DETROIT – The long-awaited federal review of a pipeline tunnel project under the Great Lakes is officially underway.

On Monday August 15, 2022, US Army Corps of Engineers officials launched a 60-day period during which the public can help determine the extent of the problems and any alternatives to a Canadian energy company’s plan to build a tunnel under the Strait of Mackinac in Michigan to house an oil and gas pipeline.

The federal agency is expected to receive thousands of public comments on the controversial plan, which calls for Enbridge’s existing undersea pipeline, Line 5, which runs along the Lake Michigan shallows, to be rerouted through a newly constructed tunnel through the bedrock below the lake.

The Corps intends to ensure that all voices are heard through an open and transparent public process, said Corps Detroit District Commander Lt. Col. Brett Boyle.

This “scoping period” will help identify areas requiring further review, such as historic properties, water quality, general environmental effects and other issues, Boyle said.

The next two months will help set the parameters for what should be a thorough environmental assessment of the tunnel plan. A draft of that analysis should be ready for public review in the fall of next year, officials said.

This environmental impact assessment will ultimately help Corps officials decide whether to approve or reject the tunnel plan, or approve with conditions.

Public comments will be accepted in writing, and officials said online and in-person public meetings should be scheduled during this time to accept verbal comments. The deadline for comments during this period is October 14, 2022.

Tribal nations, organizations, and individuals can influence the tunnel plane; two prior public comment periods in 2020 on the tunnel plan garnered over 15,000 public comments and tribal positions.

It’s the latest leg of a years-long struggle over this section of Line 5, a nearly 70-year-old twin pipeline on the lake bed that carries 23 million gallons of petrochemicals every day.

Those on both sides of the controversy said they were eager for the federal review to be launched.

Enbridge officials said state and federal permitting processes determine the timing of the tunnel and they hope proponents will participate, as they intend to cooperate with public reviews.

“Enbridge is committed to working with the Corps to reduce the environmental impacts of construction and operation. When completed, the tunnel will make Line 5’s crossing of the strait even safer, while creating jobs in Michigan and securing much-needed energy for consumers in Michigan and the region,” said Michael Barnes, gatekeeper. -word of the company.

But those who want the tunnel plan to sink in said they were also happy to see the Corps issue its notice of intent to review the project.

Sean McBrearty, coordinator of the Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign to close Line 5, said they hoped the Corps would carry out a thorough review of the tunnel plan.

“Any honest and thorough examination of this proposal can only result in the refusal of the requested permits,” he said.

Opponents of the plan – including conservationists and tribal groups – argue that a tunnel poses a risk of explosions and oil leaks that could wreak havoc on the natural environment and local economy, and that investing in new fossil fuel infrastructure would be counterproductive given the climate crisis and the global urgency to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

But proponents argue that a tunnel is necessary to maintain stability in the energy market in the Midwest and would strengthen environmental protections for the pipeline which is now exposed to Great Lakes waters and strong currents in the Strait of Mackinac.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer revoked the company’s easement in the Great Lakes lowlands and ordered the line closed in 2020, sparking multiple lawsuits between senior state officials and the society.

Last year, a federal judge ruled that a lawsuit between the governor and the Canadian fuel transportation giant should remain under federal jurisdiction. Subsequently, Whitmer dropped her lawsuit to support that of Attorney General Dana Nessel, which had been stayed in state court.

Enbridge has also requested that the AG’s case be taken to federal court; a decision remains pending.

State environmental regulators have already approved permits from Enbridge to build the tunnel, as well as the Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority. However, a judge recently reinstated a tribal legal challenge to permits issued by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE).

EGLE permits aren’t the final word on Enbridge’s tunnel plan, which has yet to gain similar federal approval and a lengthy review by the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC), which recently requested more details on the plans. company tunnel.

The tunnel could be completed no earlier than 2028. Costs were estimated at $500 million in 2018.

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