Mackinac Island challenges Enbridge Line 5 permits

By: - January 31, 2019 10:14 am

Mackinac Island | Susan J. Demas

Mackinac Island is taking Michigan to court over permits issued to Canadian energy company Enbridge to build supports along an oil pipeline running through the Straits of Mackinac.

The legal challenges are meant to avert “catastrophic damage to the island” posed by the 66-year-old Line 5, according to a press release from Oil & Water Don’t Mix, an environmental group that supports decommissioning the oil pipeline.

This is the latest development with the pipeline, which is opposed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Attorney General Dana Nessel and environmentalists.

In 2018, the Department of Environmental Quality issued a permit for Enbridge to install 48 “saddle supports” along Line 5, which carries roughly 23 million gallons of oil and some natural gas through the straits each day. The City of Mackinac Island is now challenging that and another permit to install an additional 22 anchor supports along the pipeline, the press release said.

Mackinac Island Mayor Margaret Doud said in a statement Wednesday that the legal challenge is meant to avoid island damage that a potential rupture could cause.

“For years, Island residents have been promised that Line 5 would have a limited life span. Instead of safely phasing out the dangerous aged dual lines in the Straits, state officials have proposed to extend the operation of the dual pipelines as much as another 10 years,” Doud said in a statement. “The City, people, and businesses have waited far too long. It is time to bring Line 5 under the rule of law and bring it to an orderly closure. Enough is enough.”

Mackinac island filed a petition to contest DEQ’s permit to Enbridge for the saddle supports and join a pending case filed by the Straits of Mackinac Alliance that challenges a permit to install an additional 22 anchor supports. A status conference for the second case is scheduled for early February.

The Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians have also filed a separate petition over these issues, according to Oil & Water Don’t Mix.

The anchor and saddle supports “significantly alters the structure and design of the pipelines” by suspending them in the straits before construction for a new buried pipeline begins, lawyers for the city said.

“The DEQ turned its back on its legal duty to require authorization of the major design change of these dual lines in the Straits,” said Scott Howard, a Traverse City-based environmental and municipal attorney for Mackinac Island.

“The stakes are simply too high and the risks are unacceptable for the DEQ to fail to fully implement the laws that protect our Great Lakes, the City of Mackinac Island, and all of us who live in Northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula,” Howard said.

Whitmer and Nessel both vowed to shut down Line 5 during their 2018 campaigns for office. The governor has asked Nessel for a formal opinion on a Lame Duck law that, in effect, allows the pipeline to keep operating.

Despite their opposition and a new Whitmer-appointed DEQ director, Liesl Clark, the department also issued a permit to allow Enbridge to begin rock and soil sampling in a project to construct a new buried pipeline, as the Michigan Advance previously reported.

Environmentalists had also called for Line 5 to be shut down during the partial federal government shutdown, as a monitoring system had gone offline.

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Michael Gerstein
Michael Gerstein

Michael Gerstein is a former Advance reporter covering the Governor's office, criminal justice and the environment.