After Line 5 damage, legislation would make anchoring in Straits a felony

Mackinac Bridge | Susan J. Demas
Updated, 7:21 p.m., 10/15/20 and 12:20 p.m., 10/16/20 with comment from Enbridge and Nessel’s office

Large vessels passing through the environmentally sensitive Straits of Mackinac would be barred from anchoring or using any other equipment that could scrape the lakebed under bipartisan bills introduced in the state House Wednesday.

The legislation comes as Canadian oil company Enbridge seeks to win state permits to replace its controversial Line 5 dual oil pipeline. The 67-year-old Line 5 runs for more than four miles under the Straits, and has been damaged at least twice in the past two years with anchors and cables.

State Rep. Rachel Hood (D-Grand Rapids) on Wednesday introduced House Bill 6307, under which watercraft exceeding 700 feet would be prohibited from using any equipment — including anchors, chains and cables — that could potentially come in contact with the bottomlands of the Straits.

Large vessels exercising their tribal treaty rights in the Straits would be exempt.

In September, the U.S. Coast Guard concluded that damage to a support anchor on Line 5 was done by cables or other equipment dropped by one of Enbridge’s own contracted vessels. Enbridge has not yet made the same conclusion.

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Violating the no-anchoring rule would result in a felony punishable by a four-year sentence and/or a $10,000 fine, as well as a mandate to reimburse the state for any environmental cleanup costs or other associated damages.

Additionally, large watercraft would be prohibited from navigating through the Straits unless guided by a state-approved maritime pilot (licensed by the U.S. Coast Guard or other federal agency). Pilotless navigation in the Straits would result in a four-year felony charge and/or $5,000 fine.

Finally, any “obstructions to navigation” in the Straits of Mackinac would have to be marked by buoys or beacons. Violators could incur a $5,000 fine and possibly face prosecution by the attorney general or Chippewa County prosecutor.

Ryan Jarvi, spokesperson for Attorney General Dana Nessel, said the legislation “highlights the continuing vulnerability of Enbridge’s Line 5 pipelines in the Straits and the associated risks of an environmental and economic disaster.

So long as the pipelines remain in operation, taking additional measures to mitigate the risk should be considered. But the goal should be to eliminate the risk. That is why the Attorney General is taking legal action to force the permanent decommissioning of the Enbridge pipelines in the Straits,” Jarvi continued.*

HB 6308, sponsored by state Rep. Sue Allor (R-Wolverine), is tie-barred with HB 6307 and provides sentencing guidelines for violations. Allor is the only Republican to sign onto either of the bills.

Enbridge spokesperson Ryan Duffy said the company typically does not weigh in on proposed legislation, but is overall “supportive of measures that enhance the safety of the Straits.”

Duffy added that the company recently added safety measures of its own related to vessel monitoring via the Enbridge Straits Maritime Operations Center in Mackinaw City.*

New: Coast Guard concludes Line 5 damage caused by Enbridge vessels, denies anchor ban request

The Michigan League of Conservation Voters (LCV) released a statement Thursday in support of HB 6307, citing past damage to Line 5 from anchor and cable collisions.

“Two years ago, an anchor directly struck the Line 5 pipeline; and again this summer the line experienced a massive, damaging collision from a ship chain or cable — threatening disaster in our Great Lakes,” said Michigan LCV lobbyist Nick Occhipinti.

“This is unacceptable. Already, we have had too many close calls — demonstrating the true danger this pipeline poses to our Great Lakes. It’s critically important we have laws in place to prevent an oil spill in the Great Lakes before disaster strikes. This legislation is a step in the right direction as we work towards stopping the flow of oil and shutting down Line 5.”

Both pieces of legislation have been referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation.

Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins covers the environment, immigration and criminal justice. She is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service. When Laina is not writing or listening to podcasts, she loves art and design, discovering new music, being out in nature and spending time with her two cats Rainn and Remy.