By JOHN FLESHER
AP Environmental Writer
TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — Michigan officials took another step Thursday toward construction of an oil pipeline tunnel beneath the channel that links Lakes Huron and Michigan by asking the Mackinac Bridge Authority to accept oversight responsibility for the proposed structure.
Department of Natural Resources Director Keith Creagh and two consultants pitched the plan to the bridge authority. No vote was taken but the authority heard dozens of public comments, most opposed to the project as potentially posing a risk to the Straits of Mackinac and the area’s fishing and tourism industries.
“Don’t ram this down our throats. Don’t rush things,” said Bay Mills Indian Community chairman Bryan Newland, who added that the project would violate native fishing treaty rights.
Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration reached a deal last month with Enbridge Inc. to drill the tunnel beneath the Straits of Mackinac over 7 to 10 years at a cost of up to $500 million, which the company would pay. The bridge authority would assume ownership after completion and lease the tunnel back to Enbridge for 99 years.
It would replace an underwater segment of Enbridge’s Line 5, which carries about 23 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids daily. Environmentalists are pushing to decommission the twin lines, which have been in place since 1953, while the company says they’re in good condition.
A crucial part of Snyder’s plan is putting the bridge authority in charge of the tunnel, even though the authority’s only responsibility since its founding has been managing the 5-mile-long bridge linking Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas.
Michael Mooney, a Colorado School of Mines expert on tunnel design and consultant for the state, said the tunnel proposal is sound and would provide extra protection by encasing the new pipeline in concrete.
“There is virtually no way for product to leak out of this tunnel,” Mooney said.
The seven-member bridge authority, which has four members recently appointed by Snyder, is scheduled to meet again in February. But Creagh said administration officials hope the panel will approve the tunnel plan by the end of the year, when the Republican governor’s term expires.
Democrat Gretchen Whitmer was elected governor Tuesday after criticizing Line 5 during her campaign.