Enbridge boat crashes into Mackinac Bridge, leaves 4 injured

By: - November 15, 2021 1:24 pm

Mackinac Bridge | Susan J. Demas

Updated, 12:27 p.m., 11/16/21, with comment from U.S. Coast Guard

A 30-foot vessel operated by a contractor of embattled Canadian oil company Enbridge crashed into the northern end of the Mackinac Bridge on Nov. 3, just over a mile East from the controversial Line 5 oil pipeline that the company operates under the Straits of Mackinac.

According to Enbridge, four individuals on board sustained minor injuries and received medical attention. The incident was reported to the U.S. Coast Guard and Mackinac Bridge Authority the next day.

It is not clear how fast the boat was going when it crashed.

“A 33ft work boat operated by J.F. Brennan Company struck a pier on the Mackinac Bridge during the evening of Nov. 3,” said Lt. Tyler Carlsgaard, chief of the inspections division for the U.S. Coast Guard’s Sault Ste. Marie Sector, in an email Tuesday. “An investigation is currently underway.”*

Enbridge said in a statement that the crew transport boat had been installing “onshore cameras to monitor the Straits of Mackinac” at the time, and had been returning from St. Helena Island to St. Ignace at approximately 7:30 p.m. when the incident occurred.

St. Helena Island is located about seven miles northwest of the Mackinac Bridge, off the U.P. shore closest to Gros Cap.

Enbridge spokesperson Michael Barnes on Friday characterized the incident as “a bump where a boat came into contact with a pier.”

“The 30-foot-long boat safely returned to harbor under its own power,” the company’s statement read. “Safety is paramount in all Enbridge operations and projects, and Enbridge is committed to maintaining a safe environment for its employees, contractors and the communities in which we live and work.

Line 5 map | Laina G. Stebbins graphic

“Remaining work in the Straits this year will be conducted during daylight hours, including transportation of work crews,” Enbridge continued.

The incident is one of many over the years caused by Enbridge or an Enbridge contractor. Most recently, an equipment failure during work in the Straits caused an unsecured 15,000-pound anchor to be left on the lakebed between Line 5’s dual pipelines in July.

The company was instructed by the state to remove the anchor from the lakebed.

In June 2020, an Enbridge-contracted vessel caused damage to an anchor support on Line 5’s east leg. Three months later, the U.S. Coast Guard confirmed that Enbridge-contracted vessels were the likely cause of that incident and another that both resulted in disturbances to the dual pipelines.

Another equipment failure in September 2019 also caused Enbridge to leave a long steel rod embedded in the lakebed near the pipeline for months.

All incidents, including the most recent occurence on Nov. 3, have caused environmentalists to sound the alarm about what they characterize as a pattern of untrustworthiness and irresponsibility from Enbridge.

“Not crashing into the Mackinac Bridge is pretty much rule No. 1 of boating safety in the Straits of Mackinac and they can’t even get that right,” said Sean McBrearty, campaign coordinator for the anti-Line 5 Oil & Water Don’t Mix coalition.

“Over the last two years, Enbridge contractors have damaged the anchor supports to Line 5 oil pipelines by dragging a cable over the pipeline, they have had to retrieve a 15,000-pound anchor another Enbridge vessel dropped into the Straits, and now they have crashed a boat into the Mackinac Bridge.

“This is yet another example of why Enbridge can’t be trusted to maintain even basic safety protocols, while they continue to illegally operate a 68-year-old ticking time bomb in the heart of the Great Lakes,” McBreaty said.

The state of Michigan and Enbridge are currently waiting on a federal judge to decide whether the legality of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Line 5 shutdown order — which was effective May 12 but ignored by Enbridge — will be decided in state court or federal court.

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Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins

Laina G. Stebbins covers the environment, Native issues and criminal justice for the Advance. 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. When Laina is not writing or spending time with her cats, she loves art and design, listening to music, playing piano, enjoying good food and being out in nature (especially Up North).