Enbridge is a Canadian pipeline company that has oil pipelines across the country. The 645-mile Line five pipeline was first built in the 19-50s, and carries around 540,000 barrels of crude oil every day from Superior Wisconsin to Ontario, Canada. Ben Callen is Chief of Integration Services with the Department of Natural Resources.
“They have an existing line 5 that goes from Superior, Wisconsin, then goes through the northern part of the state into the peninsula of Michigan, crosses the straits of Mackinac into the lower peninsula of Michigan, then crosses Michigan and terminates in Ontario, Canada. So they have a proposal right now to relocate an existing stretch of that line 5 pipeline around the Bad River reservation,” Callen says.
Following a 2019 lawsuit filed by the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Enbridge proposed to move Line five outside of tribal land. That new proposal is the subject of last night’s public impact statement.
The new lines, which skirt just a few miles outside of Bad River land, would cross hundreds of bodies of water, and would result in the crossing and filling of over 100 acres of wetlands in northern Wisconsin.
Mike Wiggins Jr, Chairman of the Bad River tribe, says that the new plan does not address their issues with safety. According to WPR, he said, quote “The only thing we have ever asked the oil company is to get out of our water. That has been rejected, that has been disrespected, and essentially ignored,” end quote.
In December of last year, the DNR released an over 300 page environmental impact statement, or EIS, about the new proposed pipeline. Last night’s public hearing was the first time the public was able to voice their opinions on the statement.
Over 200 people attended last night’s hearing, which lasted until the early hours of the morning, voicing objections to the pipeline plan that stemmed from pollution, climate change, treaty rights, and risk of trafficking.
In attendance were two elected officials from northern Wisconsin speaking in support of the pipeline. Tom Tiffany is a republican U-S congressman representing the states 7th district, and David Steffen is a republican state representative from Green Bay. Steffen says that the economic gain the pipeline would provide makes the project important.
“One of the points that I wanted to make clear that (Tiffany) mentioned was tremendous benefit to the state of Wisconsin, in terms of jobs and tax revenue. An additional $6.4 million in taxes alone. Now that alone should not be reason to approve it, but every major provision that relates to approval of a project of this kind has been met or exceeded by Enbridge or its related entities,” Steffen says.
But the majority of speakers at last night’s hearing voiced their concerns about both the project, and the impact statement.
John Coleman is Environmental Section Leader with the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, an inter tribal government agency of the Ojibwa Nation that works to protect hunting and fishing rights of tribal members. He says that the statement is overall lackluster.
“For quite a while now, since we first looked at it in November, we’ve thought that this draft is not ready for real time. The draft, which was written by a consultant that has very close ties with Enbridge, really misses the boat in lots of places. It has a very confused and weak presentation of the tribes that might be impacted and what those impacts may be. But even more substantially, there are just sections that are weak, parts that don’t have supporting data, or just don’t have the analysis really needed to evaluate the impacts of the project,” Coleman says.
Michael Isham Jr is the head of the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission. He says that supporters of the pipeline are not looking forward to what the pipeline will bring to the area. He says that, while the jobs are important, the overall environmental impact that the pipeline creates will end up doing more harm than good.
Environmental advocates also showed concern over the impact statement. Nancy Larson is the Senior Water Resources Specialist with Wisconsin Green Fire, a non-profit conservation advocacy group.
“The risk of an oil spill in the high quality watersheds of the Bad River are a significant threat. The draft EIS does not adequately address spill prevention, climate change fueled storms, spill response and impact to high quality resources. The Lake Superior region has deep, unstable terrain and soils that increase flood severity and impact the difficulty of responding to spills. The EIS should address how intense storms impact construction, maintenance, operation, and spill response. The floods and infrastructure damage that we’ve experienced over the last decade are indicators of what we should expect in the future. And the assumption that spills could not reach the Kakagon Sloughs is questionable,” Larson says.
The DNR is still accepting written comments on the impact statement until March 18th. After that, the DNR will review each individual comment and revise the statement as needed. Callen says that he will not know how long this process will take until after the comment deadline.
The Bad River lawsuit against Enbridge is still ongoing, according to The Progressive Magazine.
Photo courtesy: The Blowup / UNSPLASH