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Judge orders segment of Enbridge's Line 5 shut down and moved off Native American land

enbridge sign on fence
A view of part of the Enbridge Energy Line 5 pumping station near Mackinaw City, Michigan on the south side of the Straits of Mackinac. (Photo by Lester Graham, Michigan Radio)
  • A federal judge in Wisconsin has ordered Enbridge to reroute its Line 5 pipeline around Native American land within three years 
  • The judge also found the Canadian energy giant trespassed on the land and must pay more than $5 million 
  • Enbridge said it planned to appeal and denied the trespassing finding 

A federal judge in Wisconsin has ordered Enbridge Energy to shut down and move part of its Line 5 oil pipeline off Native American land within three years.

That’s the same controversial pipeline that runs across the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac in Michigan. Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel have spent years trying to shut it down in Michigan, alleging the threat of catastrophic harm to the environment from an oil spill. 

The Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians filed a federal suit against Enbridge, alleging trespass. Last year, Judge William Conley with the U.S. District Court of Western Wisconsin agreed. Now he has ordered the segment of pipeline on the Band’s reservation to be moved.


“The Band appreciates the Court putting an end to Enbridge’s flagrant trespass and disregard for our rights. Tribal sovereignty prevailed over corporate profits,” Mike Wiggins, chair of the Bad River Band, said in a release.

An attorney for the Band said the judge’s decision is welcome news.

“Enbridge does not have the legal right to continue what is now a decade-long trespass on the sovereign land of the Bad River Tribe,” attorney Josh Handelsman said.

The judge also ordered Enbridge to pay the tribe more than $5 million plus a portion of profits from Line 5. During the decade, the judge said, Enbridge’s Line 5 profits amounted to an estimated $1.5 billion and the company will continue to profit until the pipeline is moved.


“If they only have to pay $7 million of that, then they end up in a much better spot from trespassing than if they had followed the law,” Handelsman said, adding, “Under the law, a company is not supposed to be able to get a financial benefit from wrongdoing.”

In a statement, a spokesman for the Canadian energy company  said it agrees with that part of the court’s decision to reject the band’s argument that Line 5 must immediately shut down.

“However, the company disagrees with several aspects of the Court’s orders, including that Enbridge is in trespass, and that Line 5 must cease operations on the Bad River Reservation within three years,” the company spokesman said. 


Enbridge said it plans to appeal the court’s decision and is considering requesting placing a hold on the judge’s decision while an appeal is heard.

State and federal agencies have yet to approve permits for Enbridge plans to reroute the segment of Line 5 just outside of the Bad River Reservation. The tribe is concerned that the pipeline still will be within the Bad River watershed in Wisconsin.

Enbridge is calling for permit approvals so that a 41-mile relocation project can be constructed within the three year period.

Editor's note: Enbridge is one of Michigan Radio’s corporate sponsors.

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