Mackinac Island challenges Line 5 permits

Record-Eagle file photo/Pete RodmanSun reflects of off ice near the Mackinac Bridge in January 2015. Mackinac Island officials have challenged permits issued in 2018 to Enbridge regarding installation of additional anchor supports for its Line 5 twin pipelines which run across the Great Lakes bottomlands at the Straits of Mackinac.

MACKINAC ISLAND — Michigan's top tourist destination has waded into the controversial Line 5 fight.

Mackinac Island challenged a state Department of Environmental Quality decision to let pipeline company Enbridge install anchor supports for its twin Line 5 oil pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac, which links Lakes Michigan and Huron.

The legal maneuver joins efforts already underway by the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians and the Straits of Mackinac Alliance, an organization of waterfront land and business owners along Lakes Huron and Michigan.

Last year, the DEQ issued two permits to the Canadian company that together allow 70 saddle supports anchored to the lake bed along the underwater pipelines. In a petition to the DEQ, Mackinac Island asked an administrative law judge to invalidate both permits.

Traverse City-based environmental lawyer Ross Hammersley is among the legal team which represents both the City of Mackinac Island and the Straits of Mackinac Alliance. He said their joint argument is the additional anchor support structures installed along Line 5 constitute a pipeline redesign, not simple maintenance efforts.

"They may be trying to compensate for structural deficiencies in the pipeline," Hammersley said.

With as many as 200 support anchors added to the twin pipelines since its initial construction, Hammersley argues it's well past what can credibly be called maintenance efforts. The argument is the anchors essentially would turn the pipelines into an "underwater suspension bridge" with a higher risk of being struck by a vessel anchor, as happened last April.

Hammersley said the state has not required any analysis to determine whether the elevated underwater pipeline is safe in light of the consistently strong currents where Lake Michigan meets Lake Huron — something he argues is required by the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act.

Chelsea Lewis, DEQ public information officer, said the agency does not comment about pending litigation.

Margaret Doud, Mackinac Island's mayor, said it's time to shut down Line 5.

"For years, island residents have been promised that Line 5 would have a limited lifespan. Instead of safely phasing out the dangerous, aged dual lines in the Straits, state officials have proposed to extend the operation of the dual pipelines as much as another 10 years," Doud said.

Enbridge officials said the supports are essential to keep the pipes properly supported.

"The current easement agreement with the State of Michigan requires that Line 5 be properly supported across the Straits of Mackinac. Since 2002, Enbridge has used screw anchor supports to meet this requirement. They are essential," said Ryan Duffy, Enbridge spokesman.

Duffy also said Enbridge is currently focused on its agreement with the state to build an underground utility tunnel into which Line 5 is expected to be relocated.

Plans call for Enbridge to build a $500 million tunnel to be constructed within 7 to 10 years, a deal struck with the state in the waning days of Gov. Rick Snyder's administration in December. However, both Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel have already begun exploring the legality of the tunnel agreement.

Liz Kirkwood, executive director for Traverse City-based nonprofit For Love of Water, said the Snyder administration's tunnel solution is "no solution at all" because it guaranteed continued use of what she called a dangerous pipeline running through Great Lakes waters while a tunnel is built.

"It's a diversionary tactic that fundamentally fails to address one of the most urgent threats to our waters," Kirkwood said. "It's high time for a reality check."