Army Corps extends enviro review for Enbridge tunnel project, angering both sides of Line 5 debate

By: - March 25, 2023 10:05 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

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) announced Thursday that it is delaying a key step in its review process of the proposed Line 5 oil pipeline replacement project, drawing complaints both from pipeline owner Enbridge and opponents of the project.

The draft environmental impact statement (EIS) from USACE previously had a planned publishing timeframe of late 2023. That projected date has now been pushed back to spring 2025, roughly a year and a half later.

Canadian pipeline company Enbridge was already displeased that USACE chose to conduct a lengthy EIS scoping process in favor of a less intensive route of review. The company on Thursday said it is “disappointed” in USACE’s decision to extend the process, which is already a lengthy one, further.

“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ (USACE) decision to extend the federal permitting process for the Great Lakes Tunnel Project further delays the replacement of the dual pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac and effectively pushes the start of construction to 2026,” said Enbridge spokesperson Ryan Duffy.

“While we are supportive of a thorough, comprehensive and carefully considered permitting process that ensures adequate opportunity for review and comment, we are disappointed with the extended timeline for a project of this scope.”

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

Enbridge applied for a permit with USACE in April 2020 pursuant to the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 and the Clean Water Act. Federal approval is necessary for the project as it involves discharging dredged or fill materials into waters of the United States, as well as the construction of structures and/or work that may affect navigable waters.

Several public comment periods took place last year relating to the scope of the project. The construction itself will involve replacing the dual, roughly 4-mile-long oil pipelines that run along the Mackinac Straits bottomlands with a new, tunnel-encased pipeline.

It is not yet clear when USACE will make a final decision based on the EIS, as a record decision was originally slated for fall 2024 prior to Thursday’s announcement.

In addition to USACE, Enbridge also requires permitting approval from the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) and the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE).

Of those, EGLE is the only one to grant permits so far.

Environmental and climate advocates who oppose Line 5 in its entirety were also dismayed by the extended permit process, albeit for different reasons; an extension of the EIS process means that the nearly 70-year-old oil pipeline will have more time to pose a threat to the Straits of Mackinac before that section is replaced.

Attorney General Dana Nessel is currently locked in a federal court case with Enbridge, where she seeks to once again face the company in state court and ultimately decommission Line 5 as it currently exists. 

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

“Enbridge has been executing the industry playbook of delay tactics and boondoggling the permitting process to continue making record profits while jeopardizing the health and safety of the Great Lakes,” said Beth Wallace, freshwater campaigns manager for the National Wildlife Federation (NWF).

“The recent decision by the US Army Corps of Engineers will allow them to continue operating despite the best evidence and the voices of community members.”

USACE’s decision to extend the process was born from the massive amount of information — around 17,000 comments — received during the public comment periods.

The anti-Line 5 Oil & Water Don’t Mix coalition said on Friday that the roughly 18-month delay will now likely slate 2029 as the earliest possible completion date for the tunnel project — “if it is ever built.”

“No one should be surprised that Enbridge lied about its timeline to create the false perception that the dangerous old pipeline would soon be out of the Great Lakes,” said campaign coordinator Sean McBrearty. “Enbridge’s timeline was always unrealistic and so is their tunnel project. What’s real is that there is still a dangerous, old, damaged oil pipeline threatening the Great Lakes and Michigan.”


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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.