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Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signs Line 5 tunnel bill; appoints authority members

Related: Gov. Whitmer, AG Nessel aim to stop progress on Line 5 tunnel
Dec. 21: That's a wrap! What bills passed, died in Michigan lame duck for the ages
Related: See what Michigan lame-duck bills we're tracking

LANSING — That was fast.

Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation Wednesday to shore up his plan to build a tunnel around Line 5, the 65-year-old pipeline beneath the Straits of Mackinac that has attracted environmental concerns.

Republican Sen. Tom Casperson’s Senate Bill 1197 creates a three-member authority to oversee construction and operation of the proposed tunnel. The tunnel is expected to cost Enbridge Energy, the Canadian owner of Line 5, $350 million to $500 million to construct over the coming decade.

Snyder, a term-limited Republican, signed the bill and appointed members to the new Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority the morning after the final proposal flew through a House committee and cleared both the House and Senate.

“This new law is the result of a tremendous effort by Sen. Casperson, my partners in the House and Senate leadership, and a diverse group of stakeholders, including business leaders and union representatives,” Snyder said in a statement Wednesday. “We all understand the importance of bringing certainty to removing Line 5 from the waters in the Straits of Mackinac.”

The legislation has long been considered one of Snyder’s top priorities during an otherwise frenzied lame duck session. Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Snyder wouldn’t say whether he’d veto some of the more controversial bills –  such as allowing the Legislature to intervene in lawsuits – but reiterated his support for the Line 5 legislation.

Snyder wants to swap out the aging twin pipelines running along the bottom of the Straits for a new pipe that would be protected in a bedrock tunnel 100 feet below the lake bottom.

The plan has drawn opposition from environmentalists and many Democrats who want the pipeline shut down rather than replaced, citing fears of a catastrophic oil spill in the Great Lakes.

Democratic Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer said this week she remains opposed to the tunnel and is exploring her options.

Enbridge and the state announced an initial deal in October to pursue the tunnel, and it has since been fraught with controversy and legal questions.

Initially, Snyder’s plan hinged on the Mackinac Bridge Authority, an independent state agency that oversees the iconic bridge, owning the 4-mile, 12-foot in diameter tunnel and leasing space to Enbridge for 99 years.

That prompted fierce opposition, including from former bridge authority members who worried it would distract from oversight of Mackinac Bridge. Republican lawmakers worked with Snyder to re-write the legislation to create the new oversight authority to carry out the plan.

Snyder on Wednesday appointed the following men to six-year terms on the Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority:

  • Geno Alessandrini, a Democrat from Iron Mountain, is the business manager for the Michigan Laborers’ District Council, a group that has advocated for a Line 5 tunnel. He previously served as business manager for Laborers Local Union 1329 in Iron Mountain, Snyder’s office said.
  • Anthony England, a Democrat from Ypsilanti, is the dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. He previously served as deputy chief of the Office of Geochemistry and Geophysics for the U.S. Geological Survey and as a senior scientist astronaut for NASA, according to Snyder’s office. In a Bridge Magazine opinion column in October, he called for a Line 5 tunnel to be built “as quickly as possible.”
  • Michael Zimmer, a Republican from Dimondale, is Snyder’s cabinet director and formerly directed the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs. Snyder appointed Zimmer to the Mackinac Bridge Authority in October, when it was envisioned as the tunnel oversight body. Zimmer will resign from the bridge authority, Snyder's office said.

SB 1197 does not fully cement the tunnel plan: It envisions another agreement between the state and Enbridge detailing the specifics of constructing and operating the tunnel and replacing the aging pipeline.

Democrats and other critics this week called the legislation risky in part because lawmakers didn’t have details of the looming agreement.

"After widespread opposition from Michigan citizens, businesses, experts and more, a backroom deal brokered by special interest groups to keep oil flowing through our Great Lakes was hastily jammed through the Legislature in the 11th hour,” Lisa Wozniak, executive director of Michigan League of Conservation Voters, said in a statement Wednesday. "We are deeply disappointed Gov. Snyder approved legislation that will keep oil pumping through the damaged Line 5 Pipeline for another decade or more."

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