Updated: Lawsuit over Line 5 permits dismissed

Environmentalists protest Line 5 at Mackinac. They were turned away at the Grand Hotel, May 29, 2019 | Susan J. Demas
Updated, 2:07 p.m., 5:21 p.m., 5/18/20

A key lawsuit relating to Line 5, the controversial Canadian oil pipeline beneath the Straits of Mackinac, has been dismissed.

The Straits of Mackinac Alliance, Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians and the city of Mackinac Island had filed the now-closed lawsuit against the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) in May 2018, challenging the state’s issuance of 73 screw anchor permits for oil company Enbridge to secure Line 5 to the lakebed.

On May 11, all three of the parties lodging the suit voluntarily withdrew from the case.  Straits of Mackinac Alliance Vice-Chair Leonard Page says this decision was made when it “became clear that a hearing on this issue would be both expensive and time consuming.”

But Page added that “we’re not quitting on the case” and plans to file an appeal on one of the case’s rulings. He said that going into this, all groups involved knew that this administrative case was the first procedural step before they could move forward with further legal action.

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“We wanted to exhaust the administrative remedies first … Now, we can challenge the permit in court,” Page said. He added that the groups are also hoping to join in on Attorney General Dana Nessel’s lawsuit against Enbridge in the coming weeks.

The petitioners had argued that the anchor supports were a fundamental deviation from Line 5’s original design, which had called for the dual pipelines to lay in a trench under the Straits and be secured to the bottomlands with sandbags. Also called into question were potential environmental risks that the petitioners say were not considered in their installation.

“The anchors are a critical part of Enbridge’s ongoing Line 5 safety and maintenance program,” said company spokesperson Ryan Duffy. “… Enbridge will continue to use these proven and effective safety measures.”

On Feb. 7, a ruling by administrative law judge Daniel L. Pulter dismissed all but one of the petitioners’ claims. The sole remaining issue focused on whether EGLE adequately determined that Enbridge’s anchor installment methods minimize harm to the environment. 

Key Line 5 legal challenge could wrap soon

Page said that the remaining issue could have taken a year or more to resolve, and the petitioners were not convinced that the long and expensive process to resolve such a narrow question would have been worth it.

Between 2002 and 2019, Enbridge has installed 181 screw anchor supports on Line 5. The company plans to install an additional 20 supports this year.

Enbridge has always maintained that the screw anchors are essential to the safety and maintenance of Line 5, despite reports showing that they were responsible for damage to the pipeline’s protective coating since at least 2014.

Enbridge did not inform state regulators about that damage until 2017.

EGLE spokesperson Scott Dean declined to comment on the case dismissal at this time.