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Petition targets ending oil in Line 5 pipeline

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing – A new group called “Keep our Lakes Great” is gearing up for a petition drive and potential ballot proposal seeking to stop crude oil from flowing through Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline beneath the Straits of Mackinac.

The Board of State Canvassers on Wednesday unanimously approved the form of a petition submitted by the recently formed ballot committee, which plans to begin collecting signatures as soon as next week.

“I read somewhere there were about 800,000 jobs that rely on the freshwater of the Great Lakes, and the risk of that thing breaking is just too dire,” committee chairman Phil Bellfy said of the 64-year-old pipeline that splits as it runs beneath turbulent waterways connecting Lake Huron and Lake Michigan.

Petition language for the potential 2018 ballot proposal seeks to end a 1953 easement that allowed the pipeline and prohibit any new agreement that allows the transportation of crude oil or liquid petroleum products beneath the Great Lakes.

Pipeline owners would also be required to have an insurance policy or bond of at least $4 billion and a surety bond of at least $400 million to protect against cleanup costs for any potential leak.

“We think our proposal is very moderate,” said attorney Jeff Hank, noting the proposal would not prohibit pipeline transportation of propane used to heat homes in the Upper Peninsula.

“It doesn’t actually shut the pipeline down. We’re just asking for a cessation of the flow of crude oil and other safety measures.”

An Enbridge spokesman defended the safety of its Line 5 pipeline, which is the subject of ongoing risk and alternatives analysis studies by the state.

“Our focus is on the safe operation of Line 5. And to demonstrate beyond a doubt to people in Michigan that Line 5 is operated safely and is in very good condition, Enbridge is initiating several large safety projects this summer,” spokesman Ryan Duffy said.

“We are committed to preserving and protecting the communities in which we live and work, as well as Michigan’s natural resources through the safe operation of Line 5.”

Enbridge says the pipeline “does not and will not carry heavy oil,” but the petition would also prohibit the transportation of light crude oil.

Hank is planning a “May Day” rally at the state Capitol on Monday and plans to begin circulating petitions then. The new ballot committee does not appear to have any significant financial backers at this time and is considering the use of volunteer circulators.

Most successful petitions drives in Michigan have cost more than $1 million to organize and typically rely on paid circulators.

Petitioners would need to collect 252,523 valid signatures in a 18-day window in order to advance the legislative initiative. If they do so, legislators would have 40 days to consider the measure or allow it to go to the statewide ballot in 2018.

Bellfy is a Sault Ste. Marie resident who ran as a Democrat for the state Senate in 2014 and the state House in 2016. Hank lost a 2014 Democratic primary for the state’s 8th Congressional District and chairs the MI Legalize marijuana ballot committee.

Both suggested the pipeline petition could also have appeal for some Republicans, especially those who live in northern Michigan closer to the Straits of Mackinac.

“We believe this is going to be very popular with the grassroots,” Hank said.

joosting@detroitnews.com