Snyder creates Line 5 tunnel authority; appoints 3 members

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and Lt. Gov. Brian Calley hold an end-of-the year roundtable with the media in the Romney Building in Lansing Tuesday.

Lansing — Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder wasted no time Wednesday signing into law legislation creating an authority to oversee the construction of a tunnel to house Enbridge’s Line 5 oil pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac.

Snyder signed the legislation a day after both the Republican-controlled Senate and House approved it over the objections of environmentalists, who argue Line 5 should be immediately decommissioned to prevent a potential major oil spill.

Snyder also announced his appointees to the Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority, which included two Democrats and one Republican. The term-limited Republican governor seemed to be extending an olive branch to critics, and perhaps Democratic Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer, by appointing two Democrats who support the tunnel project.

The legislation requires that at most two authority members can be from the same political party. 

The appointees include Democrat Geno Alessandrini of the Michigan Laborers District Council; Democrat Tony England, an engineering and computer science dean at the University of Michigan-Dearborn; and Republican Michael Zimmer, Snyder’s cabinet director.

The three members will serve six-year terms while overseeing the tunnel construction, which is expected to cost up to $500 million and take more than 10 years to complete.

Snyder praised the efforts of a “diverse group of stakeholders” that included union representatives and business leaders.

“We all understand the importance of bringing certainty to removing Line 5 from the waters in the Straits of Mackinac,” he said in a statement. “By working together, they helped garner bipartisan support to ensure we are protecting the Great Lakes while securing better energy infrastructure for Michigan.”

The law creating the authority was opposed by critics who saw the legislation as a lame-duck rush to finalize the deal before Whitmer took office. The East Lansing Democrat   has said she wants to decommission Line 5.

Opponents also have taken issue with the 10-year construction timeline during which the old pipeline will remain in place.

"We are deeply disappointed Gov. Snyder approved legislation that will keep oil pumping through the damaged Line 5 pipeline for another decade or more," said said Lisa Wozniak, executive director at Michigan League of Conservation Voters, referring to an April 1 anchor strike on the pipeline that didn't cause an oil spill.

"On Nov. 6, the people of Michigan made their position clear by electing candidates who pledged to keep oil pipelines out of our Great Lakes and protect our drinking water. We will continue to advocate, communicate and fight to protect our water and oppose oil pipelines in the Great Lakes as the new administration takes office,” Wozniak said. 

In a Wednesday statement, Enbridge spokesman Ryan Duffy said the company looks forward to working with the newly appointed authority. 

"Replacing the Straits segment of Line 5 in a tunnel deep under the lake bed makes a safe pipeline even safer while ensuring a reliable and affordable energy supply to Michigan and the region," Duffy said. 

The 1953 dual pipelines have long concerned environmental groups, who have warned about the risk of a major oil spill in the Great Lakes. Snyder announced an agreement with Enbridge in October that would require the energy company to finance the project and then enter into a lease agreement for the tunnel with the state.

Snyder's picks for the authority appear to be representatives who support the tunnel construction.

The agreement between the state and Enbridge “puts the state on the path for the future,” UM-Dearborn's England wrote in a November op-ed for the Traverse City Record Eagle. He has served on the Michigan Pipeline Safety Advisory Board since March.

Snyder’s appointment of Alessandrini of Iron Mountain, who oversees 13,000 construction workers, appears to be a nod to the unions who have urged Democratic Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer to support the Line 5 tunnel replacement plan.

Zimmer, a recent appointee to the Mackinac Bridge Authority, will resign his appointment there to serve on the Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority. 

“They have the expertise and the qualifications necessary to serve the state well as the MSCA brings an end to concerns over Line 5 continuing to operate in the Straits of Mackinac,” Snyder said of his appointees.

When Enbridge pays for and completes construction of the tunnel, the Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority will take over ownership and lease the space to Enbridge.

Funded through a newly created Straits Utility Fund, the authority will have support from the Michigan Department of Transportation and maintain an oversight role throughout the life of the tunnel.

The authority is expected to enter into an agreement with Enbridge regarding construction by the end of the year. The state also plans to reach a third and final agreement with the energy company before Whitmer takes over in January.

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