New: Enbridge’s Line 5 tunnel application hits snag with state

By: - May 5, 2020 3:18 pm

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An Enbridge Energy permit application to build a utility tunnel underneath the Straits of Mackinac has been halted — for now — because a state agency says it’s incomplete.

The Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) is requiring informative documents on the proposed Line 5 tunnel project to be made easily accessible to the public. Enbridge, a Canadian oil company, needs to revise its documentation before the permit application can be processed, according to a letter dated Monday from EGLE’s Water Resources Division of Michigan. 

Enbridge’s as-submitted public notice file is too large and the company needs to edit its materials to nail down the specifics of the tunnel’s proposed construction, according to the letter, which was sent to Enbridge Environmental Specialist Paul Turner.  

“This is a very large sized document. EGLE requests that Enbridge edit submitted materials for precision and relevance to actual proposed construction,” wrote Joseph Haas, a district supervisor in EGLE’s Water Resources Division. “Please eliminate items that do not apply to the proposed work, as well as, adding details where needed/requested.”

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Ryan Duffy, a spokesperson for Enbridge, said the corrections request from EGLE is part of the permit application process.

“Both the Michigan Department of Environment Great Lakes and Energy and the U.S. Army Corps review the application under their respective authorities,” said Duffy, in a statement to the Advance. “They first determine the completeness of the application and request additional information from the applicant, if needed.”

Enbridge plans to provide the information EGLE has requested to move forward with the process, Duffy said. 

“Pending receipt of necessary permits and approvals, Enbridge anticipates beginning construction of the Great Lakes Tunnel in 2021 to house a replacement Line 5 segment in the Straits,” Duffy added. 

The company says they expect the replacement Line 5 segment to operate in 2024.

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Per the letter, Enbridge needs to re-submit its tunnel application with several items either revised or added:

  • A “complete assessment” of potential alternatives to the tunnel project so EGLE can determine if there are any feasible other project options, as required under the Michigan Environmental Protection Act.
  • A detailed analysis of transportation options. Enbridge mentions two transportation options, but EGLE is requesting a full analysis of both.
  • A conceptual wetland mitigation plan. EGLE is requiring commentary from Enbridge to explain if their project will impact wetlands around the Straits. 
  • Additional details need to be added to Enbridge’s wetland restoration plan.
  • A mitigation plan outlining the tunnel’s anticipated impacts on Houghton’s Goldenrod and Dwarf Lake Iris — two threatened Michigan plant species found north of the Straits — needs to be submitted.
  • An estimation of the amount of muck and rock to be moved off-site and how and where it’ll be disposed of is also required. 

A copy of Enbridge’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) easement to construct the tunnel is also required, as well as a copy of the company’s Straits Geotechnical Data Report, which would contain laboratory testing results. 

Enbridge has been asked to contact EGLE directly to discuss the agency’s correction and edit requests. 

EGLE also asked Enbridge to explain why it didn’t mention pending litigation and legal challenges surrounding the property in its application. Attorney General Dana Nessel issued an opinion in 2019 that the tunnel project is unconstitutional. The company and the state of Michigan have been embroiled in court cases since last year. 

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“If not including known litigation information, Enbridge should explain why the still pending litigation on the validity of Act 359, the Tunnel Agreement, and the Assignment of Easement are not mentioned,” Haas wrote. 

David Holtz, a spokesperson for the anti-Line 5 Oil and Water Don’t Mix coalition, said it’s good that EGLE told Enbridge to slim the permit application down to be more digestible for the public.

“It’s sometimes the strategy of people who apply for permits to sort of bury the lead, so to speak,” Holtz said. 

“Broadly speaking, there’s two things I took away from the letter,” Holtz added. “… [Enbridge] didn’t comply with the requirements of the permit by leaving some things out, then they actually didn’t comply with the requirements of the permit by putting too many things in.”

Holtz said it’s especially important that EGLE is requiring Enbridge to submit a response to the question of if there are alternatives to the current tunnel project.

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“Enbridge tried to get around the Michigan Environmental Protection Act and not even submit a permit that recognized the standards of that act,” he said. “The fact that EGLE is requiring Enbridge to meet environmental protection standards, which require looking at other reasonable, prudent alternatives is really important.”

Holtz also noted Enbridge will have to acknowledge legal disputes in their permit application, and said EGLE will evaluate the fact that there’s litigation as part of its decision in granting it.

“The most important thing about that is the attorney general is suing Enbridge in Ingham County Circuit Court to vacate the easement for an orderly decommissioning of Line 5,” Holtz said. 

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C.J. Moore
C.J. Moore

C.J. Moore covers the environment and the Capitol. She previously worked at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland as a public affairs staff science writer. She also previously covered crop sustainability and coal pollution issues for Great Lakes Echo. In addition, she served as editor in chief at The State News and covered its academics and research beat. She is a journalism graduate student at Michigan State University.