Tag: Straits of Mackinac

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.

FLOW: Today’s Line 5 Court Decision is Bad for the State of Michigan, Bad for State Courts, and Bad for Plaintiffs

Editor’s note: The following is a press statement from Zach Welcker, Legal Director of FLOW (For Love of Water), the Great Lakes law and policy center based, in response to U.S. District Judge Janet Neff’s 13-page decision today to deny the motion to remand the case to state court in Nessel v. Enbridge, filed by Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel on June 27, 2019. Members of the media can reach Zach Welcker, FLOW Legal Director, at Zach@flowforwater.org or by cell at 231.620.7911.


“The U.S. District Court’s decision today to exercise federal jurisdiction over the State of Michigan’s Line 5 oil pipeline lawsuit, which Line 5-owner Enbridge had previously chosen to litigate in state court for more than 2 years, is bad for the State of Michigan, bad for state courts, and bad for plaintiffs.

“State-court defendants who have a plausible basis for federal jurisdiction are no longer obligated to seek removal within the statutory timelines established by Congress, but can now play their removal card at the time of their choosing. This gives defendants nearly unfettered discretion to seek refuge in federal court when things are not going their way in state court.

“The effect is that the State of Michigan now will have to expend precious resources relitigating matters it has already litigated in state court for more than two years and, more generally, that federal courts are free to pull the rug out from under state-court proceedings at the whim of opportunistic defendants like Enbridge.”

FLOW to Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority: No Enbridge Oil Tunnel Without Authorization Under the Public Trust Doctrine

Editor’s Note: FLOW today resubmitted the following formal comments from February to the Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority in advance of the Authority’s 10 a.m. public meeting in St. Ignace regarding Enbridge’s oil tunnel proposed through public bottomlands in the Straits of Mackinac. See the Authority’s June 7, 2022, meeting agenda, and learn about the opportunity to comment in person or online. Members of the media, please contact FLOW Legal Director Zach Welcker at (231) 620-7911 or Zach@FLOWforWater.org with any questions.


June 7, 2022 (Originally submitted on February 14, 2022)

Dear Honorable Members of the Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority (“MSCA”):

Thank you for the opportunity to comment.

FLOW urges the MSCA to suspend further consideration of this ill-conceived oil tunnel project until Enbridge seeks and obtains legal authorization to occupy state bottomlands from appropriate state agencies.

FLOW urges the MSCA to suspend further consideration of this ill-conceived oil tunnel project until Enbridge seeks and obtains legal authorization to occupy state bottomlands from appropriate state agencies.

We have previously provided the MSCA with detailed analyses of this issue and hereby incorporate those by reference in lieu of repeating them here. See FLOW’s September 21, 2021 Letter; FLOW’s March 5, 2020 Comments; FLOW’s December 18, 2018 Comments; oral testimony to the MSCA on March 6, 2020, February 3, 2021, and October 13, 2021. Suffice to say, Enbridge has not received authorization from EGLE to occupy state-owned bottomlands under the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act, 324.32502-32508 and rules. Nor has the DNR made the required public trust findings to authorize a public-utility easement under Act 10, now MCL 324.2129. Without such authorization, Enbridge does not have a “legal warrant” to occupy state-owned bottomlands. See Obrecht v. Nat’l Gypsum Co., 361 Mich. 399, 416 (1960). Thus, it would be a waste of time and resources for the MSCA to continue considering Enbridge’s proposal at this time.

If the MSCA decides to the peril of Michiganders to disregard Enbridge’s lack of authorization for this project, it must contend with the fact that Enbridge’s proposal to build a new oil pipeline inside a new tunnel underneath the Straits of Mackinac has ballooned into a supersized infrastructure project. In comparison to the original project, the diameter of the tunnel will now require a tunnel boring machine four times the size initially proposed. Correspondingly, the amount of excavated material that must be transported and disposed of has quadrupled.

Testimony from Enbridge’s geotechnical expert, Michael Mooney, before the Michigan Public Service Commission (“MPSC”) indicates that the tunnel must also be bored deeper than the original design, stating: “The depth to rock was determined to be deeper than assumed during the Alternative study and the resulting vertical profile takes the tunnel deeper in order to remain fully within rock. The geotechnical investigation also revealed highly fractured rock in places that would yield high groundwater pressures during construction.” On file with the MPSC, pp. 19-20.

Yet Enbridge’s initial $500 million estimate of the cost of the tunnel has not been revised. Experts have raised a host of related geotechnical and safety concerns. Significantly, Enbridge has also recently informed the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that climate concerns may limit the expected service life of the proposed tunnel to twenty years. The MSCA must accordingly reevaluate the prudence of moving forward with this project in light of these significant developments.

FLOW: State of Michigan Takes a Strategic Step Today in the Race to Prevent a ‘Line 5’ Oil Spill

Editor’s Note: The following is a media release issued by FLOW on November 30, 2021; please contact Executive Director Liz Kirkwood at (570) 872-4956 or Liz@FLOWforWater.org or Legal Director Zach Welcker at (231) 620-7911 or Zach@FLOWforWater.org.


“The State of Michigan took a strategic step today in the race to prevent a catastrophic Line 5 oil spill in the Straits of Mackinac by concentrating its legal efforts in state, not federal, court,” said FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood. “The state’s legal fight and the citizen-led movement to protect the Great Lakes, jobs, and a way of life continue full speed ahead.”

In response to Judge Neff’s November 16, 2021 decision to assume federal jurisdiction over the state’s 2020 case to shut down Line 5, the state has chosen to voluntarily dismiss that case and rely instead on Attorney General Dana Nessel’s 2019 lawsuit against Line 5-owner Enbridge in state circuit court in Ingham County.

This procedural maneuver will shift consideration of the State of Michigan’s legal efforts to shut down Line 5 back to a state-court forum where the matter belongs. The State of Michigan has paramount sovereignty over the Great Lakes that cannot be severed.

While the timing of a decision on the merits is still uncertain, dropping the 2020 case will almost certainly expedite resolution of the State Michigan’s claims because it avoids protracted litigation in federal court, which would be necessary to guarantee the State’s right to appeal Judge Neff’s legally deficient remand decision in the 2020 case.

“It’s vitally important to recognize that the action by Governor Whitmer and Department of Natural Resources Director Daniel Eichinger in November 2020 to revoke and terminate Line 5’s 1953 easement remains valid,” said FLOW Legal Director Zach Welcker. “While Enbridge continues to trespass in state waters and on state bottomlands, the State of Michigan can now move forward on Attorney General Nessel’s case filed on behalf of the citizens of Michigan in 2019 to shutdown the dual pipelines in the Straits.”

Background from FLOW:

For more information, see FLOW’s Line 5 fact sheets and blogs:

Paddling for Change, from the Mackinac Bridge to Lansing

By Jacob Wheeler

FLOW Communications Coordinator

Childhood friends William Wright and Chris Yahanda wanted to do their part to protect the Great Lakes and, in particular, to urge Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer to shut down the Line 5 oil pipelines under the Straits of Mackinac by terminating the easement of Canadian pipeline company Enbridge.

FLOW and other environmental groups have long made the case that the turbulent waters under the Mackinac Bridge, where Lakes Michigan and Huron meet, represent the most dangerous place in the Great Lakes for a catastrophic Line 5 oil spill. Enbridge has a shoddy track record in Michigan. The company’s Line 6B pipeline rupture into the Kalamazoo River in 2010 caused one of the worst inland spills in U.S. history.

FLOW and our partners in the Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign have long pressured Michigan state government to shut down Line 5. Gov. Whitmer announced on November 13, 2020, that she would revoke and terminate Enbridge’s pipeline easement, effective May 12, 2021. The pipeline company continues to fight the order in court.

“We thought, maybe we can tell a story through a paddle journey in the places that we love and show how we can protect them,” said Wright. “The Line 5 issue spurred our desire to take this journey.”

Watch our interview with William Wright and Chris Yahanda and footage of their journey thus far.

Wright and Yahanda are currently paddling 425 miles over approximately 45 days, from the Straits of Mackinac, down the west coast of Michigan, up the Grand River through Grand Rapids, and ultimately to the State Capitol in Lansing. Their friend Davis Huber, a filmmaker based in Los Angeles, is capturing their journey and plans to make a film about their effort.

On June 9 the paddleboarders left Mackinac Island where the Michigan governor has a guest mansion, and headed for the Mackinac Bridge, itself. Sometime in late July or early August, they will bookend their trip when they arrive at the governor’s office.

“We go in support of her effort to shut down Line 5,” said Wright.

For Yahanda, paddling under the Mackinac Bridge, where Lakes Michigan and Huron meet, inspired awe and respect for nature.

“I’ve been over the Bridge many times, but to see it from underneath, to be so close to the water and really see the magnitude of the convergence of that water, it’s different,” he said. “You can definitely feel the energy of the transfer of water. Even the air feels different. How quickly it could turn on a dime.

“We couldn’t help but think of how important that place is to protect and how disastrous it would be if millions of gallons of oil were poured into it.”

Paddling southwest toward the Leelanau Peninsula, Wright and Yahanda encountered days with headwinds that prevented them from making much distance. But they also experienced calm days that allowed them to paddle for 20 miles or more at a time. On June 17 they paddled 28 miles, from Norwood, just south of Charlevoix, to Leland—their best day yet.

“We learned pretty quickly about the power of the water,” said Wright. “There have been times when we came out of a bay and had the wind direction change on a dime. The weather out there can really impact us on paddleboards since we’re small and catch wind pretty easily. We have learned firsthand the respect we need to have for Mother Nature.”

On June 20 they paddled down the Leelanau coast, past the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore’s majestic dunes, and spent the night at Point Betsie in Benzie County.

“We had a perfectly clear day with low wind while seeing the bluff and the sand come straight to the water,” said Wright. “That coastline is so beautiful, from Pyramid Point and down the coast of Sleeping Bear.”

They are currently camping in Ludington State Park.

Wright and Yahanda are collaborating with FLOW, M22, the northern Michigan outdoor apparel brand, Oil & Water Don’t Mix, and Mawby Sparkling Wine—which recently unveiled a “Shut Down Line 5” sparkling wine.

“We are stoked to partner with FLOW. From the very beginning of our project, Liz Kirkwood, FLOW’s executive director, has helped us develop a deeper understanding of the water issues plaguing the Great Lakes,” said Wright.

Learn more about, and support, Wright and Yahanda’s journey by visiting their website, www.TroubledWaterFilm.com or follow them on Instagram.

Eviction Day for Enbridge Line 5

Photo (from left): Winona LaDuke, Holly Bird, and FLOW’s Liz Kirkwood on May 13 at the Straits of Mackinac. Photo by Beth Price.

By Liz Kirkwood, FLOW Executive Director

May 13 marked an inflection point in FLOW’s water and climate work to shut down Line 5. It was a day of action and a show of force to evict Enbridge as an occupier—a rogue Canadian pipeline company pumping oil through our public waters and lands of the Great Lakes. It was a day highlighting the power of community and solidarity, and the power of indigenous leadership in protecting the source of all life: water.  

Just the day before, Enbridge blatantly defied and violated Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s deadline ordering the shutdown of the Line 5 pipelines. Defending our waters in her usual bold style, Governor Whitmer warned that Enbridge’s failure to obey would result in intentional trespass and disgorgement of 100 percent of Enbridge’s oil profits gained every day from illegally operating Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac. (Read Gov. Whitmer’s reasons for shutting down Line 5 in her own words).

Organized by the first peoples of North America and the Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign, this day-long event drew over 400 allies to deliver an eviction notice to Enbridge, to participate in a water walk and ceremony, and to hear from leaders about the urgent need to tackle climate change and shift to a clean energy economy. As water protectors, women tribal members led the group in traditional water ceremonies and told stories of our relationship to water. Tribal President Whitney Gravelle from the Bay Mills Indian Community conveyed that her tribe had voted to formally banished Enbridge and its pipeline from their legally recognized treaty waters. (Read coverage here of tribal protests that began the day prior at the Straits and continued into May 13). 

Nationally recognized indigenous voice, author, and anti-pipeline organizer Winona LaDuke, who directs Honor the Earth in Minnesota, spoke passionately about the danger posed by Line 5 to the Straits, which have played a key role in both tribal and non-tribal heritage and culture for centuries.

“This rogue Canadian corporation is basically holding the Great Lakes hostage,” LaDuke told FLOW in an interview after her speech. “In state after state, they are scaring officials. But here in Michigan, your governor, your attorney general have stood up for the people and for the water. We don’t need a Canadian multinational holding us all hostage. And that’s right now what they’re doing.”

“The question I would ask is, ‘Who gets the honor of being the last Tar Sands pipeline? Who gets that honor?’ It’s kind of like being the last guy to die in Vietnam, isn’t it? Who wants to tell that soldier he’s the last man to die for an unjust war? Who wants to tell some Ojibwe that they’re the last people to have their water contaminated so that Enbridge can make a buck?” 

Demonstrating the deep commitment and solidarity among indigenous nations, tribal members from Minnesota, where they are fighting another Enbridge pipeline—Line 3, actively participated in the May 13 event.

I joined the event on behalf of FLOW, representing our eight years of effort making the case that public trust principles and law give the State of Michigan the authority—and the duty—to expel Line 5 from the Straits in order to protect the world’s greatest freshwater system. Enbridge’s track record of pipeline mismanagement and deception—leading to the largest and most devastating oil spill in Michigan’s history in the Kalamazoo River watershed in 2010—bodes ill for the Straits, their ecology and the jobs that depend on them.

I am proud that it was FLOW that first identified the public trust doctrine as the basis for protecting these waters from the pipeline.  Now Governor Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel have explicitly invoked that doctrine in seeking to shut down the pipeline.

Photos by Beth Price Photography

 

 

FLOW’s 2020 Annual Report

By Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director, and Mike Vickery, Board Chair

Being in, on, or near water brings us into balance, restores clarity, and grounds us in understanding what matters most. Water is life. These elemental connections to water and nature were profoundly important to all of us in the tumultuous year of 2020, as the coronavirus upended our lives and economy.

In reflection, as we recount in our Annual Report released today, November 2020 marked an extraordinary milestone for the Great Lakes—and for FLOW. After seven long years of advancing public trust law as the legal basis to shut down Line 5, FLOW watched Governor Gretchen Whitmer and DNR Director Daniel Eichinger assert public trust law as the cornerstone of the state’s action to advance critical legal action to protect the Great Lakes from a catastrophic oil spill.

Equitable and affordable access to clean drinking water remained at the forefront of our work in 2020 as we partnered with frontline Detroit and Flint groups to successfully persuade Governor Whitmer, and then the legislature, to extend a moratorium on water shutoffs through March 2021. We also partnered to form Water for All of Michigan to evaluate equitable and just financing and funding strategies to assure safe, affordable water for all communities. FLOW’s model legislation, Public Water, Public Justice, is a key part of this work.

FLOW also worked to spotlight and protect the Sixth Great Lake, Michigan’s groundwater, unveiling a groundwater story map in March and a June webinar to highlight the implications of a preliminary state decision approving Nestlé’s permit to increase withdrawals for commercial bottled water. And we chronicled a baffling decision in November by the State of Michigan to dismiss the citizen-led contested case challenging the Nestlé permit.
In a year dominated by a global pandemic, a reckoning with racial injustice, record-high Great Lakes water levels, an unprecedented national election, and profound challenges to our most important institutions, FLOW stood firm as a fair witness to, and advocate for, the power and value of the public trust in moving forward. Working alongside our partners, allies, supporters, and friends, FLOW planted new seeds from which will grow a more just, diverse, inclusive, equitable, prosperous and resilient water future for generations to come.

Your support and passion for the Great Lakes, groundwater, and drinking water for all inspires us and helps drive us forward. Thank you for our shared successes. We hope you enjoy reading about the fresh waters and public trust rights that we have protected together in our Annual Report 2020.

O&WDM: Groups, Tribes Ask U.S. Army Corps to Reject Proposed Enbridge Oil Tunnel

Editor’s note: This is an Oil & Water Don’t Mix (O&WDM) media release.

Twelve organizations and Michigan tribal representatives today (Dec. 7, 2020) called on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to reject the Enbridge Line 5 Straits of Mackinac oil tunnel project. If not dismissed now, the Army Corps risks a repeat of a July court ruling that threw out a permit in another major federal pipeline case.

In their submission of comments, the groups told the Army Corps that the permit for the tunnel should not be approved without a full review that evaluates the consequences of an oil tunnel for the Great Lakes, coastal wetlands, historic archeological finds, and navigation within the Straits of Mackinac.

“Enbridge’s proposed tunnel is a major federal action demanding a full environmental impact statement under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA),” said Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director of FLOW (For Love of Water), a Great Lakes law and policy center based in Traverse City. “A review of Enbridge’s incomplete application reveals a highly controversial project with extraordinary impacts to coastal wetlands, millions of gallons a day of surface wastewater discharges and water treatment additives, underwater archeological sites, incomplete geotechnical studies for tunnel construction, lack of a credible estimate of project cost, and unprecedented climate change impacts to extend the life of Line 5 for the next 99 years.”

Official comments from the organizations come as the Army Corps holds a single public hearing today on Enbridge’s proposal for a federal Clean Water Act permit to construct the oil tunnel.  The Army Corps public comment period ends on Dec. 17.  It comes as the Michigan Public Service Commission and the state Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy also evaluate permit applications from Enbridge and follows a decision by Gov. Whitmer to revoke Enbridge’s operating agreement for the existing Line 5, citing the company’s history of failures and ongoing, incurable violations of the agreement.

“Line 5 will transport 540,000 barrels of oil that when burned will emit over 57 million metric tons of atmospheric carbon annually – more carbon than is emitted by the nation’s three largest coal plants combined,” said Kirkwood.  “Let’s not forget what’s at stake – a proposal to build a mega tunnel in the heart of the largest and most valuable fresh surface water system in the world.  It’s difficult to conceive of a project more worthy of a full environmental impact statement under federal law.”

The groups and tribal representatives warn that approving Enbridge’s proposed application would violate the same federal law that prompted the U.S. District Court in July to block a final permit for the Dakota Access pipeline in the Dakotas.  In the Dakota Access case, the court said the Army Corps must conduct a full review under the National Environmental Policy Act because it was a major federal project with widespread potential impacts, including threats to drinking water sources for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.

The Army Corps has yet to decide whether Enbridge’s permit application for the tunnel should be subjected to a full federal review that could include looking at other alternatives, including existing oil pipelines within Enbridge’s massive North America pipeline system.

Concerns with the tunnel proposal cited by the groups and shared with the Army Corps include:

  • Drinking water threat. Enbridge proposes withdrawing 4 million gallons a day of water and discharging 5 million gallons a day of water and slurry into the Straits of Mackinac. Nearby communities of Charlevoix, Mackinac Island, St. Ignace, Alpena, East Tawas, and Tawas City rely on Lake Michigan and Lake Huron for drinking water.
  • Geotechnical problems. Independent experts who studied Enbridge’s proposed tunnel plan concluded that it “raises serious concerns regarding the feasibility, integrity, and planning for the construction of the tunnel.”  More than 75 percent of the tunnel boring area is in “very poor” or “poor” quality rock conditions, the experts warned, also citing the potential for explosions because of the presence of methane gas.
  • Sovereign tribal and fishing rights. The Straits of Mackinac are the spawning and fishing grounds for 60 percent of the commercial tribal whitefish catch, which could be negatively impacted by the tunnel project and continued operation of Line 5 in the Straits.
  • Northern Michigan economy. Emmet, Cheboygan, and Mackinac counties would be heavily impacted by the tunnel project, straining police, fire, health emergency services, and rental housing that would typically go to seasonal tourism workers who constitute an annual $153 million payroll. Dust, noise, and intense trucking and machinery activity will also stress local communities.

    “Michigan deserves more than a rubber-stamp permit approval from the Army Corps,” said Sean McBrearty, Oil & Water Don’t Mix coordinator.  “What we need is for the Army Corps to follow the law and prioritize protecting the Great Lakes, our drinking water, and our climate. A Canadian company’s oil profits shouldn’t be more important than Michigan’s future.”

    Those submitting joint comments include For Love of Water (FLOW), League of Women Voters of Michigan, Sierra Club, Clean Water Action, Michigan Environmental Council, Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council, Straits of Mackinac Alliance, Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities, TC350, the Chippewa Ottawa Resource Authority (CORA), the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, and the Straits Area Concerned Citizens for Peace, Justice, and the Environment.

    Oil & Water Don’t Mix is a citizens’ movement committed to protecting the Great Lakes and decommissioning Enbridge’s dangerous Line 5 oil pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac. More information: https://www.oilandwaterdontmix.org/about.