14 Dec Gov. Snyder gives public five days to comment on draft Line 5 tunnel agreements
A diver for the National Wildlife Federation inspects the Enbridge Energy Line 5 pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac in 2013. (Courtesy | National Wildlife Federation)
LANSING, MI — Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration is giving the public three business days to weigh in on 99-year agreements to run oil and gas through a tunnel-encased pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac.
The two draft agreements, as well as an easement for the utility tunnel beneath the Straits, was announced late Thursday afternoon, Dec. 13.
The public can review and comment on the items through Tuesday, Dec. 18.
The newly-formed entity tasked to oversee and operate the tunnel, the Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority, meets for the first time the following day, Dec. 19, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the Little Bear Arena, 275 Marquette St. in St. Ignace.
Read: Third agreement between state and Enbridge Energy; Proposed agreement between tunnel authority and Enbridge; and Tunnel easement (all as drafted)
Liz Kirkwood, director of For Love of Water (FLOW), said three business days is a drastically short window for public review and comment.
“Any responsible state government would absolutely want to encourage a robust public comment period, and three days surely does not satisfy it,” Kirkwood said.
“The purpose of a public comment period is to provide ample time for public discourse, and this attempt to provide three days is an ill-conceived attempt to pretend to satisfy those requirements and engage in a process that is beneficial for the public.”
Ari Adler, a Snyder spokesperson, said the short window for reviewing the documents, totaling roughly 57 pages, reflects the short window for getting the agreements finalized.
“The statute requires the corridor authority to take action before the end of the year, so time is short," Adler said in an email. “Having a review is not a statutorily mandated process but we wanted to still be transparent. Also, we have been taking public input on the draft outline of terms for the tunnel agreement since the public meeting of the Mackinac Bridge Authority on Dec. 7 where the agreement was presented."
Created Wednesday, the three-member Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority is bound to accept a tunnel agreement with Enbridge Energy by the end of Snyder’s term, should certain conditions be met.
Snyder has until Dec. 21 to get a tunnel agreement before the authority if it is to approve the agreement by year’s end. Should the agreement be presented to the authority after that deadline, the authority is required to accept it within 45 days.
Snyder wants the tunnel plans finalized and secured before successor and Line 5 critic, Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer, takes over Jan. 1.
One of the tunnel authority members, labor leader and Democrat Geno Alessandrini, resigned a day after his appointment due to “family and business constraints,” he said in a statement.
Snyder promptly replaced him with James "J.R." Richardson, a Republican, power company executive and vice chair of Michigan’s Natural Resources Commission.
The agreements call for Enbridge, the Canadian Company which owns the controversial Line 5 oil and gas pipeline, to pay for the design, construction, operations, maintenance and eventual decommissioning of the tunnel. Cost estimates for the project are roughly $350 to $500 million.
The tunnel, expected to be drilled into bedrock about 100 feet beneath the Straits lakebottom, would house a replacement for Line 5 and other utilities.
The project is estimated to take seven to 10 years. Only after would Line 5, which sits on the Straits of Mackinac lake floor, be decommissioned.
Critics worry the 65-year-old pipeline could spill during that time.
After tunnel completion, the Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority would assume ownership but not liability, state officials previously said.
Under the draft provisions, Enbridge is allowed to utilize the tunnel for not more than 99 years from the date that they begin transporting oil and gas through their replacement tunnel pipeline.
Comments on the drafts can be emailed to DNR-StraitsTunnelComment@michigan.gov, or left by phone at 833-367-6713.