Disaster and Side Deals

In December 2018, at the 11th hour of his term, then-Governor Rick Snyder and his department heads of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ)—now Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE)—signed tunnel agreements by-passing the public trust doctrine  and Great Lakes submerged lands law that expressly control agreements for private occupancy and use of the waters and bottomlands of the Great Lakes.

To expedite the tunnel deal before the end of the year, the Governor and Enbridge solicited the help of the lame duck legislature to push through Act 359. That tunnel law amended the Mackinac Bridge Authority’s enabling legislation and created a new authority called the Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority to cede the state’s public trust bottomlands and waters to Canada’s Enbridge.

In late December, the state DNR and DEQ, along with the Corridor Authority signed a series of agreements, including an easement, that illegally assigned the use of the public trust soils under the Great Lakes to Enbridge to locate, build, and operate a new oil tunnel for Line 5 under the Straits.

Separately, but related, Governor Snyder, DNR, and DEQ entered into a “third agreement” that sought to assure Enbridge the right to continue indefinitely the use of the bottomlands of the Straits for the existing 66-year-old Line 5 oil pipelines. Polls and public testimony show that much of public agrees the cracked and sagging pipelines must be removed as soon as possible. With its failing design, Line 5 poses an unacceptable risk of catastrophic harm to fishing, navigation, drinking water, swimming, boating, health and emergency services, Tribal rights, the ecosystem, property values, municipal infrastructure, tourism, and even the steel industry. The attempt to assure Enbridge continued use of the existing Line 5 was unlawful and grossly serious breach of the State’s duty to protect the Great Lakes.

New Leaders Apply the Rule of Law to Line 5

In early January 2019, newly elected Governor Gretchen Whitmer exercised her executive authority under the state constitution, and requested Attorney General Dana Nessel to issue a formal legal opinion on the constitutionality of Act 359 and the validity of the series of the 2018 agreements purporting to turn over the Straits of Mackinac to Enbridge for its tunnel and to continue using the dangerous Line 5. On March 27, Attorney General Nessel ruled that Act 359 and these agreements were unconstitutional, invalid, and unenforceable.

In June, Enbridge filed suit in the Court of Claims in Lansing against the State of Michigan and its departments to resuscitate the oil tunnel deal by seeking a Court order that Act 359 and all of these agreements are constitutional and otherwise valid and enforceable. A.G. Nessel and her staff responded with a motion to dismiss Enbridge’s claim because the law and related agreements are unconstitutional and violate the public trust in the waters of the Great Lakes and the soils beneath them. Enbridge responded that the law was within the powers of the legislature, and that the agreements complied with the public trust doctrine.

Underlying Legal Framework

Under the public trust doctrine, the state owns the bottomlands and waters of the Great Lakes in a trust for the protection of these waters, bottomlands, fish, habitat, and for fishing, navigation, drinking water and sanitation, boating, swimming, and other recreational pursuits. The doctrine prohibits the disposition or agreement for occupancy and use of public trust bottomlands by a private person or corporation without an express determination that the disposition falls within one of two narrow exceptions:

  1. The purpose will improve a public trust interest or use—the water, habitat, fish, or one of the protected public uses (such as a public harbor for boating, or public drinking water works, or swimming beach); or
  2. There is no unacceptable risk of impairment to the waters, ecosystem, or these protected public trust uses.

In 1955, Michigan passed the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act (GLSLA) to protect the public waters and lands beneath the Great Lakes. Under the GLSLA, no one can use, alter, occupy or control the soils and waters of the Great Lakes, unless authorized by the DEQ (now EGLE) after due findings that the public trust interests (e.g. navigation, fishing, drinking water) would be improved or would not be impaired.

When Governor Snyder and his department heads cut the tunnel deal with Enbridge, they contracted away these legal requirements, basically suspending the rule of law in Michigan.

You might say our leaders suspended the law and granted Enbridge an “open season” license to do what it wanted with the public’s paramount trust interests in the Straits of Mackinac. The Governor, DNR, and then-DEQ failed to require Enbridge to apply for legal authorization to continue using the existing Line or the proposed Tunnel under public trust law or the GLSLA.

As of this writing, there has been no such authorization from the State of Michigan allowing Enbridge to own, control, use, or occupy the public soils and waters of the Straits. And FLOW, the city of Mackinac Island, tribes, and citizens of Michigan  aim to keep it that way.

No ‘Line 5’ Oil Tunnel in the Great Lakes!

Photo: FLOW Deputy Director Kelly Thayer speaks to the Grand Traverse County Board in opposition to a pro-oil tunnel resolution.


By Kelly Thayer

Confronted at 8 a.m. on a Wednesday by a full audience passionately and unanimously against a proposed Line 5 oil tunnel in the Straits of Mackinac, the Grand Traverse County Board of Commissioners voted today to temporarily table a misguided and error-filled resolution supporting the oil tunnel. (Click here to view a video of the meeting, once posted by the county).

Some commissioners also could be heard chatting among themselves before the meeting about the voluminous amount of emailed comments against the oil tunnel that they also received in the hours leading up to the session, as local citizen groups spread the word of the pending vote.

While the outcome was received as a temporary victory in the moment by many in attendance, vigilance still is required. The resolution, which had been expected to gain quick approval, will likely come back for reconsideration — perhaps at a tentatively scheduled 8 a.m., August 14, study session — and then a possible vote at the Grand Traverse County Board’s next regular meeting at 8 a.m. on Wednesday, August 21, at the Governmental Center at 400 Boardman Ave. in Traverse City.

“I was elected to work for the public interest and the people of Grand Traverse County, not the bottom line of a foreign oil company with a troubling safety record and equally troubling transparency practices,” said Commissioner Betsy Coffia after the meeting, who was prepared to oppose the symbolic resolution. “Enbridge pays a lot of lobbyists and lawyers to carry water for them. I don’t think it’s the job of the Grand Traverse County Commission to do that work for them.”

Only one county in Michigan—Dickinson in the Upper Peninsula—to date has approved the model resolution that bears close resemblance to talking points that Line 5-owner Enbridge has circulated for many months. The resolution tabled by Grand Traverse County Commissioners proposes to send “this resolution to all counties of Michigan as an invitation to join in expressing support” for the oil tunnel owned by Canadian-based Enbridge.

Dozens of people representing themselves, families, Indian tribes, businesses, environmental groups, and others attended and many spoke up against the oil tunnel and for protection of the Great Lakes, drinking water, public trust and tribal rights, and the Pure Michigan tourist economy.

FLOW and its team of lawyers, scientists, engineers, and an international risk expert since 2013 have studied the increasing threat from Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac and, more recently, the proposed Line 5 oil tunnel.

FLOW Deputy Director Kelly Thayer read a statement calling on the county board to reject the oil tunnel resolution, which in its first sentence, incorrectly states the age of the decaying pipeline and claims an admirable safety record that is at odds with the reality that Line 5 has leaked at least 33 times, spilling a total of 1.1 million gallons of oil in Michigan and Wisconsin.

“It is critical for the Grand Traverse Board of County Commissioners to understand that—with the proposed resolution in your packet—the Board is being asked to interfere in ongoing litigation between the State of Michigan and Enbridge,” Thayer said. “In addition, there are at least four other active lawsuits against Enbridge and Line 5. Therefore, this type of resolution is misguided and not in Grand Traverse County’s, nor the public, interest.”

In March, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel found that the tunnel bill that became law was unconstitutional. In early June, Enbridge sued the State of Michigan to resuscitate the tunnel legislation. And in late June, the State of Michigan sued Enbridge to revoke the 1953 easement that conditionally authorized Enbridge to pump oil through the twin pipelines.

Attorney General Nessel’s lawsuit alleges that Enbridge’s continued operation of Line 5 in the Straits violates the Public Trust Doctrine, is a common law public nuisance, and violates the Michigan Environmental Protection Act based on potential pollution, impairment, and destruction of water and other natural resources.

“Why would the current Grand Traverse County Board, which—to our knowledge—has never studied nor discussed the threat from Line 5, take a leap of faith in supporting a Canadian oil pipeline company’s alternative that diverts attention from the real problem—the bent, cracked, and encrusted oil pipelines in the Straits?,” Thayer asked.

Enbridge wants the right to bore a tunnel in the next 5-10 years for Line 5 through State of Michigan public trust bottomlands under the Straits, where Lake Michigan meets Lake Huron.

Enbridge also wants to keep pumping up to 23 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids a day through the decaying, 66-year-old Line 5 pipelines in the Straits during tunnel feasibility studies and construction. An oil tunnel also would fail to address the risk posed by Line 5’s more than 400 stream and river crossings in the Upper and Lower Peninsulas and would conflict with Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s plans to combat climate change.

The City of Mackinac Island, Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, and the Straits of Mackinac Alliance citizen group also have filed a contested case challenging Enbridge’s claim that installing hundreds of anchor supports to shore up the decaying Line 5 is mere maintenance, rather than a major redesign requiring an application and alternatives analysis under the 1955 Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act (GLSLA) and public trust law that apply to the soils and waters of the Great Lakes. Line 5-related lawsuits against the U.S. Coast Guard and against Enbridge in Wisconsin also continue.

FLOW and other Great Lakes advocates have long called for shutting down Line 5, which primarily serves Canada’s, not Michigan’s, needs and threatens the Great Lakes. FLOW research shows that viable alternatives exist to deliver propane to Michigan and oil to regional refineries, and Gov. Whitmer has formed an Upper Peninsula Energy Task Force to identify energy supply options. The system can adjust with smart planning.

You can learn more by visiting FLOW’s Line 5 program page and by downloading a copy of FLOW’s latest:

And you can contact the Grand Traverse County Board of Commissioners here:

  • Rob Hentschel, chair, rhentschel@grandtraverse.org or 231-946-4277
  • Ron Clous, vice chair, rclous@grandtraverse.org or 231-590-3316
  • Brad Jewett (introduced the pro-tunnel resolution) bjewett@grandtraverse.org or 231-633-9421
  • Betsy Coffia, bcoffia@grandtraverse.org or 231-714-9598
  • Bryce Hundley, bhundley@grandtraverse.org or 231-753-8602
  • Gordie LaPointe, glapointe@grandtraverse.org or 231-409-2607
  • Sonny Wheelock, swheelock@grandtraverse.org or 231-947-3277