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

Republican lawmakers are dumping a proposal to have the Mackinac Bridge Authority own and operate a tunnel surrounding Line 5, Enbridge Energy’s controversial oil pipeline beneath the Straits of Mackinac.

Facing strong opposition, lawmakers will instead push for a separate agency to oversee a proposed $300 million to $500 million tunnel to protect the pipeline, they said Monday.

Gov. Rick Snyder, a term-limited Republican, proposes to swap out twin pipelines in the Straits for a new pipe that would be protected in a bedrock tunnel 100 feet below the lake bottom.

Related: Mackinac Bridge Authority in no hurry to consider Line 5 tunnel deal

He wants to finalize the plan in his final month before Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat and opponent of Line 5, succeeds him.

Enbridge and the state announced a deal in October to pursue the tunnel, but the plan is fraught with controversy and legal uncertainty.

That plan hinged on the bridge authority, an independent state agency, owning the 4-mile, 12-foot in diameter tunnel, under the October agreement, and leasing space to Enbridge for 99 years.  

Sen. Tom Casperson’s Senate Bill 1197, which cleared a committee hurdle last week, aimed to ensure the bridge authority had power to vote to take on the responsibility.

But that prospect faced strong opposition — including from a host of former bridge authority members — and Casperson told the Detroit Free Press that Senate leaders and Snyder’s office were re-writing the legislation to have a separate entity oversee the tunnel.

The Republicans "are working on trying to come up with a plan ... to just separate it completely,” Casperson told the Free Press.

Casperson’s office did not immediately return a message seeking comment from Bridge Magazine.

The development came as Rep. Lee Chatfield, the incoming Republican House speaker, reiterated his support for a tunnel but expressed reservations about the bridge authority’s role in its oversight.

“We need a third party to oversee this project, and while the MBA has done an outstanding job for decades of leaving politics at the door and effectively maintaining one of Michigan’s truest gems, the Mackinac Bridge,” Chatfield wrote in a lengthy Facebook post Monday. “I do not believe that they are best equipped to oversee this new responsibility. I do not wish to see them distracted by another job, and because of that, I am pushing to create an entity that can meet this obligation instead of the bridge authority.”

Asked for confirmation that Snyder’s office was working on a new proposal, spokesman Ari Adler told Bridge in an email:

“Legislators appear to favor an alternative of using a new authority and Gov. Snyder supports that decision. The target in all of this this hasn’t been the oversight decision but rather doing all we can to protect the Straits of Mackinac and the Great Lakes while ensuring energy stability for Michigan.”

Line 5 can transport up to 540,000 barrels of light crude oil per day from Superior, Wisconsin, to Sarnia, Ontario – and runs beneath the Straits.

Environmentalists and other concerned citizens fear a rupture, however slight the possibility, would create a catastrophe in the Great Lakes.

Environmental groups oppose constructing a tunnel, which is projected to take seven to 10 years.

They instead have called for the pipeline to be shut down.

“We would like to respectfully say that the issue is ANYTHING that keeps #Line5 open. The use of the Mackinac Bridge Authority was simply particularly egregious, and a sign of how little thought has gone into this,” the advocacy group Clean Water Action tweeted Monday.


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