Federal government orders environmental study of Line 5 tunnel plan, delaying construction


Federal officials have determined that exploration of the environmental impact of constructing a Line 5 tunnel through the Straits of Mackinac is required before a permit is granted to Enbridge.

The requirement “could add years” to the US Army Corps of Engineers’ review of the tunnel construction permit, the National Wildlife Federation said Wednesday.

Enbridge acknowledged Wednesday that the federal decision to require an environmental impact study instead of an environmental assessment would delay the start of construction.

The Canadian oil giant is still trying to determine how long the decision will delay construction.

“The authorization is the driving force behind the project schedule; when we receive all the permits, we will begin construction,” Enbridge spokesperson Ryan Duffy said in a statement.

The company has spent more than $ 100 million on the tunnel project so far and plans to complete construction on schedule under the tunnel agreement, Duffy said.

The Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority expects to be updated eventually if the construction schedule changes significantly, the authority’s chairman Mike Nystrom said.

“Once the permits are approved, the authority’s responsibility is to ensure that the citizens of the state of Michigan end up with a tunnel built for longevity and safety,” Nystrom said.

Permit approvals by the US Army Corps of Engineers were some of the last approvals – besides authorization from the Michigan Public Service Commission – that Enbridge was waiting for to begin construction of the Great Lakes Tunnel project.

In a 2018 feasibility study, Enbridge originally predicted that the tunnel project would take five to six years to complete at a cost of $ 350-500 million.

The company gave a maximum of seven to ten years for the tunnel to be completed after reaching a deal with the state in 2018, but Gov. Gretchen Whitmer lobbied in 2019 to reduce the deadline to two years.

The disagreement over the duration of the project, exacerbated by Whitmer’s vows during the election campaign to close the line, has led to a series of litigation, the most recent sparked by the governor’s cancellation in November of Enbridge’s easement in the straits.

She ordered the company to shut down the pipeline in mid-May, but Enbridge refused to do so without a court order. The two parties are currently in mediation in Federal Court.

The Army for Civil Works, which oversees the US Army Corps of Engineers, said Wednesday it will require the corps to develop an economic impact statement regarding the permit application because of the “potential impacts significantly affecting the quality of the human environment “.

The review will consider all possible impacts and alternatives in an “open, transparent and public process” before making a decision on the permit application, said Jaime Pinkham, acting deputy secretary of the Army for Civil Works.

“The (US Army Corps of Engineers) has received thousands of public comments and tribal contributions on the proposed project, which warrant further consideration through an (Environmental Impact Statement), including potential impacts on navigation, ”Pinkham said in a statement.

The National Wildlife Federal celebrated the federal decision and said it reaffirmed “this proposed project is almost a decade away, if ever.”

“From the beginning, Enbridge has fought against environmental impact review, needs assessment, review of impacts on resources and tribal cultural sites, and technical review of construction and construction. design, ”said Beth Wallace, Great Lakes Campaigns Director National Wildlife Federation.

The federal move comes months after the Michigan Civil Service Commission said it would consider arguments about greenhouse gas emissions the pipeline could create before granting the state’s final clearance. .

The order allows the parties to present evidence of any greenhouse gas emissions that could result from the fossil fuels carried in the pipeline as well as evidence of alternative pollution in the event of the segment being shut down.

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