State officials delay Enbridge permit for Line 5 tunnel

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News

State officials have delayed a permit sought by Enbridge to build a tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac to house Line 5 because of issues with design and specifications, according to a letter released Wednesday.

The Water Resources Division of the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy or EGLE, asked the Canadian energy company to provide more information on the project. The state delayed the utility tunnel because "the application has been determined to be incomplete as received and cannot be further processed until the information and edits requested below have been submitted."

The Whitmer administration has opposed the tunnel and sought a quick decommissioning of Line 5, a 66-year-old natural gas and oil pipeline, in part through court challenges. But it had approved prior permits for initial work on the project, which was engineered in 2018 by the outgoing Republican Snyder administration.

Enbridge Energy extracted samples from 27 holes drilled on shore, in shallow, and at the deepest segments of the Straits of Mackinac, capping Enbridge’s $40 million investment in 2019 in preliminary work for a tunnel to house the Line 5 oil pipeline.

The environmental department wants for specificity from the Canadian energy company about its building plans.

"EGLE understands that design-build process is being used by overlapping the design phase and construction phase of this project," the letter stated. "This means that much of the exact dimensions and specifications of structures and tunnel location and design are to be determined as the project design is finalized."

Enbridge's application to build a tunnel was also put on hold last month by the Michigan Public Service Commission until it takes public comment.

The Canadian energy company submitted an application to state and federal regulators to secure a permit seeking to begin construction on a roughly 4-mile utility tunnel beneath the Straits of Mackinac.

State officials pointed out that "the exact proposed tunnel inside diameter is not yet determined," saying Enbridge proposed the tunnel will be approximately 18 to 21 feet in finished diameter, or other appropriate diameter determined through final design. Enbridge will be required to provide appropriate and relevant final design details to the (Water Resources Division) as soon as designs are finalized and available."

The letter by Joseph Haas, the supervisor of the Gaylord District Office of the Water Resources Division, said he recommended that they discuss implementing "relevant design products and specifications."

The letter added that EGLE would require mitigation for what possible permanent wetlands impacts caused by the tunnel design and asked for a plan to address it.

"If permanent wetland impacts are proposed and no mitigation is offered, you must provide more than a request for wetland mitigation waiver," the letter stated.

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