New Line 5 tunnel bill with governor-appointed authority passes in Michigan Senate
Mackinac Bridge Authority oversight no longer part of the plan
Editor’s Note 12/5/18: Just as we were sending out our newsletter today, the Michigan Senate voted in favor of a newly amended bill, SB 1197, to create a three-member, governor-appointed authority to oversee a tunnel to encase the Line 5 pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac. The bill is updated legislation to have the Mackinac Bridge Authority oversee the tunnel. The bill passed mostly along party lines in a 25 to 13 vote. The bill now goes to the House. This week’s Senate voting was marked by a series of delays, including protests and the evacuation of the Michigan Senate after a suspicious package was discovered across the street. The story, below, was written after the first set of Senate delays. We will bring you more details and continue to update the story on greatlakesnow.org.
Bill to construct Straits of Mackinac tunnel part of “lame duck rush”
For more on the Line 5 pipeline, watch DPTV’s Great Lakes Now documentary “Beneath the Surface: The Line 5 Pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac.”
A Senate committee has approved a proposal that would move forward Gov. Rick Snyder’s agreement with Enbridge for a tunnel to encase the Line 5 pipeline beneath the Straits of Mackinac. The committee vote was split along party lines, with the three Republicans in favor of the measure and the two Democrats opposed.
But the full Senate vote has been delayed until Tuesday by concern and controversy over the plan to have the Mackinac Bridge Authority oversee the tunnel, which would be drilled 100 feet into bedrock near the Mackinac Bridge.
Despite the delay in the full Senate, the approval of the proposal by the Michigan Senate Government Operations Committee is being seen by environmentalists as part of a lame-duck-session push on a wide range of bills that will affect water quality and other environmental issues for years to come.
At Wednesday’s committee meeting, 25 individuals weighed in with 18 opposing the measure and seven – largely from energy and industry groups – supporting it. Opposition came from citizens, environmental groups, and the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians.
Find the hearing testimony HERE.
The bill, introduced two days after the general election, was sponsored by state Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba. A pipeline in the tunnel would replace the existing Line 5 and which carries oil as well as propane for Upper Peninsula residents.
“The idea of the tunnel, to me, solves more than just the problem of petroleum going through there. There are other opportunities that are potentially there waiting for us with the tunnel,” Sen. Casperson said, “I don’t see why we can’t move forward on this.”
Gov. Snyder’s administration announced the plan for the tunnel in October, which charges the Mackinac Bridge Authority with overseeing it.
State Sen. Geoff Hansen, R-Hart, said one of his major concerns about the plan is the Authority’s role and protections. “Can we make sure that the Authority isn’t put at risk and held harmless? Because we can’t have them put at risk as we move forward on this,” he said.
State Sen. Mike Kowal, R-White Lake, recommended the Authority get support and research from the world’s best experts in tunnel technology. “The potential for disaster is very large and we don’t want that to happen,” he said. “A tunnel would probably be a good outcome for everyone in this state if we can see that the geology is going to support it.”
“A perversion of the purpose of the Bridge Authority”
A Mackinac area attorney, Dennis Cawthorne, also spoke at the committee’s session, objecting to having the Authority oversee the tunnel. “Rarely in my experience in the Straits area have people been as united in their opposition to using the Mackinac Bridge Authority for this purpose as they are in this case,” he said, “They believe it is a perversion of the purpose of the Bridge Authority.”
Committee member Sen. Morris Hood III, D-Detroit, asked the bill’s sponsor, Casperson, if any of the seven members of the Mackinac Bridge Authority had expertise in pipelines. “Not that I’m aware of,” Casperson answered.
Committee Chair Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, said alternative plans to having the Mackinac Bridge Authority oversee the tunnel are being considered, but said he could not be specific.
“The time is right to build for the future”
Enbridge spokesman Ryan Duffy shared a statement after the committee vote: “We agree and support the State’s proposal that the Mackinac Bridge Authority, which has a long and proven record of vital infrastructure oversight involving the Straits, is a logical choice to have the responsibility of owning and overseeing the tunnel. Enbridge believes that the time is right to build for the future. This tunnel project would make a safe pipeline even safer and reflects Enbridge’s steadfast commitment to protecting the Great Lakes while safely meeting Michigan’s energy needs.”
Enbridge, Duffy said, is already taking action to implement additional safety measures on Line 5. “We cannot wait for the tunnel to be built so we are immediately implementing the following: providing funding for cameras to give the Coast Guard real-time monitoring capabilities of ships entering the Straits; completing coating inspection surveys every second year; and shutting down Line 5 in the Straits during adverse weather conditions.”
Environmentalists countered. Here’s what the National Wildlife Federation’s Beth Wallace said:
“This legislation jeopardizes our beloved Mackinac Bridge by changing the responsibility of the Mackinac Bridge Authority to take on ownership and liability for a tunnel that only benefits Enbridge. Michigan taxpayers will be on the hook for this project and any litigation against Enbridge. We do not need this pipeline; propane supply in the Upper Peninsula can be economically replaced for less than 5 cents a gallon, as independent studies showed this summer.”
Wallace points to a recent report NWF commissioned to find out whether shutting down Line 5 in the Straits would have an impact on Upper Peninsula residents fuel supplies.
In October, Snyder announced that Enbridge had agreed to pay for the up-to-$500 million, 10-year-long construction project that would not only encase the Line 5 pipeline in a tunnel but would create a “utility corridor” below the Straits.
The current Line 5 pipeline owned by Canadian oil giant Enbridge is 65 years old. It carries 23 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids every day.
Click here to watch Tuesday’s vote as it happens.
Featured Image: The fully restored Michigan Senate Chamber c. 1990.
Photo Courtesy of Dietrich Floeter via capitol.michigan.gov