TRAVERSE CITY — The recent move by Grand Traverse County commissioners to support the Line 5 tunnel project has leaders of the Bay Area Transportation Authority stepping on the brakes.
Commissioners on Aug. 21 voted 4-3 to approve a resolution having the county offer support for a tunnel project and leaving the pipeline in place until its completion. The vote followed public comment from 57 people — 53 opposed the move, two supported it and two spoke on other matters.
The resolution mentions the use of propane in BATA buses and notes that it’s a kind of fuel transported through Line 5.
It prompted BATA officials to try to clarify the organization’s stance on the intertwining issues by way of a press statement.
“We don’t really stand anywhere, because it’s not something we should be dealing with,” said Richard Cochrun, BATA Board of Directors chairperson. “That’s why we elect and pay state officials — so they can deal with things like this so we can focus on local issues.”
For BATA, that means providing affordable, timely, dependable and environmentally friendly transportation to the people in Grand Traverse and Leelanau counties, Cochrun said.
Commissioner Gordie La Pointe said he doesn’t feel the resolution insinuates that BATA supports or opposes the pipeline or proposed project.
Whether it’s right to name local entities in resolutions like this one depends on how the name is being used, La Pointe said. It’s not right to make statements or assumptions on behalf of the group, but statements of fact are fine, he said.
The fact is, BATA uses propane, La Pointe said.
“I thought it was really an innocuous statement that didn’t portray BATA as being one way or the other,” he said.
Line 5 carries 23 million gallons of crude oil and natural gas liquids daily between Superior, Wis., and Sarnia, Ontario. Part of the line — in place since 1953 — crosses the bottomlands of the Straits of Mackinac. The Canada-based owner, Enbridge, has a plan to relocate the infrastructure into an underground tunnel.
Environmental advocates, tribal representatives and elected officials across the region have come out to oppose the continued flow of petrochemicals in the Straits — with or without the tunnel.
Commissioner Brad Jewett, who proposed the county resolution, was unable to be reached. Jewett is the Grand Traverse County commission representative on the BATA Board of Directors.
The seven-member BATA board consists of one county commissioner from the Grand Traverse County board; one commissioner from the Leelanau County board; three members appointed by Grand Traverse commissioners; one member appointed by Leelanau commissioners; and one at-large member selected by the other six.
Ferrellgas — a Missouri-based company with a Traverse City location — provides propane fuel for the Bay Area Transportation Authority’s 78-vehicle fleet, said Eric Lingaur, BATA director of communications and development.
Lingaur said Ferrellgas representatives informed them that prices could vary, but supply wouldn’t be interrupted should Line 5 be shut down. Lingaur didn’t know specifics about Ferrellgas’ product source.
“If it becomes a cost issue, we adjust our budget and take whatever measures necessary to stay within our budget constraints,” said Cochrun.
Lingaur said BATA has three main funding sources — about 18 percent comes from the Federal Transit Administration, roughly 38 percent from the Michigan Department of Transportation and the remaining 44 percent comes from a local millage in Grand Traverse and Leelanau counties, farebox and other additional revenues.
“That’s why we elect and pay state officials — so they can deal with things like this so we can focus on local issues.” Richard Cochrun, BATA Board of Directors chairperson