New: Tribal members urge EGLE to deny or delay Line 5 permits after archeological finds

By: - October 16, 2020 10:59 am

Paddlers practicing on Jiimaan, Sept. 19 | Adam Zwickle

Updated, 12:15 p.m. and 1:05 p.m., 10/16/20 with additional comments

A group of tribal water protectors and Michigan environmentalists plan to submit comments to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) Sunday, urging the state to consider new archaeological discoveries near the Line 5 pipeline before granting permits to Canadian oil company Enbridge.

The comments will include documentation about a potentially ancient tribal site that the group found on Sept. 23 using a remote-controlled vehicle (ROV) in the Straits of Mackinac. Led by women of Michigan’s tribal communities and using an Anishinaabek wooden watercraft called a Jiimaan, the effort had originally been geared toward investigating the aging Line 5 dual pipelines for any damage not reported to the state.

That review of the data collected remains ongoing. The group believes that at least one cultural site has been discovered just a short distance from Line 5, which necessitates review from EGLE before it decides whether or not to grant permits for Enbridge to build a tunnel-enclosed replacement pipeline.

The comments, which will be signed by tribal members involved in the effort (Andrea Pierce of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians (LTBB), Robin Lees of the LTBB, Kelly Willis of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe, LTBB tribal Councilman Fred Harrington, Jr.) and others involved in the effort, are being prepared with the hope that EGLE either denies or delays the permitting process.

Tribal-led Line 5 investigation unearths ancient cultural artifacts

The state’s deadline for public comment is 11:59 p.m. Monday concerning two Line 5 tunnel project-related permits. One relates to wastewater discharge that Enbridge will release into Lake Michigan during construction; the other relates to the impacts that the tunnel project will have on nearby wetlands.

Michigan Sierra Club Conservation Chair Anne Woiwode, who is involved with the comment drafting process, said they are still trying to clarify the state’s position on the permits — but what they have heard so far from EGLE has been worrisome.

“Some of the official comments from EGLE … it gives us a sense that EGLE has already decided that they’re going to figure out how to permit this tunnel. And that is extremely concerning,” Woiwode said. “… The agency’s job is to protect the environment, period. And to ensure that state law, which includes protection of archaeological and historic sites, is properly considered.”

EGLE spokesperson Hugh McDiarmid said the department looks forward to receiving the group’s documentation and recommendations regarding the archeological find.

“The State Historic Preservation Office is reviewing Enbridge’s 2019 cultural assessment, and they are aware of criticisms of that assessment,” McDiarmid said. “We anticipate they will offer some analysis and possibly recommendations on next steps. Those could include further investigation of the sites in question, and we will be incorporating their recommendations into EGLE’s decision-making.”

McDiarmid added that EGLE “will continue to be diligent in ensuring Enbridge adheres to all regulations and requirements in their tunnel proposal,” including those protecting significant historic and archaeological artifacts.

ROV footage of cultural site, Sept. 23 | Fred Harrington

Enbridge spokesperson Ryan Duffy told the Advance: “We look forward to having a chance to see that documentation. We would welcome the opportunity to meet and talk with this group.”*

The group hopes to go back out to finish what it started — conduct an independent review of the Line 5 dual pipelines — but the strong winds and fall weather in northern Michigan will prove increasingly challenging on the Straits.

“We’re getting into the dangerous season on the lakes,” Woiwode said, but added that the group will still continue to review documentation.

Terri Wilkerson, a realtor and water activist who helped organize the ROV expeditions, told the Advance Friday that “given the changing seasons and increasing challenges with the unpredictable weather in the Straits, we have no current plans to go back in the water this fall.”*

There are plans to look through two more days of video from the ROV scans. So far, only one day’s worth of scans has been combed through before finding the underwater cultural site.

“There may well be a lot more information there. And that needs to be considered. So we want to make sure that the agencies are aware that this is just the tip of the iceberg,” Woiwode said.

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Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins

Laina G. Stebbins is a former Michigan Advance reporter. A lifelong Michigander, she is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service.