Whitmer wants Line 5 out of Straits of Mackinac sooner than 2024

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News
“I think we’ve got a duty to get it out quicker than that and I think that the attorney general feels the same way and that’s my goal,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said about Enbridge's five-year timeline for a tunnel.

Mackinac Island — Enbridge’s best case, five-year timeline for construction of a utility corridor in the Straits of Mackinac may not be quick enough for state leaders concerned about the possibility of a leak from the 65-year-old Line 5 oil pipeline.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer told reporters Friday that she’ll be meeting with Enbridge next week, after the utility giant said it could shorten its construction timeline from 10 years to five.

“I think we’ve got a duty to get it out quicker than that, and I think that the attorney general feels the same way and that’s my goal,” Whitmer said.

Line 5 transports about 23 million gallons of oil and natural gas a day through the Upper Peninsula, including a four-mile, dual-pipeline stretch through the Straits of Mackinac.

Enbridge still believes the tunnel is the safest, quickest option for removing Line 5 from the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac, and negotiations are ongoing regarding the timeline for its closure, company spokesman Michael Barnes said Friday.

"We are committed to working with the governor absolutely and finding a path forward for the tunnel project," Barnes said. "I believe that we all have a shared vision to reduce risk.”

Whitmer’s comments came on the final day of the Mackinac Policy Conference, where Attorney General Dana Nessel, the governor and Enbridge have floated threats, negotiations and proposals regarding the controversial pipeline.

Earlier this week, Nessel said she would move to shutter Line 5 by the end of June if Whitmer didn’t reach a new agreement with the company.

Whitmer has been in discussions with the company for several weeks after Nessel in March issued a formal legal opinion declaring unconstitutional a law passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature at the end of 2018 creating an authority to oversee construction of a tunnel to house Line 5 and other utilities. Whitmer halted state agency work on the project shortly after Nessel issued her opinion.

Enbridge has said for some months that it could complete the tunnel in five to 10 years pending permit or litigation delays, but the company committed to the five-year deadline formally in a recent letter to Whitmer.

While the timeline is not short enough for Whitmer, she said she’s also conscious of the cost of going to court to try to shut down Line 5.

“One of the things I’m concerned about is being locked in litigation in an unending way where that pipeline stays exposed and we run the risk of a leak in the Great Lakes,” she said.

The line has long been a source of concern among environmentalists because of the possibility of an oil spill in the Great Lakes. Those concerns were exacerbated last year when an anchor gouged the line but didn't cause a leak.

Whitmer told reporters she’s also working to ameliorate some of the concerns of Upper Peninsula residents who say the uncertainty surrounding Line 5 could skyrocket already higher-than-average energy costs. She said she’ll be announcing a UP energy task force soon.

“One way or another, that’s a goal that I have is to bring down the cost of energy for Yoopers,” she said.


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