Enbridge tunnel spill would negatively affect Manitoulin Island, a resident warns

SPRING BAY – A Manitoulin Island resident is encouraging all Islanders to join in online public hearings or provide comment on the expected wetland and wastewater impacts on the proposed construction and operation of Enbridge’s proposed roughly four mile-long oil tunnel under the Great Lakes.

“If this proceeds, we are in direct line due to prevailing westerly winds to receive pollutants in the event of a breach and spill (from the tunnel),” stated Mike Wilton, of For Love of Water (FLOW). “The people of Manitoulin Island should know that could happen; it is not likely it will, but if it happened it would be a heck of a problem for Manitoulin. If you draw a line from the bridge on the Mackinac Straits, if a spill took place and with prevailing westerly winds, a spill could, and probably would, hit Manitoulin, specifically Providence Bay.”
FLOW reports in a release that the tunnel would house a new Line 5 pipeline to continue carrying up to 23 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids a day through the public trust bottomlands of the Straits of Mackinac, where Lake Michigan meets Lake Huron.

“It’s important for the members of the public, including individuals, families, business owners, community leaders and others, to sign up as soon as possible to comment at these online public hearings. To assist you, FLOW is providing guidance below on the public hearing schedule that runs from September 29 to October 8.

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) will host four online public hearings and receive public comment.
The EGLE public hearing on Enbridge Line 5 application for National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) wastewater permit (same meeting will be held once during the day and once at night) September 29 at 1 pm and October 6 at 6 pm. And the EGLE public hearing on Enbridge Line 5 application for proposed tunnel construction involving potential wetlands impacts (same meeting will be held once during the day and once at night) October 1 at 1 pm and October 8 at 6 pm. (Google ‘FLOW for Water.’)

FLOW provided some points for those commenting to based their statements on. “I urge EGLE and the state of Michigan to deny Enrbdige’s wetlands resource and NPDES wastewater permit requests to build a tunnel for the Line 5 oil pipeline through the public trust bottomlands of the Straits of Mackinac for the following reasons: 1. Enbridge’s application and project description is too narrow, and does not consider the full effects, including cumulative effects, and the existence of alternatives to the tunnel and wetlands related to the project purpose, including the fact that Line 5 and tunnel are no longer necessary under Section 3033011(1) and 30311(4)(b) of the wetland protection act.” 

“The new easement (December 2018) granted by the former Snyder administration to the Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority and assigned to Enbridge for the proposed tunnel is invalid because it has not been authorized based on the required determinations of the part 325 of the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act and/or section 2129 of the public utility easement in bottomlands of Great Lakes law.”

The FLOW release continues, “it is clear that taking five to 10 more years to study, seek permits, and build a crude oil tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac is not a solution because it fails to address Line 5’s immediate threat to the Great Lakes and Michigan economy and the risk posed by the pipeline’s more than 400 stream and river crossings in the Upper and Lower Peninsulas. Enbridge’s proposal to allow electrical lines and other infrastructure to occupy the proposed oil pipeline tunnel is a bad idea that poses an explosion risk.”

“Enbridge is requesting to release up to five million gallons/day of treated wastewater back into Lake Michigan on the south shore and up to 14 million gallons daily during storm events. What chemicals will be used in the tunneling process and how will the wastewater be treated to remove those chemicals?” FLOW asks. And, “if the water of the Straits are contaminated, there would be extremely negative impacts to fish populations, tribal fishing rights, communities who rely on drinking water from the lake and tourism business. How can EGLE consider this permit without having the full details about treatment plans and what chemicals will be used?”

“Clearly this project is not in the public interest when considering the impacts to public surface waters, public bottomlands, public drinking water supplies, water supplies, the climate, and economy,” says FLOW.

Along with the public, virtual hearings, written comments will also be accepted—the public can also comment in writing at any time until EGLE’s comment deadline on October 19. 

“There is no reason that we should not have representation from Manitoulin at the hearings, as we could be seriously affected if a spill ever occurred,” said Mr. Wilton. “I’m going to follow the meetings and I will be making a submission and I would urge everyone on the Island to do the same.”