The Black Snake keeps slithering: Stop Line 5

The protracted resistance to Enbridge Line 3 was unable to stop the pipeline from becoming operational — for now — but efforts to stop the flow of toxic tar sands oil is far from over.

Enbridge Line 3 trenched through northern Minnesota, ending at a terminal in Superior, Wisc. Enbridge’s next step is to build a new Line 5 from Superior, through northern Wisconsin, continuing into Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, crossing the Great Lakes, and ending in Sarnia, Ontario.

Line 5 carries 540,000 barrels of tar sands crude daily. It’s strongly opposed by the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa in Wisconsin and the Bay Mills Indian Community in Michigan and people concerned about its environmental damage.

“The Line 5 expansion plan threatens the Apostle Islands, Copper Falls State Park, and the thriving recreation and tourism economies of northern Wisconsin,” The Sierra Club Wisconsin wrote. “Enbridge wants to use the same drilling method that poisoned waterways and aquifers in Minnesota, which could irreversibly pollute drinking water for Wisconsin residents and family farms. A spill would be disastrous for the Bad River Tribe and their extensive wild rice beds and fisheries on Lake Superior.”

Here’s one easy step you can take to oppose Line 5.

The Wisconsin DNR is taking public comments on Enbridge Line 5 through March 18. Submit your comment today and share this link with your friends.

Now, the context.

Line 5 — Wisconsin

Enbridge’s current aging Line 5 passes through the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Reservation.

The current Line 5 route and a proposed reroute.

Back in July, 2019 the Band filed a court complaint calling Line 5 “’a grave public nuisance’ that poses an ever-worsening oil spill threat to the tribe’s northern Wisconsin reservation, noting that 11 of the l5 easements crossing the reservation had expired in 2013, and that Enbridge was operating without an easement,” Winona LaDuke wrote in The Circle.

In October of 2019, the Band turned down Enbridge’s $24 million offer to allow Line 5 to continue operating across reservation lands. Enbridge then sued Bad River to force it to keep Line 5 in place, saying a previous agreement gave the company permission to operate until 2043. (See LaDuke’s article for details.)

Enbridge looked at rerouting Line 5 off reservation lands and — surprise — the locals in the nearby city of Mellen didn’t want the pipeline, either.

The Mellen City Council initially denied Enbridge’s request on Oct. 1, 2019, with Mayor Joe Barabe casting the deciding “no” vote, according to the Duluth Reader.

The city of 700 was facing financial pressure, however. Mellen had put in a new lagoon system which required a significant utility rate hike. It had to replace aging utilities under Main Street. Then there was a bridge replacement project. It all added up.

Mayor Barabe approached Enbridge about buying city land instead of leasing it. The two sides eventually settled on a $4 million purchase price, affirmed at a Nov. 5 Council meeting.

Check out the Reader’s story for the details.

Bad River Band opposes the Line 5 reroute, too. It would cross multiple waterways in its watershed (see map). A significant spill would directly affect their lands and waters.

Line 5 — Michigan

In 1953, Enbridge got an easement to cross the Straits of Mackinac on the lake bottom (the place where lakes Huron and Michigan meet). Now, 69 years later, its old and decaying.

Last May, Michigan’s Gov. Gretchen Whitmer revoked Enbridge’s easement to operate in the Great Lakes, concerned about an underwater oil spill. Echoing Bad River’s experience, Enbridge refused to acknowledge her action. It’s proposed drilling a pipeline tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac, a plan now under consideration by the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC).

Map showing Line 5 route through Wisconsin and Michigan. The red square (left) is the Bad River Reservation.

For the first time, last March, Wisconsin’s executive branch acknowledged treaties rights as a reason to shut down Line 5, according to Michigan Public Radio.

Just like in Minnesota and Wisconsin, Enbridge is ignoring treaty rights in Michigan.

In May, “The Bay Mills Indian Community (BMIC) tribal council voted to banish Enbridge’s Line 5 pipelines from the reservation as well as lands and waters of their ceded territory,” Indian Country Today reported.

BMIC President Whitney Gravelle submitted testimony to the MPSC describing the grave harms posed by the Line 5 tunnel to their hunting, fishing and gathering rights, according to the Native American Rights Fund.

The Straits of Mackinac is a place of deep spiritual and cultural meaning to my people, where there are important cultural and historic resources still being learned of, and where Bay Mills and other Tribal Nations have Treaty rights. … It is dangerous to construct a tunnel and route a pipeline through lands and waters that are central to our existence as Indigenous people and as a Tribal Nation.

Testimony from Bay Mills President Whitney Gravelle

Scientific testimony before the Commission estimated the oil moving through Line 5 would add $41 billion in climate damage over 50 years.

Like what happened in Minnesota, Michigan regulators are turning a deaf ear, effectively siding with Enbridge.

This January, a Michigan administrative law judge ruled in favor of Enbridge, granting its request to strike from the record before the Commission “portions of testimony about serious risks that the tunnel poses to public safety, climate change, and Tribal sovereignty.”

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