Public comment on Enbridge pipeline plan cuts off before Lame Duck ends — on Tuesday

By: - December 14, 2018 2:00 pm

Mackinac Bridge | Image by Jason Gillman from Pixabay

If you want to weigh in on the new section of pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac, you don’t have much time.

The public has until Tuesday, Dec. 18 to register comments or concerns about the plan just signed into law by GOP Gov. Rick Snyder that encases Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline in a tunnel under the bedrock of the Straits.

Read the proposed agreement here.

And in another development, the makeup of the new authority overseeing the tunnel has already switched in the first 30 hours of its existence from having a Democratic majority to a Republican one. The authority will hold its first meeting in St. Ignace on Wednesday, Dec. 19.

Dana Nessel

Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General-elect Dana Nessel, who are both Democrats, want to shut down Line 5, but this new legislation could tie their hands. The matter is widely expected to end up in court.

“Line 5 was a pillar of then-candidate Dana Nessel’s campaign for Attorney General. As Attorney General-elect, Ms. Nessel is deeply concerned and troubled by the hasty legislative rush-to-judgment efforts to push through a proposal that WAS NOT properly vetted, that handcuffs Governor-elect Whitmer and Attorney General-elect Nessel before they even take office and will have negative repercussions on the state of Michigan and its residents for generations,” Nessel spokeswoman Kelly Rossman-McKinney said in a statement this week.

Environmental groups, led by the Oil & Water Don’t Mix coalition, oppose the plan due to ongoing concerns about the pipeline’s safety. Line 5, which is owned by the Canadian company Enbridge, has spilled at least 1.1 million gallons of oil in past 50 years, MLive reported in 2017.

In 2010, another Enbridge pipeline ruptured, spilling roughly 20,000 barrels of oil into the Kalamazoo River. The company in 2016 settled with the U.S. government for $177 million.

To put the speedy timeline for the new Line 5 tunnel in perspective, the Michigan Legislature won’t even be done with its Lame Duck year-end session by Tuesday. The House and Senate are slated to still be voting on bills until Thursday, Dec. 20.

Snyder struck a deal with Enbridge to shore up the Line 5 pipeline. He made it one of his top priorities in Lame Duck before he is termed out of office.

Mackinac Bridge | Susan J. Demas

On Tuesday, Senate Bill 1197, sponsored by state Sen. Tom Casperson (R-Escanaba), achieved final passage in the Michigan Legislature. The measure creates an authority known as the Mackinac Utility Corridor Authority to oversee the construction and use of the tunnel by Enbridge.

In an exit interview with reporters that afternoon, Snyder committed to signing SB 1197. By Wednesday morning, the governor made good on that promise.

Snyder on Wednesday also announced the appointment of inaugural members to the new Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority (MSCA), which had a 2-1 Democratic majority:

  • Michael Zimmer, Snyder’s cabinet director and former director of the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs
  • Tony England, dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science at the University of Michigan-Dearborn
  • Geno Alessandrini, business manager of the 13,000-member Michigan Laborers District Council union
Rick Snyder (left) and Brian Calley (right) at their year-end press conference, Dec. 11, 2018 | Ken Coleman

However, by Thursday, Alessandrini promptly resigned from the panel for “personal reasons.” Snyder announced his new appointment with little fanfare in a press release the governor’s office regularly sends out on appointments and reappointments to various state boards and commissions.

Snyder named J.R. Richardson, a Republican and vice chair of the state Natural Resources Commission, as Alessandrini’s replacement. That means that the MSCA now has a GOP majority.

All members will serve six-year terms expiring on Dec. 12, 2024 — almost two years after Whitmer’s first gubernatorial term is up.

Michigan Advance Editor Susan J. Demas contributed to this report.

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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.