The future of Line 5: $500 million tunnel project

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UPPER MICHIGAN, Mich. (WLUC) - What is the future of the controversial Enbridge Line 5 pipeline? According to Enbridge, a tunnel project set to cost the company $500 million, promising to protect the Straits of Mackinac from a catastrophic leak.

"We've been hearing people have some concerns so we wanted to go above and beyond for safety and really make what's been a safe pipeline that much safer," says Ryan Duffy, Enbridge spokesperson.
And for Enbridge, that means the tunnel project.

"A tunnel that would contain a new section of Line 5," says Duffy. "A 30 inch pipe, 100 feet below the lake bed and have foot thick concrete walls. So really, enhancing safety. There'd be no way you'd have any kind of anchor issue with that and there'd be no way you could have any product released into the water."

Despite this, there are groups of U.P. residents who want the line removed completely. Protests pop up near and even on the Straits year after year. But in many Upper Michigan communities, there's an understanding that the Line is necessary.

"I think the people in Masonville Township would agree to continue with Line 5 in our area because of TransCanada Corporation in Rapid River, the Plains LPG, and also the Enbridge booster station located within our township," says Zackery Christianson, Masonville Township Fire Chief.

"Michigan uses more propane than any other state and so Line 5 provides more than half the propane the state uses," says Duffy. "It would take more than 2,100 trucks a day to move all the product that Line 5 carries. It would take more than 800 train cars to carry the product Line 5 carries. And that's not a better alternative, it's not better ... and it's not safe. So, Line 5 is the safest way to move that especially through the U.P. where the roads close in the winter."

Which again, is why Enbridge says, this tunnel is the best way to move forward and some local officials agree.

"I think it would be a safer situation in the Straits area," says Paul Geyer, Emergency Management Coordinator for Delta and Schoolcraft County. "Obviously, there are very strong opinions both ways in whether or not Line 5 should exist there. But I think the tunnel project is a better, safer project for the Straits area than the current setup they have."

"We've already spent 40 million dollars on the project last year, overall it would cost about 500-million dollars and Enbridge is committed to paying for that and then we'd turn it over to the state to own after it was built."

And even though there has been both community and legistlative pushback on the project, the company remains hopeful.

"We have had some favorable court rulings, recently. So that has given us a path forward, that we've seen to work with the state of Michigan and keep things moving, and stay on track ... so that's been good," says Duffy.

However, building the tunnel is no quick fix. The boring machine would only be able to push through 40 feet per day. Enbridge estimates this process would take roughly two years to complete the full tunnel length.

Enbridge hopes to have the tunnel online and fully operational by 2024.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Dana Nessel campaigned in 2018 on a pledge to shut down Line 5, citing fears the pipeline could cause massive damage to the Great Lakes should it fail or rupture.
Nessel continues to fight the pipeline and legislation that former Governor Rick Snyder and the Republican-led legislature approved. That legislation allowed the tunnel replacement project.