Frustrated by what they say is inadequate information provided to them by Enbridge, the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians sent their own tribal research vessel to the Straits of Mackinac on Thursday to take sonar imagery of the company’s Line 5 pipelines.
The vessel and side-scan sonar equipment are normally used to map the lake bottom and help the Tribe assess things like fish habitat. The sonar provides three-dimensional images of underwater terrain. This is the first time the Tribe has used sonar to get images of Line 5. Their ultimate goal is to check the lines for bends, turns, or other irregularities. They also plan to share the data with researchers studying the lines.
Tribal game wardens assisted operations with a fisheries enforcement boat, providing security and support to the research vessel. Desmond Berry, director of the Tribe’s natural resources department, spoke to Michigan Radio aboard the enforcement vessel. He says Enbridge has not been transparent enough.
“How do you understand the threat of something, fully, if you don’t have all the information?", he said. "They’ve already demonstrated that they’re not going to tell us the truth, that they’re going to keep information away from the public…so you’ve got to do it yourself.”
The Tribe didn't have specific location data on the lines and had to, in Berry's words, "get old fashioned", using known landmarks and multiple passes with sonar to find the lines for scanning.
When vessels approached the Enbridge-operated barge in the middle of the Straits, they were intercepted by a security boat and told to stay away due to active diving operations.
Berry says the Tribe expects to have results from the scans in a couple of weeks.
The Line 5 pipelines transmit up to 23 million gallons of crude oil per day across the bottom of the Straits. An oil spill there would threaten fishing rights guaranteed to the the Tribe in the 1836 Treaty of Washington, which was necessary for Michigan to gain statehood.
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