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State aims to finalize Line 5 tunnel agreement in under 3 weeks

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News
A diver inspects the Line 5 oil pipelines at the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac in a 2013 dive on behalf of the nonprofit National Wildlife Federation.

Lansing — The Snyder administration indicated Monday it plans to finalize an agreement for a Line 5 pipeline utility corridor beneath the Straits of Mackinac in less than three weeks.

The House Government Operations committee is expected to meet early Tuesday to consider legislation that would create a Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority to oversee a controversial tunnel that would house Enbridge’s Line 5 oil and propane pipelines. The full House could vote on the bill and send it to Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder's desk the same day.

Should the House approve the plan, Snyder would then appoint three authority members who would finalize an agreement with Enbridge, allowing the state to enter a third and final agreement with the Canadian company regarding expectations for Line 5 and other operations within the state.

All before Dec. 31. 

"What the administration is doing is completing the task at hand," said state Department of Natural Resources Director Keith Creagh, following the last meeting of the Pipeline Safety Advisory Board Monday.

"Will we have enough time to get that task at hand done? We’ll find out soon enough.”

Snyder has been working to finish the deal before he leaves office and is replaced by incoming Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who has called for Line 5’s closure.

The 1953 dual pipelines have long been a source of concern for environmental groups, who have warned about the risk of a major oil spill in the Great Lakes.

Snyder announced an agreement with Enbridge in October that would require the energy company to finance the up to $500 million, 10-year construction.

Plans initially called for the Mackinac Bridge Authority to oversee the pipeline, but legislators amended the plan to allow for a separate authority after hearing from former bridge authority members opposed to the idea.

The three-member Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority would include no more than two Republicans. Members would serve six-year terms and submit annual reports to the Mackinac Bridge Authority.

Environmental groups remain opposed to the plan because it would allow the 65-year-old pipelines to remain in place during the 10-year construction period.

The pipeline safety advisory board’s role in the plan has been a “great bait and switch,” in which the board met regularly while Snyder arranged a back-room deal with Enbridge, said Sean McBrearty of Clean Water Action, an opposition group.

“To gamble for the next 10 years with the water resources in the Great Lakes is incredibly negligent,” McBrearty said.

Worried that lawmakers were being led to believe the board had given its blessing to the project, board members asked Creagh on Monday to inform legislators that the board had no position on the tunnel idea or the proposed legislation.

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