Line 5 foes want ‘broad, thorough review’ of tunnel project as Army Corps wraps public comment

By: - October 7, 2022 5:03 am

Proposed Line 5 tunnel project construction area, southern end | U.S. Army Corps of Engineers screenshot

Updated, 12:20 p.m., 10/11/22

The final public input session for a federal environmental review of the Line 5 tunnel project concluded Thursday evening, with around 100 concerned citizens from Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ohio, Illinois, New Jersey, Canada and more arguing for and against the merits of a new, tunnel-encased Line 5 pipeline replacement.

The sentiments for and against the tunnel were split fairly evenly. The majority of pro-tunnel comments came from industry workers, individuals on fixed incomes and those worried about propane and gas prices. Opponents to the project and Line 5 as a whole ranged from tribal citizens to policy experts and environmentally concerned citizens, and urged the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Detroit District to implement the most thorough review possible.

Originally scheduled for three hours, the meeting went two hours longer than planned due to a large influx of individuals wishing to speak.

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:

The meeting — the third of its kind over the last month — is part of USACE’s process of scrutinizing the Canadian pipeline company Enbridge’s proposed project to the highest level of federal environmental review. With public comment open from Aug. 15 and closing on Oct. 14, USACE is seeking input on what should be considered during the course of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) scoping process.

An EIS involves a lengthy process, and was not Enbridge’s preferred development as the company had favored a less intensive form of review.

After the Detroit District considers the tunnel project’s alternatives, cumulative impacts, geographic context and more under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) following public comment, the agency will then prepare a draft EIS before embarking on another 60-day comment period expected in fall 2023.

The final EIS will then be prepared, after which a minimum of a 30-day waiting period will begin in summer 2024. A record of decision will finally be established in fall 2024 — two years from now.

That judgment will determine whether USACE will issue, issue with modification or deny Enbridge’s permit altogether.

Proposed Line 5 tunnel project diagram | U.S. Army Corps of Engineers screenshot

Meanwhile, the original Line 5 continues to age and attract environmental concern. Built in 1953, the oil pipeline originates in Northwest Wisconsin and continues for 645 miles into Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, under the Straits of Mackinac and out into Canada near Port Huron.*

Both the current pipeline and its proposed replacement are opposed by all 12 federally recognized tribes in Michigan, in addition to tribes in Wisconsin that are fighting the pipeline as it passes through their treaty territory.

Indigenous water protectors from tribes in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota all spoke during the public input session Thursday.

“Consultation is not consent and they [the tribes] are saying no,” one participant said.

Another participant, climate justice organizer Andy Pearson from Minnesota, said the Detroit District need only look into what’s happened with Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline in Minnesota to know whether to trust the Canadian company.

“Let our experience serve as a warning that this company will try to make you believe that they’ve done their due diligence when they have not. A mountain of assurances is not worth much once irreversible damage has been done,” Pearson said.

Other opponents to the tunnel project encouraged a comprehensive review of the climate change impacts brought by a new, 99-year lease with a fossil fuel project. Other concerns mentioned were wastewater discharge into Lake Michigan, the structural integrity of the Mackinac Bridge from blasting in close proximity, Enbridge’s record of historic oil spills, an “inadequate” geotechnical report from Enbridge, fears about a possible explosion during construction, and bentonite slurry from construction that could kill fish.

“Unchecked climate change is predicted to generate astronomical expenses for taxpayers, industry and all levels of government, far exceeding the short term cost of converting to clean energy,” said Debra Singleton, an ecologist who lives in an Illinois municipality that uses Lake Michigan drinking water.

NEPA EIS process for Line 5 tunnel project | U.S. Army Corps of Engineers screenshot

“We have a choice: Incur relatively manageable financial costs now, or incur astronomical economic, political and environmental costs, and loss of life in the not very distant future for ourselves, our children and grandchildren.”

Supporters of the tunnel project touted the replacement as an even safer alternative to what they said was already a “proven, safe pipeline.” Concerned residents in northern Michigan, Ohio and elsewhere said they worry that gas prices and propane prices would rise greatly if Line 5 were to be shut down.

Tunnel proponents also asked USACE to ultimately greenlight the project in order to better regulate the economy, ensure national security and strengthen the United States’ energy independence.


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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.