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MACKINAW CITY, Mich. — On the day after a state deadline for Enbridge to shut down its Line 5 pipeline in Michigan’s Straits of Mackinac, hundreds of tribal and environmental activists served an “eviction notice” to the Canadian energy company at its McGulpin Point pumping station.
Sean McBrearty, campaign coordinator for the nonprofit Oil and Water Don’t Mix, read the symbolic order before posting it on the pumping station gates on Thursday. The demonstration followed a two-mile march on the second day of protests around Enbridge’s May 12 deadline to cease sending oil through its 68-year-old Line 5 pipeline on the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac.
“Enbridge has a history of not only neglecting the environment but neglecting their duty under the law,” McBrearty told Energy News Network. “They’re doing that again today by operating without an easement.”
After serving the eviction notice at the pumping station, protesters continued down the road as tribal members performed traditional songs and dances. The procession stopped at the edge of the waterway linking Lake Michigan to Lake Huron — a place of cultural and spiritual significance to the Ojibwe, Odawa, Potawatomi, and other tribal nations in the Great Lakes States.
“This is a sacred place. It’s our Jerusalem,” said Nathan Wright, a member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians and a main organizer of the demonstrations. “We as Anishinaabe have a responsibility to protect this place. We’re here to let Enbridge know their time is up.”
Enbridge continues to run Line 5 as it challenges Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s shutdown order in court, arguing that pipeline decommissioning decisions must be made at the federal level and that the governor does not have that authority. Some Republican lawmakers also oppose the shutdown, citing the pipeline’s economic impact.
The governor, meanwhile, has threatened to start seizing the company’s profits if it continues to operate the pipeline, which moves up to 23 million gallons of crude oil and natural gas liquids each day from Superior, Wisconsin, to Sarnia, Ontario.
‘A ticking time bomb’
Along with the eviction notice posted to the fence, demonstrators left moving boxes and shouted for Enbridge to “pack it up.”
Beth Wallace came in support of Whitmer’s action against Enbridge. She said she had become invested in Line 5 resistance after an Enbridge pipeline ruptured in 2010 near her hometown of Battle Creek, Michigan. About a million gallons of crude oil were pumped into the Kalamazoo river, which escalated concern for the safety of Line 5 in the straits.
“If you can imagine that happening here, it would destroy our economy immediately and for years to come,” Wallace said. “It’s just remarkable that we’re allowing this company to call the shots.”
Enbridge’s response to these safety concerns is a proposal to bury a tunnel one hundred feet beneath the lakebed, encasing a replacement section of pipe. This project was approved by former Gov. Rick Snyder in 2018, but that decision could be undone if Whitmer’s shutdown order is upheld in court.
For those marching Thursday, the proposed tunnel is not an acceptable compromise.
“The immediate problem is that there’s a ticking time bomb at the bottom of the straits today,” said McBrearty. “A tunnel completed five to ten years from now isn’t going to fix that.”
McBrearty added that the design Enbridge has proposed for the tunnel has been criticized by hydrogeologists, and that its construction shows a commitment to a continued reliance on fossil fuels.
“The world’s best climate scientists are telling us we have less than ten years to rapidly decarbonize our economy,” McBrearty said. “Why would we spend any of that time building infrastructure that will keep oil flowing beneath the Great Lakes?”
As Line 5 opponents gathered at the straits, Republican lawmakers hosted a teleconference to discuss the economic impact of shutting down the pipeline. State Sen. Ed McBroom, who represents part of the Upper Peninsula, said there’s no realistic alternative to meet his region’s energy demands, where 1 in 5 homes heat with propane.
“We need 30 million gallons of propane replaced in the Upper Peninsula alone,” McBroom said. “That’s being dismissed by this administration. They’re scaring residents of Northern Michigan and not guaranteeing anyone a new source of energy.”