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Lansing — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer told Enbridge Energy she’d like to reach a conceptual agreement within the next week regarding the future of Line 5 beneath the Straits of Mackinac.

The June 10 target could sidestep the threat of litigation from Attorney General Dana Nessel and help the Canadian pipeline company to meet a June 20 deadline so it can bring equipment into the Straits and avoid delays.

In a Monday letter to Enbridge CEO Al Monaco, Whitmer reiterated concerns about Enbridge’s five-year timeline for completion and questioned whether the company would even meet that deadline.

“The reality is that this project would likely experience construction delays and potential litigation,” Whitmer said. “These delays could extend completion of the tunnel by several years.”

Nessel’s threat of June litigation should the governor and Enbridge fail to reach an amenable agreement should not be taken lightly, the governor added.     

“The attorney general has independent authority to pursue litigation against Enbridge,” Whitmer wrote. “As such, it would be imprudent and shortsighted to ignore her concerns with the continued operation of Line 5.”

Under a proposed 5-year timeline, Enbridge would complete geotechnical work this year; secure contractors, equipment and permits in 2020; and conduct boring and construction work between 2021 and 2023 for a finish date early in 2024. 

The company believes the plan "provides ample time" for all of those phases of the project, Enbridge spokesman Ryan Duffy said Tuesday.

The exchange between Whitmer and Monaco is the latest in what has become a public negotiation over the deadline for finishing construction of a utility tunnel beneath the Straits of Mackinac and the eventual shuttering of Enbridge’s controversial Line 5 segment beneath the Straits.

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.

Whitmer has been in discussions with Enbridge for several weeks after Nessel in March issued a formal legal opinion declaring unconstitutional a law passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature 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's opinion.

Enbridge has said for 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.

Last week, Whitmer told reporters Enbridge’s best case, five-year construction timeline was not short enough and indicated the prospect of leaving the aging pipeline in the water for another five years would not be attractive to Nessel either.

The attorney general told reporters last week that she was prepared to take legal action in June if the governor and Enbridge were unable to come to an agreement.

In her Monday letter to Enbridge, Whitmer said the state already experienced the effects of an Enbridge inland pipeline spill in 2010 when "over one million gallons of oil spilled into the Kalamazoo River" and didn't want to risk the same catastrophe on the Great Lakes.

"As destructive as that inland waters release was, an oil spill in the Great Lakes would be substantially worse, given the prevailing currents, ship traffic and unique ecological features of the Straits," Whitmer wrote.

eleblanc@detroitnews.com

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