MICHIGAN — The Line 5 pipeline has been in operation and risking local families near the Great Lakes since 1953. By spring of next year, it may no longer run at all.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer made a proclamation Nov. 13, calling to shut down Enbridge Energy’s dual pipeline that runs through the Straits of Mackinac.
Enbridge “repeatedly” violates the 1953 easement and puts the Great Lakes in jeopardy, according to Natural Resources Director Dan Eichinger.
Enbridge was notified that the easement for the dual pipelines, which transport petroleum and other products, is being revoked and terminated due to “violation of the public trust doctrine” as it pertains to “Enbridge’s persistent and incurable violations of the easement’s terms and conditions.”
“Here in Michigan, the Great Lakes define our borders, but they also define who we are as people,” Whitmer stated. “Enbridge has routinely refused to take action to protect our Great Lakes and the millions of Americans who depend on them for clean drinking water and good jobs. They have repeatedly violated the terms of the 1953 easement by ignoring structural problems that put our Great Lakes and our families at risk.
“Most importantly, Enbridge has imposed on the people of Michigan an unacceptable risk of a catastrophic oil spill in the Great Lakes that could devastate our economy and way of life. That’s why we’re taking action now, and why I will continue to hold accountable anyone who threatens our Great Lakes and freshwater.”
Eichinger said the DNR spent more than 15 months reviewing Enbridge’s record from the past 67 years, saying “it is abundantly clear” that Enbridge’s “historic failures and current noncompliance present too great a risk.”
Locks resident Jeff Axt called the words of the governor, attorney general and DNR director “welcome news.” He’s been battling against Enbridge since his own property in Brandon Township was affected by the Line 6B oil spill, known as the Kalamazoo spill.
“Since the governor got elected, we’ve been waiting for there to be definitive action to shut down Line 5,” said Axt, who owns multiple properties in the state. “I think anybody who denies the potential risks of Line 5 and its present status, not feeling the reality of a 68-year-old pipeline, they’re living in an alternate universe.”
He said the relationship between those affected by that spill and Enbridge is beyond repairable, calling the “unusual nature” in which Enbridge operates as an “experience.”
“When you’re done dealing with (Enbridge), you almost need to shower to wash it off because they spin and spin,” he said.
While “the reality of the exposure and risk is unacceptable,” his views of the company are based more on the basis of private property being affected. Although he called Enbridge “one of the least trustworthy companies” in the state, he said he would condemn any company that poses such a risk to the lakes.
“In general, I don’t care if it was Enbridge or any other pipeline company,” Axt said. “To have a crude oil pipeline traverse the Straits of Mackinac, it was a bad idea then and it’s a bad idea now.”
On Nov. 13 Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel filed a lawsuit in Ingham County Circuit Court on behalf of Whitmer and the state.
It includes new claims of risk, as well as bringing back into light Nessel’s 2019 lawsuit against Enbridge—a case still pending in the same court before presiding Judge James Jamo.
“With the steps they took today, Gov. Whitmer and Director Eichinger are making another clear statement that Line 5 poses a great risk to our state, and it must be removed from our public waterways,” Nessel said in her Nov. 13 statement. “The arguments they are making to revoke the easement based on the public trust align with those outlined in my office’s pending lawsuit in Ingham County Circuit Court which seeks to shut down Line 5 to avoid an environmental catastrophe.
“Because Enbridge has repeatedly violated the terms of its easement, including its duty to exercise due care for protecting public and private rights, termination of the easement is also appropriate and provides another reason to shut down Line 5.”
Enbridge responded with their own statement, continuing to call Line 5 “safe” and claiming there is “no basis” for termination of the 1953 easement.
The company also stated that the DNR’s report conducted Line 5 compliance in a non-public manner, alleging that it “rejected Enbridge’s offer to allow technical experts to discuss any questions or clarifications related to its review.”
“This notice and the report…are a distraction from the fundamental facts,” said Vern Yu, executive vice president and president of Liquids Pipelines. “Line 5 remains safe, as envisioned by the 1953 easement, and as recently validated by our federal safety regulator.
“We will continue to focus on the safe operation of the dual Line 5 pipelines at the Straits of Mackinac, ensuring the Great Lakes are protected while also reliably delivering the energy that helps to fuel Michigan’s and the region’s economy.”
The governor’s statement was lauded by environmental groups, many of which publicly called for her in the past to take action.
“Gov. Whitmer’s decisive action to shut down Line 5 fulfills her public trust duty to protect the Great Lakes,” said Sean McBrearty, campaign coordinator for Oil & Water Don’t Mix. “Enbridge has played fast and loose with their duty of care for these dangerous oil pipelines, and the governor is holding them accountable for their irresponsible behavior that threatens the Great Lakes every single day. Michiganders who care about the Great Lakes and our northern Michigan economy–and that’s certainly all of us–welcome the governor’s strong actions that put Michigan and (the) Great Lakes first.”
Christy McGillivray, legislative and political director of the Sierra Club Michigan chapter, echoed the sentiment of protecting the Great Lakes—water bodies that supply drinking water for 48 million people, jobs for 1.3 million people, and generate $82 billion in annual wages.
“As Michiganders, we are defined by the Great Lakes and we will be remembered by how we stood up for these waters that hold 21% of the planet’s fresh surface water,” McGillivray said. “Violation after violation, Enbridge has shown us that they cannot be trusted. After seven years of relentless grassroots support and work, action to revoke the 1953 easement by the Governor and DNR is a reaffirmation of our state’s commitment and duty to protect this precious resource in the public trust.”
Progress Michigan Executive Director Lonnie Scott called it a “huge win” for environmental justice activists who have waged this battle for decades.
“For too long, Michiganians’ health and safety and the environment of our Great Lakes have been threatened by the potential for a catastrophic oil spill along Line 5,” Scott said. “We applaud Gov. Whitmer for taking decisive action to protect public health, keep our water clean, and respect the rights of indigenous people living in northern Michigan. Now more than ever, we’re ready to move our state forward toward a more sustainable future.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to note Jeff Axt’s property location.
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