State Senate Delays Vote On Proposal for Line 5 Pipeline Tunnel

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Legislation in the State Senate would task the Mackinac Bridge Authority to get involved in the oversight for a tunnel to replace Enbridge’s Line 5 oil pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac.

A Republican-led Senate committee passed the bill 3 to 2 along party lines on Wednesday morning, but a full Senate vote was postponed.

“FLOW” is an advocacy group with a commitment to protecting the Great Lakes. Their Deputy Director, Kelly Thayer, says a tunnel doesn’t solve the problem of pipelines that are past their life expectancy.

“This bill just says 10 years from now, maybe we’ll have a tunnel to replace them,” Thayer says. “That’s way too long to jeopardize our waters, our Great Lakes economy and the local tourism industry.”

State Senator Wayne Schmidt, from Traverse City, likes part of the proposal but not all of it.

“It’s a tough thing,” he says. “I support Line 5, I support the tunnel concept, but I’ve had a little difficulty supporting the Mackinac Bridge Authority taking on that responsibility.”

Thayer is also concerned about any decisions made in a Lame Duck session by a legislative body that will change hands in 2019.

“We can’t imagine that the best ideas come from shutting the public out and rushing through to pass things before people can really understand the impact,” Thayer says.

Senator Schmidt says he wants to see what changes are made to the bill that came out of committee, before deciding how he’ll vote.

“As it currently stands, I’m not in favor of that bill,” Schmidt says. “But in negotiations between committee and when it’s voted on the floor, many things can happen. Many amendments can be added.”

If the bill does pass in the Senate, Thayer says there’s still hope reaching lawmakers in the House. Schmidt, meanwhile, is optimistic that concerns will be addressed.

“What’s paramount in these discussions is making sure the Great Lakes are protected, and I think the tunnel concept is the best way,” Thayer says.

FLOW has said Line 5 has an “unacceptably high risk” of “an oil spill catastrophe.”

Constitutional and legal challenges to the tunnel proposal have already been predicted by the group’s president.