After Line 5 tunnel panel reshuffle, state gives public 5 days to comment on agreements
Lansing — Roughly a week after it was approved and days after a Democratic appointee resigned, the state's newly formed Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority will consider an agreement with Enbridge for the construction of a utility tunnel to house the Line 5 oil pipeline beneath the Straits of Mackinac.
Members of the public have just five days to comment on the proposed plans, released Thursday, before the corridor authority is expected to vote on the controversial agreements Wednesday.
The proposed agreements were announced the same day a Democratic union official appointed to the authority resigned his position, which resulted in Gov. Rick Snyder picking a Republican replacement.
Snyder announced the resignation of Geno Alessandrini in a Thursday statement regarding the appointment of James (J.R.) Richardson to the panel that will oversee construction of a utility tunnel.
Richardson, of Ontonagon, is vice president of PM Power Group and serves on the state's Natural Resources Commission. His term on the commission expires at the end of the year.
Richardson’s appointment to the panel for a six-year term will change the three-member authority from having a Democratic majority to a Republican majority.
In a statement Thursday, Alessandrini thanked the governor for the appointment, but cited personal reasons for his resignation.
“Unfortunately, due to family and business constraints, I am unable to fulfill the obligations required to be a member of the Mackinac Straits Utility Corridor Authority,” Alessandrini said.
The same day, the state of Michigan released for review and comment a draft of the state's third agreement with Enbridge and a proposed tunnel agreement that would be approved by the Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority. Both are expected to get approvals by the end of the year.
Public comment on the proposals will be accepted through Tuesday at 833-367-6713 or by email to DNR-StraitsTunnelComment@michigan.gov, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
The Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority will hold its first public meeting 1-3 p.m. Wednesday, where the panel is expected to consider the proposed tunnel agreement for approval. The meeting will include a time for public comment and will take place at Little Bear Arena in St. Ignace.
The third agreement between the state and Enbridge would cement two other agreements requiring Enbridge to pay for the construction of the tunnel, make financial assurances and comply with "more stringent inspection and safety requirements."
The tunnel agreement between the authority and Enbridge would require the Canadian energy company to construct, operate and maintain the tunnel, while complying with milestones and timelines for the process.
The Republican governor had announced his picks for the panel shortly after signing the law creating the authority. Along with Alessandrini, other appointees included Democrat Tony England, an engineering and computer science dean at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, and Republican Michael Zimmer, Snyder’s cabinet director.
The Senate approved the appointments Thursday, hours after Richardson was announced as Alessandrini's replacement.
The business manager for the Michigan Laborers District Council, Alessandrini, of Iron Mountain, appeared to be a nod from Snyder to unions who have urged Democratic Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer to support the Line 5 tunnel replacement plan.
Whitmer and Democratic Attorney General-elect Dana Nessel, who both want to decommission the pipelines, take office Jan. 1.
Snyder announced the up to $500 million, 10-year construction plan for the utility corridor in October after years of environmental concerns over the possibility of a major oil spill from the 65-year-old dual pipelines. Enbridge would finance the project and then enter into a lease agreement for the tunnel with the state under the deal the Snyder administration negotiated.
Opponents have decried the proposal because of the 10-year construction time frame during which the oil pipeline will continue operating beneath the Straits. The corridor authority was approved by lawmakers after significant opposition to the original proposal to give the Mackinac Bridge Authority oversight over the project.