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Officials say spill in Straits of Mackinac was “minor”

Mackinac Bridge
Julie Falk
Michigan's Mackinac Bridge

A coolant spill in the Straits of Mackinac did not harm the Great Lakes. That’s according to the Coast Guard and Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

In April, electric cables leaked about 600 gallons of synthetic coolant into the Straits of Mackinac. The cables are owned by the American Transmission Company.

Experts gave a presentation about the spill cleanup and analysis to the state’s Pipeline Safety Advisory Board Monday. They said the spill was “minor” and caused no significant environmental impact.

But environmental groups continue to call for cables like this and pipelines under the Straits to be shut down. They say the environmental risk of a significant leak is too high. Officials in charge of cleanup responded the next day. But environmental groups say that’s too long.

Sean McBrearty, of Clean Water Action, said if police and fire can respond to an emergency in 10 minutes, officials for a spill cleanup should too.


“So how is it anywhere near acceptable for an oil spill of this magnitude in the Straits for the response to come starting the next day?” he said.

But some members of the board were happy with the response. Heidi Grether is with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and has a seat on the board.


“You cannot, in an incident, just immediately start doing things,” she said. “You first gotta really analyze what happened and what’s your problem so that you can then take appropriate response activity, so that happened.”

Still, some members voiced concerns about what would have happened if the weather had been worse or if there was a spill of crude oil. Officials in charge of cleanup say they’re improving their methods.

Before becoming the newest Capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network, Cheyna Roth was an attorney. She spent her days fighting it out in court as an assistant prosecuting attorney for Ionia County. Eventually, Cheyna took her investigative and interview skills and moved on to journalism. She got her masters at Michigan State University and was a documentary filmmaker, podcaster, and freelance writer before finding her home with NPR. Very soon after joining MPRN, Cheyna started covering the 2016 presidential election, chasing after Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and all their surrogates as they duked it out for Michigan. Cheyna also focuses on the Legislature and criminal justice issues for MPRN. Cheyna is obsessively curious, a passionate storyteller, and an occasional backpacker. Follow her on Twitter at @Cheyna_R
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