Opinion | I’m on the Mackinac Bridge Authority. We should oversee Line 5 tunnel.

Kirk Steudle retired from the Michigan Department of Transportation Oct. 31 after 31 years with the department, the last 13 as director. He was re-appointed to the Mackinac Bridge Authority, as a private citizen, effective Nov. 1.

Update: Mackinac Bridge Authority shouldn't oversee Line 5 tunnel, Michigan Republicans say

Despite the rhetoric and hyperbole of opponents to Gov. Rick Snyder’s agreement with Enbridge Energy Inc. to protect and eventually replace the Line 5 pipeline, I remain hopeful we can give this issue the informed discussion it deserves.

Discourse is always heightened when we share a mutual understanding of what is being debated.

Today, the Mackinac Bridge Authority is expected to be presented information on a proposed tunnel plan during its meeting in St. Ignace.

The agreement reached between Snyder and Enbridge calls for the company to pay to swap out the twin pipelines under the Straits for a new pipe that would be protected in a utility tunnel 100 feet below the lake bottom.  

Related: Gretchen Whitmer and Dana Nessel vowed to shut Line 5. Now’s their chance

Under the agreement, the MBA would own and provide oversight of the tunnel.

The most important thing to understand is that the Mackinac Bridge Authority (MBA) is NOT being asked to vote on the merits of a proposed tunnel that would house a Line 5 replacement. Specifically, the authority has been asked to own and provide public oversight of the tunnel, which will be bored in the bedrock 100 feet below the Straits of Mackinac. In addition to the replacement for Line 5, the tunnel would house infrastructure for other utilities.

I’ve reviewed the agreement between the administration and Enbridge. Considering that public oversight would be best going forward, it makes sense for that oversight to come from the MBA.

The MBA is a body created by law in 1950 to study the feasibility of building the Mackinac Bridge and, eventually, oversee its operation. The authority has done that effectively for 61 years. It only makes sense for the authority to oversee another nearby infrastructure asset.

For the MBA to accept ownership of the tunnel, two things are imperative:

  • MBA toll revenue must be walled off from this project. Oversight work must be funded through leases or other fees paid by the utilities.
  • The companies using the tunnel must assume all liability.

Rather than back away from a difficult challenge, the MBA should seize the opportunity to assist in safeguarding the bridge, the Straits of Mackinac and the state.

I’ve represented the Michigan Department of Transportation on the MBA for nearly two decades.

Though I retired from the department last week, I have been re-appointed to the authority and will continue to take seriously my responsibility to protect the Mackinac Bridge and the Straits.

I’m also a lifelong Michigan resident and an advocate for preservation of the great bodies of freshwater that inform our state’s nickname as well as the thousands of inland lakes and tributaries.  

If you are opposed to the MBA owning and overseeing the tunnel, then you should ask what entity should take responsibility. Certainly, you wouldn’t cede that authority to Enbridge or another private company. Because of proximity and history operating an important public asset, the MBA is the logical choice to oversee this tunnel, ensure its safe operation and continue to protect the Straits of Mackinac and the Mackinac Bridge, our state’s most iconic structure.

MBA members need to thoroughly examine the agreement, be aggressive in questioning the details, and deliberate before making a decision. But we must also be clear about the subject of those deliberations: Whether we want the MBA to capitalize on its credibility and expertise to protect the bridge or be a passive bystander as this project takes shape.

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Neil Rouse
Thu, 11/08/2018 - 9:05am

All you will get is the blame. Shut it DOWN!

Thu, 11/08/2018 - 9:30am

No, you should NOT be overseeing Enbridge Line 5, Mr. Steudle. It should be shut down. Did you not hear Michigan voters on Tuesday?

Thu, 11/08/2018 - 9:35am

No one in Michigan should oversee Line 5. It should be shut down immediately and removed as soon as possible by it's owners.

Thu, 11/08/2018 - 9:40am

Absolutely not! We should be eliminating the tunnel completely! There are better, safer ways to house cable. And oil must go!

Thu, 11/08/2018 - 10:05am

So far, no substantive comments on the merits of this issue (MBA oversight of the proposed tunnel). Just more repetition of the same talking points against Line 5.

Thu, 11/08/2018 - 10:36am

This coming from the guy that cant keep our roads in decent shape and responsible for the headaches on the roads the past few decades? Yea right.

Thu, 11/08/2018 - 12:33pm

Going directly against what Mr. Steudle argues for here, Enbridge does NOT assume all liability for its operations in the Straits.

The Oct. agreement signed by Gov. Snyder specifically limits this liability to $1.8B. Several studies of oil-spill modeling have found that the $ impact could be much higher than this liability cap.

Thu, 11/08/2018 - 5:40pm

That's wrong. Enbridge has always been and will continue to be responsible for all liabilities. The recent agreement just specifically requires them to maintain
a financial surety bond for the $1.8 billion estimated cost of a spill (derived by an independent group of university experts.) But it does not limit Enbridge's liability beyond that.

Sun, 11/11/2018 - 6:43am

You can put as much lipstick on that pig as you like. It's still a pig. The people of Michigan do not want the Mackinac Bridge and Enbridge comingled in any way.

Thu, 11/08/2018 - 4:31pm

As usual the issue isn't about making a much "safer" (like going from a 1 in a million to 1 in a billion chance of catastrophe) mode of transport. The safety issue has nothing to do with the majority of commentor's vehemence here but they don't want to debate their real issue, objectives and solutions, so they stick on this nonsense. Straits of Mackinac smells a lot like red herring these days!

John S. Porter
Thu, 11/08/2018 - 9:41pm

Matt has an excellent point . . . "The safety issue has nothing to do with the majority of commentor's vehemence here but they don't want to debate their real issue, objectives and solutions, so they stick on this nonsense. "
But what is the real issue? This proposal shuts down Line 5 and replaces it with a tunnel. Case closed, right? We could call the pipe in the tunnel "Line 6". BUT NO! Line 5 is more than the span under the lake. The real issue here is whether we want a pipeline through Michigan to serve Canada with petro. Will this new proposal increase the capacity of that pipeline? What is the condition of the rest of that old pipeline? We could solve the safety concern of the pipeline under Lake Michigan and the rest of the pipeline could be rotted and worn out. It's something to think about and talk about before we increase the capacity of that span under the Lake. . . I think the People of Michigan should get paid a significant amount of money for easements and permits if we assume this ongoing liability.

Fri, 11/09/2018 - 11:15am

Oil like most commodities is fungible. It really makes little to no difference whether the terminus of the pipeline is in Sarnia or Toledo or Kalamazoo. If you pull that pipeline out, the demand for the product doesn't go away and would more than incrementally impact Michigan consumers also. And by the way, Canada last I checked, has more than a trifling interest in the condition of Great Lakes too!

Thu, 11/08/2018 - 11:36pm

It should be overseen by the MDEQ.

Fri, 11/09/2018 - 7:07am

I don't think the MBA should take on more than the bridge. I am opposed to this back room deal of a tunnel and so in that case there would be no oversight needed. Don't expect this deal to be what the voters want. We elected Gretchen and Dana for several reasons and this is a major one.

Susan Affholter
Fri, 11/09/2018 - 8:38am

I attended two meetings yesterday related to Snyder's agreement with Enbridge to build a tunnel that would eventually house an oil pipeline, and to have the Mackinac Bridge Authority (MBA) take over ownership of the tunnel (which would require legislation to expand their authority). Among other things, I was stunned to learn that the long-serving Chair (whose term expired October 31) and the Long-serving Vice Chair, and perhaps others on the MBA, were not involved in or knowledgeable about the meetings that were held to develop the agreement with Enbridge. That made me wonder that if this tunnel is such a great idea, then why weren't these longtime MBA members involved. Great ideas don't need to be worked out secret - - unless they aren't such great ideas. That led to my next thought. Who stands to make money off this deal? And who is being rewarded for hatching this deal - - Snyder's four newly appointed MBA members who are now the voting majority on the MBA? Snyder himself? "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark."

Fri, 11/09/2018 - 9:50am

Absolutely NOT. There is no benefit, only liability. Why are we protecting a foreign company?

Fri, 11/09/2018 - 2:50pm

I call shenanigans. Tom Casperson already lied and said he knew nothing of this and then introduced legislation last night (senate bill 1197) to change the authority statute. I firmly believe they will try to rush this legislation through at the beginning of the lame duck session. Then the Bridge Authority with all of Snyder's recently appointed hand-picked minions will call a special meeting and vote in favor of this against the wishes of the people. Once again, there will be no regard for the citizens of the Upper Peninsula. Our land will be taken for a private corporation's use, and it will be removed from the tax rolls so our rural area will have even less tax revenue. What a great guy!!!!! Our public entity should not be used for a private, foreign corporation. I do hope these authority members realize how reviled they will be if they allow this to happen.

Sun, 11/11/2018 - 10:37pm

For one thing the first MBA members were movers and shakers and dedicated to getting the bridge built. The first Executive Secretary Lawrence Rubin oversaw this expertly and the Engineer David B. Steinman was on site. I don't see that kind of dedication here. Why would the Bridge want all the headaches, protesting and liability this tunnel would bring. Whose the expert on tunnel building that would be the head of this. I am dead set against this. If the Governor wants a tunnel let him establish a Tunnel Authority and do it himself.