The Enbridge Line 5 tunnel in the Straits of Mackinac today got another step closer to being built.
The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy announced its approval of the permits that Enbridge is required to have to build the replacement tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac.
“EGLE is obligated to review permit applications with the goal of protecting the environment and public health, but within the confines of Michigan law,” Teresa Seidel, director of EGLE’s Water Resources Division, said in a statement. “During our review of this proposed project, our top priority has been protecting the Straits of Mackinac and the surrounding wetlands, aquatic life, and other natural and cultural resources from adverse environmental impacts.”
The Line 5 tunnel is a project initially approved in the last months of former Gov. Rick Snyder’s term. The tunnel, running under the lakebed, would house a replacement for the current 68-year-old twin pipeline running through the straits.
“The EGLE permits are an important milestone for the tunnel project and are part of the process to authorize its construction,” Enbridge said in a statement.
The two permits in question allow Enbridge to damage 0.13 wetland acres – compensating by conserving 1.3 wetland acres and other conservation efforts – and regulate wastewater for the project.
EGLE, for its part, said it “affirmed the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ conclusion that the current pipeline violates the Public Trust Doctrine and poses an unacceptable risk to the Great Lakes.” In the statement, it also determined that the tunnel project would have minimal impact on water quality and to wetlands.
“Our review showed construction of the proposed tunnel could comply with state environmental laws,” said EGLE Director Liesl Clark. “We have issued permits designed to ensure that if a tunnel is constructed, it will be in strict compliance with relevant statutes and adhere to stringent protections against impacts to the Great Lakes.”
Environmental groups immediately criticized EGLE’s decision.
“EGLE has abdicated its duty to protect our Great Lakes and sided with a Canadian oil company over the safety of the Great Lakes,” Christy McGillivray, the political and legislative director for the Michigan Chapter of Sierra Club, said in a statement. “Instead of supporting our Governor’s work to shut down line 5 safely, EGLE has allowed Enbridge to fast track these poorly planned and dangerous oil tunnel permits.”
McGillivray referenced the 2010 Kalamazoo River oil spill – one of the worst oil spills in an inland waterway in the U.S. – in the statement as well. The spill in question came from Enbridge’s Line 6B pipeline.
In the statement, Sierra Club also pledged to continue working with “allies” such as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel to stop the pipeline.
The approval of these permits does not deter efforts from the attorney general, governor or Michigan DNR to remove Line 5 from the Great Lakes, according to a statement from AG Nessel.
“While EGLE’s decision on the separate question of whether a tunnel should be built is based on its obligations under state law, I remain committed to removing the pipelines that threaten to pollute our environment on an alarming scale and jeopardize the sanctity of our Great Lakes,” Nessel said.
Other environmental groups said they would continue to fight the pipeline.
“Today’s permit decision by the state Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy is a decision by one governmental agency,” said Sean McBrearty, Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign coordinator, in a statement. “We remain hopeful that the Michigan Public Service Commission and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will take their oversight permitting roles more seriously than EGLE and not pursue the dead end of keeping Enbridge oil pipelines in the Great Lakes.”
Aside from the permits from EGLE, Enbridge still needs permits from the Michigan Public Service Commission and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Public comment is still open on the Michigan Public Service Commission decision. More information can be found online.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had two public comment periods, one in June and one in December.
“The next step is going through public comments,” said Bill Dowell, public affairs officer with the Detroit District of the U.S. ACE. “We had about 15,000.”
“We’re several months out before potentially we have a decision,” he added.
AG Nessel’s lawsuit against Enbridge remains on the Ingham County Circuit Court docket, awaiting a decision by Judge James Jamo. The suit Enbridge filed against the state of Michigan in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan after Gov. Whitmer revoked its easement remains on that docket as well.
“The existing dual pipelines through the Straits of Mackinac present an unacceptable risk to the Great Lakes and threaten over 350,000 jobs in Michigan that rely on Michigan’s pristine natural resources,” Chelsea Parisio, deputy press secretary for the governor, said in a statement. “Today’s decision by EGLE to issue permits related to tunnel construction, consistent with law, in no way lessens the pressing need for a shutdown of the existing pipelines by mid-May and Enbridge’s legal obligation to comply with that deadline.”
Great Lakes Now explored the possibility of federal intervention in a recent segment. Watch HERE.
Read more on Line 5 on Great Lakes Now:
Featured image: The Enbridge Line 5 pipeline runs under the Straits of Mackinac near the iconic bridge. (Image from Great Lakes Now Episode 1004)