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Mackinac Straits tunnel equals safety and jobs

Bill schuette

You have probably heard a lot about the Line 5 pipeline running through the Great Lakes. Sometimes it may feel like you only have two choices: protect our environment or keep monthly heat bills affordable. But there is a way to protect both Michigan’s environment and your family budget.

Since 2016, I have advocated building a tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac. Think like the Chunnel, the 31.5-mile tunnel under the English Channel that connects England and France. People are likely riding through it as you read this, safely, quickly and without disruption to the waters above.

A Mackinac Straits tunnel would connect our Upper Peninsula and Lower Peninsula and be much shorter at only four miles long. Instead of transporting people, it would serve as a utility tunnel containing a new energy pipeline to transport energy for Michigan’s family and business needs.

A tunnel is the solution that both protects our environment and your budget. Here are just a few reasons why:

Safeguarding the Great Lakes. The Line 5 pipeline today rests on the floor of the Great Lakes near the convergence of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. While the pipeline has safely satisfied our energy needs for decades, an MST would be beneath the floor of the Straits by utilizing 21st century technology to fulfill Michigan’s ecological responsibility to protect Great Lakes waters.

Providing affordable propane to heat Michigan’s homes and small businesses. 55% of Michigan’s propane arrives via Line 5 (including 65% of the Upper Peninsula’s), which is how many families heat their homes during Michigan’s winter wonderland months. Abruptly closing Line 5 and canceling the tunnel infrastructure project, without an affordable alternative energy supply for consumers, means lower thermostats and higher heating bills. The result would be like imposing a “heating tax” on our fellow Michiganians. Building an MST would continue to permit affordable propane to be piped into our state to heat homes and businesses.

Michigan energy production and jobs. The oil and gas production industry in Michigan provides thousands of direct and in-direct jobs that create a significant positive economic impact. An MST would continue to provide Michigan energy producers a competitive means to get their product to market. Shutting down Line 5, with no clear alternative, would mean Michigan energy production could grind to a halt, put people out of work and hurt our economy.

Despite these good reasons and more, the Line 5 tunnel project is stalled.

What is slowing it down? Probably politics and campaign rhetoric. The 2018 election was a hotbed of environmental rhetoric but that campaign is over. Now it is time to govern responsibly. Michigan families need solutions, not drama. They want safeguards for the Great Lakes, not endless lawsuits over current pipeline lease rights and the ability to build a new tunnel. Residents want our leadership to protect the Great Lakes and family budgets by keeping energy costs as low as possible. Continuing litigation to shut down Line 5 and stop the tunnel infrastructure project will simply burn up years and years of time, legal fees and unnecessarily set our economy back.

Instead, Michigan’s leaders should exhibit the same type of leadership that former Governor Soapy Williams and GOP majorities in the legislature did in the 1950s when working together to build the Mighty Mack; the Mackinac Bridge.

Building the Mackinac Straits tunnel would be a bold and decisive action by today’s state leadership and a shining example of Michigan and American technology, fortitude and forward thinking.

We can build this four-mile tunnel beneath the Straits that will allow for easy visual inspections to protect our waters while providing the essential transmission of our state’s necessary energy supplies.

If the English and French can team up to build a 31.5-mile tunnel that safely transports people beneath the Strait of Dover, certainly the leaders of Michigan can put politics aside and build the Mackinac straits tunnel for Michigan’s economic and energy future.

Editor’s note: Bill Schuette is a former attorney general for the state of Michigan.