Business Organizations Laud Court Ruling Allowing Line 5 Underground Tunnel to Proceed in Northern Michigan

Business organizations are applauding yesterday’s ruling by Michigan Court of Claims Judge Michael J. Kelly that clears the way for construction of the $500-million Line 5 energy pipeline tunnel beneath the Straits of Mackinac.
Line 5 safety measure graphic
One of the new Straits of Mackinac safety measures being introduced by Enbridge, to minimize the risk of an anchor strike, is a communication and monitoring system identifying approaching shipping vessels and reminding them of the no-anchor zone in the Straits. // Graphic courtesy of Enbridge Energy

Business organizations are applauding yesterday’s ruling by Michigan Court of Claims Judge Michael J. Kelly that clears the way for construction of the $500-million Line 5 energy pipeline tunnel beneath the Straits of Mackinac.

The pipeline, which carries oil and liquid natural gas to residents and businesses in Michigan and Canada, spans 2,000 miles and connects old fields in Alberta, Canada, with refineries in Sarnia and metro Detroit. If Line 5 was shut down, moving liquid fuel by ship, truck, or rail would be labor intensive and costly, and comes with safety, pollution, traffic, and infrastructure challenges.

“We are extremely pleased with Judge Kelly’s ruling that PA 359 of 2018, legislation passed to facilitate construction of a tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac, is constitutional,” says Jim Holcomb, executive vice president and general counsel for the Michigan Chamber of Commerce in Lansing. “The facts are clear that the Legislature understood exactly what they were voting on and that all procedural steps in passing the law were consistent with the Constitution.

“The Michigan Chamber of Commerce believes the tunnel is the best solution for Michigan and that Line 5 can continue to be safely operated while the tunnel is built,” adds Holcomb. “Line 5 is critical to satisfying the energy needs of Michigan businesses and homeowners.”

API-Michigan, a trade organization that represents all segments of the state’s oil and natural gas industry, also looked favorably on the ruling.

“We welcome this decision by the Court of Claims that allows the Line 5 tunnel project to move forward, which is great news for Michigan’s working families and our economy,” says Pete Langley, executive director of API-Michigan. “The Line 5 pipelines have been safely delivering the fuels that Americans rely on for over 60 years, and the tunnel project will ensure they can continue to do so. We’re excited for Enbridge to hopefully soon begin construction on this project.”

Two large unions — the United Association of Union Plumbers, Fitters, Welders, and HVACR Service Techs and Operating Engineers Local 324 — also favor replacing Line 5. In an open letter sent in June to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who wants to shut down Line 5, the Operating Engineers and the Michigan Chamber stressed the replacement project “will create many good-paying construction jobs, allow the continued supply of essential energy to heat family homes in the Upper Peninsula, fuel businesses and jobs across our entire state, and protect the Great Lakes as (the existing) Line 5 is removed from the floor of the Straits.”

Enbridge Inc. is a Calgary, Canada-based energy company with offices in Ortonville and Howell that will own and build the Line 5 tunnel. Last week, at a meeting of the Canada-United State Business Association in Detroit, Enbridge President and CEO Al Monaco outlined the safeguards that will be in place while the underground tunnel is being built.

The measures include a communication and monitoring system that identifies approaching shipping vessels and reminds them of the no-anchor zone in the Straits.

High-resolution cameras, placed on both shores to the west of the Mackinac Bridge, will monitor ship traffic around the clock and act as an early warning and notification system.

In addition, two support vessels, which have been on the water since mid-October, monitor Straits traffic and confirm ship anchors are stowed.

“The prime example of how seriously we take this crossing, and the environment, and the Great Lakes, is the Line 5 tunnel,” Monaco told his CUSBA audience. “Still, we continue to add more measures, to reduce risk further, until and while the tunnel is being built . . . again, no cost to Michigan taxpayers.”

Enbridge’s Line 5 Straits tunnel project will see the light crude and natural gas liquids (NGL) pipeline housed in a concrete-walled tunnel buried 100 feet below the lakebed.

In preparation for drilling, a geotechnical program currently is ongoing in the Straits, with rock and sediment sampling. Enbridge says it expects to begin construction in 2021 and place the new Line 5 into service in 2024, assuming there are no delays in the permitting process.

“We are committed to getting this tunnel built,” Monaco says. “We will replace the pipelines at the bottom of the Straits, and we will do it as quickly and as safely as possible. And, frankly, we’d like that to be in partnership with the State (of Michigan).”