A coalition of businesses supporting the Line 5 pipeline’s closure in the Straits of Mackinac is backing Attorney General Dana Nessel’s effort to do just that after “significant damage” to the line was disclosed late last week.
The Great Lakes Business Network — a group of more than 130 business owners that includes major breweries, retailers and others involved in the outdoor recreation industry — has sought to decommission Line 5 for more than three years.
The business group is organized by the Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities and the National Wildlife Federation, which have also advocated for Line 5’s permanent closure.
Business owners say the threat of a Great Lakes oil spill following months of closures stemming from COVID-19 would be devastating.
“Gov. Whitmer has shown strong leadership in the face of COVID, and now needs to show similar resolve and shut down the Line 5 pipeline,” Bell’s Brewery founder and president Larry Bell said in a statement. “These new revelations of failed anchor supports prove yet again delaying action only increases the risk of an economic and environmental disaster — this pipeline needs to be shut down immediately.”
On Monday, Nessel filed motions in an ongoing case to temporarily shut down Line 5 after Enbridge disclosed late last week “significant damage” to one of the twin pipelines. Following the disclosure, Enbridge reopened one of the lines to the dismay of state officials, including Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who had sought detailed information about the incident on the anchor support. The lakebed structures essentially hold the pipeline in place while surrounded by turbulent water.
Unsatisfied with the company’s response, Whitmer asked Enbridge to voluntarily shut down the pipeline as the incident is being investigated. Nessel is seeking a court order, which Whitmer supports.
“It is evident by the pictures we’ve seen that there has been significant damage to an anchor support on the east leg of the pipeline,” Nessel said in a statement. “To date, Enbridge has provided no explanation of what caused this damage and a woefully insufficient explanation of the current condition and safety of the pipeline as a result of this damage. We cannot rely on Enbridge to act in the best interests of the people of this State so I am compelled to ask the Court to order them to.”
Whitmer called Enbridge’s actions a “brazen disregard for the people of Michigan and the safety and well-being of our Great Lakes is unacceptable.”
In a statement Monday night, Enbridge said Nessel’s motion is “legally unsupportable, unnecessary, and will be vigorously opposed by Enbridge.”
Still ‘reeling’ from COVID
Dozens of businesses in the hospitality and food industries support Line 5’s closure, citing the long-term risk to the region’s tourism industry in the event of a spill. In April 2018, Line 5 saw another close call after an anchor strike from a passing barge dented the pipeline.
Chris Shepler, owner of Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry, said the pandemic-related restrictions already have his business “reeling.”
“If there were any type of Line 5 rupture in the Straits now, we could never withstand the economic hit from such a disaster,” Shepler said. “It would immediately put me and many other Mackinac Straits area businesses out of business for good. I call on Governor Whitmer to use her authority to shut down Line 5 now.”
The state’s largest business group — the Michigan Chamber of Commerce — has supported Enbridge’s plan to build a tunnel for Line 5 beneath the Straits of Mackinac. That plan was negotiated with the Snyder administration and passed by the Republican-led state Legislature in the final weeks of Snyder’s term in December 2018. Nessel has claimed the law is unconstitutional, though the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled in Enbridge’s favor this month.
In a separate case that she filed the motion in this week, Nessel is looking to shut down the pipeline on grounds that it is an environmental risk and violates public trust laws. That case is pending in the Michigan Court of Claims.