Unions stress Line 5 tunnel benefits as green groups worry about ruptures, pollution

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News

Supporters and opponents flooded a Monday virtual public hearing with comments on a proposed tunnel for the Line 5, as backers called it a boost for the Great Lakes economy and detractors labeled it an environmental nightmare waiting to happen.

More of the online phone calls, which were held as part of an online forum by the Michigan Public Service Commission to get public input on the project, were in favor of relocating the dual oil pipelines into a tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac. The barrage of calls came businesses, unions and even workers for Enbridge, Line 5's owner. 

The feedback came from Michigan to Ohio and Wisconsin. Supporters of the $500 million project that Enbridge would pay for touted how it would save jobs, still protect the Great Lakes and environment, and spur economic growth. Supportive calls came from the city manager in Marysville and State Rep. Beau LaFave, R-Iron Mountain.

This June 2020 file photo, shot from a television screen provided by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy shows damage to anchor support EP-17-1 on the east leg of the Enbridge Line 5 pipeline within the Straits of Mackinac in Michigan.

"A premature shutdown of Line 5 will affect thousands of our members in Ohio, Michigan and throughout the Midwest," said Randie Pearson, a United Steel Workers union official from Columbus, Ohio, who spoke about how a refiner relies on Enbridge to supply crude oil to remain operational.

"This refinery provides permanent, good-paying, family sustaining jobs to over 550 men and women in Northern Ohio and Southern Michigan," Pearson said, adding that a shutdown "would be devastating to communities throughout the region."

But Sean McBrearty, Michigan legislative and policy director for Clean Water Action, said a proposal of "this magnitude" has never been pulled off in the Great Lakes basin.

"The potential for ecological and economic devastation" from Line 5 deserves every bit of scrutiny it receives, he said.

The three-member Public Service Commission "must also consider the impact of greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutant emissions and climate impact that will result from running this pipeline for 99 years as opposed to decommissioning it outright," McBrearty said. 

Line 5 is a dual pipeline that runs four miles along the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac, The entire light crude oil and natural gas pipeline runs from Superior, Wisconsin to Sarnia, Ontario. Enbridge has filed applied for the commission approve its Line 5 tunnel plan in a bid to qualm fears of a potential rupture. 

The commission may not make a decision until summer 2021.

In a statement, Enbridge officials said they are looking forward forward to the public comments and that the process "for approving our application is moving forward in a timely manner."

"We believe a diversity of viewpoints and perspectives make this process better, and we welcome the wide-ranging public input that is part of the hearings," Enbridge spokesman Ryan Duffy said. "We know the majority of Michiganders support the Great Lakes Tunnel project, including the replacement pipeline at issue in the MPSC proceeding, and we are committed to building it. The Michigan House and 24 counties have now passed resolutions in support of the project."

Deborah Mulcahey, who lives in Marquette, said she questions how the state "has allowed Enbridge to continue to operate the Line 5 pipeline and argues it "should be paying" the state for independent reviews of the pipeline.

"Environmental pollution alters our lives sometimes in ways we don't understand, sometimes in ways we don't want to imagine," Malcahey said. "I do not want our governor's legacy to be a Flint legacy like our prior governor."

Still, supportive calls for the project came from myriad witnesses such as Kevin Mapp of Taylor, who is an assistant to the director of District 2 for the United Steel Workers union.

"The jobs, the tax revenues attributed to Line 5 now and into the future areas a significant part of our economy," Mapp said. "The people of Michigan and business throughout our state depend on a safe, operational Line 5."


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