Greetings from Mackinaw City, where Line 5 fears threaten a way of life

Mackinac Bridge April 2018

A view of the Mackinac Bridge from Colonial Michilimackinac in April 2018. (Bridge photo by Jim Malewitz)

MACKINAW CITY — George Warner didn’t hesitate when asked what issues most concern  folks in this wildly popular tourist town at the tip of Michigan’s mitten.

“Line 5,” he told a reporter while buying goodies at Devon’s Mackinac Island Fudge Company, one of few businesses open Wednesday during a slow, snowy lead-up to tourism season.

Caitie Dannatt, 27, nodded emphatically from behind the cash register as she rang up the 68-year-old Air Force veteran.

“I’m afraid it’s going to bust. As old as it is, you’re rolling the dice,” said Warner, who lives in Cheboygan and often pops into Devon’s after checkups at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs health center here.

Related Enbridge Line 5 reports:

As northern Michigan awaits a thaw after a long winter, Warner and Dannatt are among those casting wary eyes on the Straits of Mackinac. Below those waters lies Line 5, a 645-mile oil pipeline that has become a magnet for environmental concerns, largely because it is 65 years-old and owned by Enbridge Energy Partners, which has been accused of being less than transparent about the upkeep of the line.

Bridge Magazine visited Mackinaw City on Wednesday as part of the Center for Michigan’s "Truth Tour," a traveling caravan and mobile newsroom that will engage and inform state residents throughout the year about the most critical issues facing Michigan.

Details: Be part of the 2018 Michigan Truth Tour
More events: Use Facebook to get reminders on our Truth Tour events

The Truth Tour plans more than 100 stops across the state through Election Day in November in hopes of increasing citizenship in a hyper-partisan era. At each stop, the Center for Michigan –  Bridge’s parent organization – is asking what most concerns residents.

In Mackinaw City, the answer lies in the waters that provide much of the livelihood in this town of less than 1,000. The population surges during the summer, including an influx of seasonal workers for the town that serves as a base of operations for ferry service to Mackinac Island.

Mackinaw City fudge shop

Devon’s Mackinac Island Fudge Company was one of few business open in Mackinaw City in early April 2018 ahead of tourist season. (Bridge photo by Jim Malewitz)

People here have only grown more concerned about the water following last week’s leak from an entirely different set of lines beneath the straits.

Officials on Wednesday were still responding to a leak of some 600 gallons of mineral oil from a pair of electric lines — operated by a Wisconsin utility, American Transmission Company (ATC) — that tripped offline on April 1.

A “Unified Command” including the U.S. Coast Guard, local emergency managers, tribal leaders and state and federal environmental agencies are responding to the leak.

The U.S. Coast Guard has called the leak a “low risk to fisheries and wildlife” as Great Lakes water dilutes the chemicals. And Anthony Wilson, a wildlife specialist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture said in a press release Monday his colleagues “did not see any oil sheen or injured wildlife” while observing more than 1,200 waterfowl.  

These assurances don’t much comfort Warner or Dannatt, who fear other leaks could be on the horizon.

“Line 5 needs to go,” Dannatt said, adding “pretty much everyone” in the community was talking about it.  

Enbridge calls Line 5 a crucial piece of energy infrastructure and says the risk of a leak miniscule. A recent state-commissioned report found there is a low risk of rupture from corrosion or other factors.

But several residents in Mackinaw City said they don’t much trust Enbridge, or the state for that matter.

In November, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder announced an agreement that, among other provisions, requires Enbridge to replace a pipeline piece beneath the St. Clair River and construct a tunnel around it.

The deal also requires Enbridge to conduct studies about replacing the pipeline, building a tunnel to protect the section at the Straits of Mackinac and improving underwater monitoring.

On Wednesday, Snyder called on Enbridge to speed some of those efforts following revelations the same “vessel activity” — an anchor strike — that likely damaged the ATC electric lines may be responsible for three small dents in Line 5.

“An anchor strike was the largest risk identified in a previous independent analysis of the Enbridge pipeline, which is apparently what happened in the Straits last week,” Snyder said in a statement.

“We need the right answers, but we need them as soon as we can get them so that we can take action faster to protect the Great Lakes.”

Attorney General Bill Schuette, who is a Republican candidate for governor, said his office is “determining what legal action may be appropriate.” He also said the incident underscores the need to increase fines and “penalties for polluting the waters of the Great Lakes.”

Patrick C. Wyman, Mackinaw City’s village manager, called the recent leak “very concerning,” but he said he is confident in the agencies who are responding.

Mackinaw City Hall

Mackinaw City Hall, April 2018. (Bridge photo by Jim Malewitz)

Wyman lives near where Line 5 runs and said he heard the hum of oil-sucking equipment while walking his dog Tuesday night.

But he’s taking a middle-of-the-road approach to the controversy and said the community has a good working relationship with Enbridge.

“Everyone wants the straits to be safe and clean,” he said.

Wyman called Line 5 one of two top issues for his community. The other: Logistical changes during Labor Day’s annual Mackinac Bridge Walk, which draws more than 30,000 participants. (The agency that operates the bridge, Mackinac Bridge Authority, this year is eliminating bus service to St. Ignace, forcing walkers to turn around following their 2.5-mile trip. “We really don’t know what to expect,” Wyman said.)

Local Line 5 protests last year lead to some tense moments between protesters and the village’s short-staffed police, Wyman added,

Warner, who moved to Cheboygan from Detroit 10 years ago, called the region “a wonderful place to live.” It’s where he met his wife three years ago while helping protect spawning lake sturgeon, a threatened species, from poachers.

“I went sturgeon guarding and caught my limit,” he joked.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

If you learned something from the story you're reading please consider supporting our work. Your donation allows us to keep our Michigan-focused reporting and analysis free and accessible to all. All donations are voluntary, but for as little as $1 you can become a member of Bridge Club and support freedom of the press in Michigan during a crucial election year.

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Donate now

Comment Form

Add new comment

Dear Reader: We value your thoughts and criticism on the articles, but insist on civility. Criticizing comments or ideas is welcome, but Bridge won’t tolerate comments that are false or defamatory or that demean, personally attack, spread hate or harmful stereotypes. Violating these standards could result in a ban.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.


Thu, 04/12/2018 - 2:11pm

Hey, Schuette! Increasing fines and penalties won't amount a hill of beans after the lakes are polluted. I'm sure a lot of those people up there in their million dollar homes/cottages wouldn't be too happy to see property values plummet when, not if, the spill occurs.

Jimmie wright
Fri, 04/13/2018 - 9:48am

Not to mention those of us who do not own expensive houses, ferry companies, exclusive island hotels and other lucrative businesses in the area.
We who visit briefly to enjoy the beauty of the area without a vested financial stake would also be very pissed.

Karen Dunnam
Thu, 04/12/2018 - 2:58pm

This is tangential to the Line 5 issue.
"The agency that operates the bridge, Mackinac Bridge Authority, this year is eliminating buses service to St. Ignace, forcing walkers to turn around following their 2.5-mile trip."
Actually...the MBA is getting creative. Walkers can start at either end of the bridge and walk halfway, or all the way, or *both ways. This will eliminate traffic congestion as there will be fewer vehicles needed.
The ferries should see a boost, as they are already operating cross-strait service and some of the walkers will want to go bi-modal. The island might get more visitors (it's long been my practice to take a ferry there, ride a lap on a bike, and eventually return to my car in the U.P.).
On the FB group Mackinac Bridge Walk Fans, folks are already strategizing their walks.
Carry on.

Thu, 04/12/2018 - 9:02pm

As someone who wants nothing more than to help alleviate the stress and fear of any unfortunate owners of Great lakes lake front property, I offer to shield them from this impending disaster by taking this soon to be contaminated property off their hands. Act now before it is too late and you can still get better than nothing.... and my resources, generosity and sense of pity are gone. Just respond with location and contact info!

Fri, 04/13/2018 - 9:05am

It was a real PR job to call it a "mineral oil", that sounds so much more safer than what it actually was, a toxic synthetic oil used to insulate and keep the wires cool.

Fri, 04/13/2018 - 9:11am

Please tell me what is in it for MI. having the pipeline in the great Lakes.

Fri, 04/13/2018 - 9:12am

Please tell me what is in it for MI. having the pipeline in the great Lakes.

Fri, 04/13/2018 - 9:12am

Please tell me what is in it for MI. having the pipeline in the great Lakes.

Jimmie wright
Fri, 04/13/2018 - 9:40am

Very little and nowhere near the cost of the impending disaster.

Tue, 05/01/2018 - 3:56pm

How long have we been waiting for this 'impending disaster', is it over 60 years and how much longer will we have to wait?

How old was the cable pipeline that was ripped open and didn't that anchor do the same to #5 and we are still waiting for the 'impending disaster'.

Maybe it is time to look at why #5 hasn't had the long awaited 'pending disaster' and see how we apply those lesson to other risks associated with the Great Lakes.

If all we do is run from fear nothing changes and nothing improves. Better to identify the risks and address them, rather than simply set your hands and wail about what might happen.

The reality is that the little fudge shop will not be harmed by #5. If #5 fails, there will be no contaimination of the fudge, the shop will not be flooded with oils, the Island will not disappear under a rising oil level in the straits. If anything the cleanup will create an influx of people and money to do the cleanup, to report on the cleanup, tourist to watch others work at cleaning up, regulators to do nothing but watch those doing the clean up, the politicians to wring their hands and get on TV or quoted in the media, thing of all the campaign ads that will be made on the Island and on both Upper and Lower Michigan shores. If there were to be a spill and cleanup of a billion dollars there would most likely be hundreds of million dollars spent locally by all those watching the cleanup. So the local businesses, even the darling little fudge shop would flourish and as for the wild life they would simply move along the shoreline a little farther east or west or north.

If you really want to avoid that long delayed 'impending risk' then lets list all of the risks that might lead to your 'impending disaster' and then start recommending actions to prevent them. We can start with the dragging anchor that scratched that 60 year old pipe without even causing a drop to be spilled.

I do not discount or ignore the risks, I have learned the most extremely hazardous situations can be prevented if good people invest their knowledge and skill in preventing or mitigating the risks.

The greatest risk we face is from people with a mindset of don't do things because their is risk and that they will attempt to intimidate risk takes and change the culture to hind from risk. Our country, our abundance, our liberty is built on risk, without risk nothing improves.

Fri, 04/13/2018 - 9:48am

There is very little in in for MI. Easily over 20,000,000 of the 22,500,000 gallons of oil that come through the Canadian pipelines we know as Line 5 trek through Michigan and go back to Canada for export. We can figure out how to replace what little propane we currently use with a heck of a lot less risk. Want to see what our future could be? Read some fist hand accounts in this update from the Deep Horizon spill which sickened over over 37,000 people! Call Attorney Bill Schuette today (and tomorrow) (517) 373-1110. He gets summary reports of why people are calling - and it is an election year so he is not only risking our future, he's risking his own by not shutting down Line 5 immediately (which he can do with a stroke of a pen as it is an easement he or the Governor can revoke).
Fri, 04/13/2018 - 9:39am

How much of a gamble are YOU willing to take with our Great Lakes water and economy? If you are interested in avoiding a large scale disaster, call Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette ‭(517) 373-1110‬ and tell him to stop talking about penalties and who to pin the blame on. Tell him to keep his promise from JULY 14, 2015 when he declared the “days are numbered” for Enbridge’s aging Line 5 oil pipelines lying in the open waters of the Mackinac Straits.

Otherwise, keep waiting while Bill Schuette keeps “determining what legal action may be appropriate.” He also said the incident underscores the need to increase fines and “penalties for polluting the waters of the Great Lakes.”‬ How long do you watch the train coming towards you before you turn it off? How long?

Ask your friends, neighbors, and co-workers to call Attorney General Bill Schuette ‭(517) 373-1110‬, too. We can help him realize that he is also gambling with his political future to ignore us. It is an election year and Attorney General Schuette should be listening to voters now more than ever.

Dee Dishon
Fri, 04/13/2018 - 10:47am

It’s time to call Bill Schuette ‭(517) 373-1110‬ to tell him to shut down line 5. Time for him to step up to the plate!

Sat, 04/14/2018 - 11:36am

I wonder if #5 were to be shutdown what would fill these people's lives, without worry what do they have? It seems all they can focus on is 'don't' and worry.

With all that energy spent on worrying I wonder what great improvements to the safety and security of the Straits could created if the were to focus of worrying energy were invested in identifying risks [to the pipeline] and developing supportive actions to prevent or mitigate those risks.

Every advancement has come from addressing risks, all of our abundance has come out of addressing risks, why not take those lessons from the past and apply them to the future.

What if innovative ideas were developed to make #5 more secure so the concern of spills were relieved, and those ideas were applicable to other pipelines? Which is better shutdown #5 or make #5 secure and do that for other pipelines?

The choice is work with other to prevent what might be or set back 'wring your hands' and moan about what might be and shutdown everything you fear.

Wed, 04/18/2018 - 10:31am

What if Michigan became so innovative we became a "green economy". Michiganders seem to think this natural resource belongs only to them. MI has a responsibility to protect this natural resource for future generations.

Wed, 04/18/2018 - 5:46pm

Rather than trying to save the world, why not simply do things within our reach a bit better than yesterday? Why not invest our energies into making #5 less likely to have a release than trying to shut it down and force the materials to be transported in another fashion through other areas? Why not ask better questions and listen to the answers rather than simply say 'no' to whatever is being tried for improvement?

'green economy' is a concocted phrase to discourage people from thinking and doing. In reality 'fossil fuel' is a 'green' energy source since it is organic based [from living cells, much like the algae in Lake Erie each summer]. Better to be finding ways to use what we have more wisely, do you recall the 'greenie' pushing to save the trees [having the paper replaced by plastic]? Trees are a renewable crop, they even recycle the carbon, but the 'greenies' wanted to save the trees that we all knew would die and degraded. 'green' was a political power ploy designed to prevent open conversations and competition of ideas. Think of 'global warming' today and how it is used to intimidate disagreement. Consider the emphasis on electric cars, in which the batteries require rare earths such as lithium that are not 'green' [once extracted not renewable by nature]. Which is smarter consume the rare earths for cars eliminating carbon fueled cars or use organic [algae] based fuels for internal combustion engines?

Natural resources are best used by those who can use them most efficiently and effectively. Which is 'greener' to have an EPA that spills million gallon of toxic waste and does nothing saying dilution will clean it up or a private company the is accountable by law and in the courts and in the marketplace to clean up such a spill? The reality is that the ones that are held accountable will be the most responsible or they will disappear/go out of business.

I believe that Michigan can be a place where innovation is driven by results and keep improving the environment we live in. The challenge is how we foster innovation. Simply saying no distracts from innovation, setting practical and incremental results catalysis innovation. In the case of #5 establish an index for rating risks setting loss of life as the 1 or highest risk, then list the risks and rate them, and set a reasonable goal for prevent or mitigation, and then ask them to achieve it [not order as that is like saying zero is a practical number in real life].

Sat, 04/21/2018 - 5:07pm

I could never get my head around risking the health of the Great Lakes for oil. I am appalled at the shortsightedness of our legislators in all the States and the Provence that surround the Lakes. We do not have the right to take risks with the health of the Lakes. If it is jobs that urged these risks to be taken then we need to look for alternative jobs, perhaps the same number of jobs can be created in the conservation of the Lakes? We are commanded to be good stewards of our natural resources like the Lakes. We can develop new pathways for the oil and not risk our Lakes. Lets put our heads together and develop those pathways.

Mon, 04/23/2018 - 11:44pm

The reality is that whatever we do has a risk associated with it so you need to define unacceptable risk before you will be effective in drawing people to your side for preventing activities in and around the Lakes.

You will have to identify jobs that pay for themselves before you will find people actively supporting the jobs you seem to have in mind.

Being good stewards doesn't mean not to use, not anything, not benefit from the Lakes.

If you want to get people developing means and methods to protect the Lakes, you must identify results that are no more than not use the Lakes.

Sovereign Mary
Mon, 04/30/2018 - 3:34pm

How about having Enbridge build a new replacement line for Line 5, and then shut down the old line after the new line is completed?
Now, I'm beginning to regret that I sent a donation to Jim Hines.