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Supporters and opponents of a Line 5 tunnel make comments to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Lester Graham
Michigan Radio
One of the many signs opposing Line 5 seen along roads in Leelanau County, Michigan.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is ready to review the environmental impacts of a proposed tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac. Enbridge Energy's Line 5, which carries crude oil and natural gas liquids, would be housed in that tunnel.

On Thursday evening, the USACE heard from the public during an online event.

Lester Graham
Michigan Radio
The proposed tunnel to house Line 5 would emerge next to the existing Enbridge Mackinaw Station near Mackinaw City, Michigan.

Labor union members and representatives along with various business groups stressed the importance of Line 5. They argued the jobs that would be created by the construction of the tunnel, the need for the petroleum products (especially liquid propane for the Upper Peninsula) were important benefits to approving Enbridge Energy’s proposal.

Diane Middleton with the Midland Business Alliance said putting Line 5 in a tunnel would also be the safest move.

“Keep in mind that the risk of an environmental spill with the Great Lakes Tunnel is almost non-existent.”

Large organizations in the state such as the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and the Michigan Manufacturers Association made statements supporting the construction of the Line 5 tunnel. A group which works with both business and labor for economic development also addressed safety concerns.

“Opponents are jeopardizing the tunnel project and we will be left with dual pipelines, which are safe but not as safe as a tunnel because of the secondary containment aspect the tunnel provides,” said Michael Smith, Executive Director of the Upper Peninsula Construction Council.

Environmentalists, Native Americans, and others argued the USACE should not just look at the environmental impact of the construction, but include the Line 5 products’ contributions to climate change. They also noted that while a tunnel might be safer than the twin 69 year old pipelines sitting on the bed of the Straits of Mackinac, it still poses too much of a risk to the Great Lakes.

“We can live without oil. We cannot live without water. We absolutely must shut down Pipeline Five and reject the request to build a tunnel,” said Katie Olsson.

EIS Process Timeline.JPG
A diagram of the timeline of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Environmental Impact Statement process.

Several members of the Sierra Club and a spokesperson for Oil and Water Don’t Mix/Clean Water Action-Michigan commented. Not only did many speakers oppose the tunnel, they also want the existing Line 5 shut down.

While some speakers stressed that the petroleum being transported from western Canada was important to refineries in the Midwest, opponents of the tunnel argued the bulk of the product was being shipped from western Canada, crossing Michigan and the Great Lakes system and going right back to Canada.

“It only benefits Canada and the Enbridge Corporation in making short term financial gain at the state of Michigan's risk,” said Arthur Hirsch with the Climate Reality Project, Western Michigan Chapter.

In a statement released prior to the online public meeting Enbridge Energy said in part, "Enbridge supports a thorough, robust regulatory process and believes a diversity of viewpoints and perspectives are important. We welcome the wide-ranging public input that is part of the Army Corps’ process," and added, "Once complete, the Tunnel will make Line 5’s crossing of the Straits even safer, while creating Michigan jobs and securing the needed energy for consumers in Michigan and the region."

The Army Corps of Engineers will take public comments until October 14th. You can leave your comment here.

The Corps expects to release a draft Environmental Impact Statement on the Enbridge Energy Line 5 tunnel proposal in fall of next year.

NOTE: Enbridge Energy is one of Michigan Radios corporate sponsors.

Lester Graham reports for The Environment Report. He has reported on public policy, politics, and issues regarding race and gender inequity. He was previously with The Environment Report at Michigan Radio from 1998-2010.
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