Whitmer fills Line 5 panel vacancy after 8 months

    Straits of Mackinac | Laina G. Stebbins

    One week after the Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority (MSCA) met for the first time in 11 months, having been a two-man panel for nearly eight of those months due to a vacancy, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced Wednesday that she has appointed Democrat Paul Novak of Detroit.

    The MSCA was created as a three-member panel in 2018 as part of former Gov. Rick Snyder’s deal with Canadian oil company Enbridge to shore up its Line 5 tunnel project.

    Novak is currently the managing attorney of the Detroit office of the national law firm Weitz & Luxenberg PC. He previously worked as a partner and senior counsel at other law firms, as well as chief legal counsel for the city of Lansing.

    Novak also served as an assistant attorney general for 15 years under former Govs. Jim Blanchard, John Engler and Jennifer Granholm.

    Out of spotlight, two-member panel spent $475K on consulting contracts last year for Line 5 project

    In June, former member James “JR” Richardson resigned after Whitmer appointed him to the state’s Natural Resources Commission (NRC). The GOP-led Legislature blocked that appointment, as they have been doing to other appointments recently to send a political message to Whitmer about their disapproval of her COVID-19 health orders.

    Any appointment to the MSCA would be subjected to the advice and consent of the Senate. If approved, Novak’s term would run until Dec. 12, 2024.

    The MSCA is endowed with full, independent authority to oversee the project to replace Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline and keep oil flowing under the Straits of Mackinac. It will also own the new tunnel after it is built.

    As the Michigan Advance reported last week, the panel over the last 11 months spent hundreds and thousands of dollars on consulting contracts meant to spur the tunnel project forward. Those contracts were signed out of the public eye.

    At that time, a Whitmer spokesperson had told the Advance that the panel’s vacancy was “under review.”

    Laina G. Stebbins
    Laina G. Stebbins covers the environment, immigration and criminal justice for the Advance. A lifelong Michigander, 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 spending time with her cats, she loves art and design, listening to music, playing piano, enjoying good food and being out in nature (especially Up North).