Mich., Minn. water protectors show up in force at public comment for Line 5 tunnel project

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is accepting feedback until Oct. 14

By: - September 14, 2022 9:25 am

Sault tribe citizen Nathan Wright addresses the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Detroit District at a public scoping meeting regarding the Line 5 tunnel project, Saint Ignace, Sept. 8, 2022 | Sharon Fighter

From early afternoon Thursday until the late evening, representatives of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Detroit District sat and listened in a Saint Ignace event space while Indigenous water protectors, environmentalists, Enbridge supporters and concerned citizens argued for and against the Canadian pipeline company’s proposed Line 5 replacement project.

USACE’s public comment period for the scope of its environmental impact statement (EIS) is open until Oct. 14. The first public comment period was held virtually on Sept. 1, followed by the in-person meeting in Saint Ignace’s Little Bear Arena on Thursday that attracted several hundred people. The third and final public meeting will be virtual from 1 to 4 p.m. Oct. 6.

The EIS scoping and Section 106 input period will continue through Oct. 14, and those who wish to submit comments regarding the EIS scope may do so by that date either electronically or in written comments.

Written comments: Line 5 Tunnel EIS, 16501 Shady Grove Road, P.O. Box 10178, Gaithersburg, MD 20898

Electronic comments: https://www.Line5TunnelEIS.com

Whitney Gravelle, president of the Bay Mills Indian Community and former tribal attorney, said a fourth meeting is also expected to be held for tribal citizens.

USACE formally opened the public comment period on Aug. 15. The process is meant to ensure that citizens have a voice in the agency’s deliberations when it comes to Enbridge’s plan to replace the aging Line 5 with a new, concrete tunnel-enclosed oil pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac.

The EIS process underway means that Enbridge’s proposed plan will undergo the highest level of federal environmental review for such a project. The tunnel plan will be scrutinized in terms of its alternatives, cumulative impacts, geographic context and more under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA).

Nathan Wright and other water protectors confront Enbridge supporters outside the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Detroit District’s public scoping meeting regarding the Line 5 tunnel project, Saint Ignace, Sept. 8, 2022 | Sharon Fighter

All Native American tribes in Michigan are opposed to both Line 5 and its proposed replacement.

At the in-person meeting Thursday, Gravelle said many of the tribes were represented.

“Both the Little River Band of Odawa Indians as well as the Bay Mills Indian Community had a comment on behalf of their council,” Gravelle said. “But most certainly from the water protectors there were a lot more tribes there. We had Little Traverse Bay Band and the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, Grand Traverse Bay Band.

“What was a very welcomed surprise is that we actually had water protectors come all the way from Minnesota,” she said.

The water protectors from tribes in Minnesota are in opposition to their own Enbridge pipeline project, Line 3. Gravelle said tribal citizens brought photos from their reservation before the Army Corps and argued against the proposed project in Michigan.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Detroit District holds a public scoping meeting regarding the Line 5 tunnel project, Saint Ignace, Sept. 8, 2022 | Sharon Fighter

Gravelle noted that there were roughly the same amount of supporters of and opponents to the project present at the meeting. She said she is “cautiously optimistic” that USACE is intaking the perspective of water protectors, although she knows the system “tends to lean more toward permit approvals for private corporations rather than protecting people.

“Which is exactly why we need that vocal advocacy on issues like this from the communities that will be harmed by the project,” she added.

USACE is one of several permitting bodies that Enbridge needs approval from before the company constructs the replacement pipeline.

After considering public comment and issuing the EIS, the USACE will then decide whether to issue, issue with modification or deny the Department of the Army permit altogether.

“There’s two sides to every issue,” Gravelle said. “ … But I just want to remind folks that we have to take a step back sometimes and really look at what’s in the best interest of everyone in the long run.

“ … We need to continue to do our utmost to protect and respect the Great Lakes.”


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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.