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UPEC talks controversy surrounding Line 5 oil pipeline in online discussion

MARQUETTE — The Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition recently hosted a virtual discussion via Facebook, YouTube and Zoom on the controversy regarding re-permitting Enbridge’s Line 5 oil pipeline, which passes through the U.P. and will cross the Straits of Mackinac within a tunnel laid along the lakebed.

Jeff Towner, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers retired wildlife biologist, and Mike Ripley of the Chippewa Ottawa Resource Authority presented their arguments during the May 12 event about the potential dangers if a Line 5 spill were to occur.

For the construction of any structure in or over any navigable water of the United States, authorization from the Army Corps of Engineers is required, and according to Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899, the Straits of Mackinac is a navigable body of water. Structures or work outside the limits defined for navigable waters of the U.S. require a Section 10 permit if the structure or work affects the course, condition, location or capacity of the water body.

The law applies to any dredging or disposal of dredged materials, excavation, filling rechannelization or any modification of a navigable water of the country, and applies to all structures. It includes, without limitation, aerial or subaqueous power transmission lines, tunnels and any other permanent or semi-permanent obstacle or obstruction, the act states.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit program operates under two federal laws, specifically under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, which requires a permit for the placement of dredged or fill material into “waters of the United States” and a permit from the Corps may also be needed, Towner said.

Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act is another piece of the “critical process,” Towner said, explaining that federal agencies are required to consult with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for any action they determine “may affect” threatened or endangered species or their vital habitat. If the action, such as issuing a permit for the Line 5 oil pipeline tunnel, will result in harm or killing of a listed species, the agency must obtain a “take permit.”

Among the listed species in the U.P. are the Canada lynx, gray wolf Northern big-eared bat and piping plover, he said.

Among the environmental acts surrounding the Line 5 topic, the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act requires consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the fish and wildlife agencies of states where the waters of any stream or any other body of water are proposed or authorized, permitted or licensed to be impounded, diverted or otherwise controlled or modified by any agency under a federal permit or license.

Consultation is done to prevent the loss and damage to wildlife resources, Towner said.

Enbridge has stated that it anticipates construction will be completed by 2024, but Towner said these pronouncements are premature, adding he believes it demonstrates a lack of respect toward the state, involved agencies and the public.

The Chippewa Ottawa Resource Authority is comprised of the Bay Mills Indian Community, Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians and Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians.

The 2010 Kalamazoo disaster was the worst land-based oil spill in the United States, and Enbridge Line 6B spilled over 1.2 million gallons of heavy Alberta tar sands crude in a tributary of Lake Michigan, Ripley said. He added that heavy tar sands don’t float, they sink in water.

Approximately $1.2 billion has been spent to clean up the area, but sinking dilbit continues to contaminate that tributary, he said.

The Straits of Mackinac is one of the worst spots for a potential oil spill, Ripley said.

“The reason this is one of the worst places is because the currents in the Straits of Mackinac are so strong and unpredictable,” Ripley said. “They change direction every one and a half days, depending on which way the wind is blowing and the currents can be flowing east to west on the surface and on the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac, they can be flowing west to east.”

More than 700 miles of shoreline in lakes Michigan and Huron could be subjected to a possible oil contamination, Ripley noted, explaining that more than 15% of Lake Michigan’s open water and nearly 60% of Lake Huron’s open water could be affected by a potential spill in the Straits.

In response to the impacts of a potential spill, the state of Michigan created the Pipeline Safety Advisory Board and conducted public meetings quarterly, when CORA tribal leaders and staff testified. Ripley said the board also discovered that Enbridge was out of compliance within the 1953 easement.

In November 2014, CORA joined the Oil and Water Don’t Mix Coalition, which is comprised of the Sierra Club, Michigan Environmental Council, FLOW and over 60 other nongovernmental organizations and local governments. OWDM has carried out an effective campaign to bring awareness to the public, mobilizing support across media and keeping pressure on governments, Ripley said.

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