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Snyder Drops Plan To Task Bridge Panel With Tunnel Oversight

Mackinac Bridge
Amanda Barberena

Gov. Rick Snyder on Monday abandoned his proposal to have Michigan's Mackinac Bridge Authority oversee the construction and operation of a tunnel to house a replacement for a controversial oil pipeline in the Great Lakes, noting that the proposal did not have enough legislative support.

The outgoing Republican governor said he supports the creation of a new state authority to handle the functions instead. His move came days after the Senate put on hold a bill that would have tasked the seven-member bridge authority with the additional responsibilities in the Straits of Mackinac, the convergence between Lakes Huron and Michigan.

"The target in all of this hasn't been the oversight decision but rather doing all we can to protect the Straits of Mackinac and the Great Lakes while ensuring energy stability for Michigan," said Snyder's spokesman Ari Adler.

Snyder and his team are working on several fronts to finalize an agreement with Canadian oil transport giant Enbridge to replace the underwater segment of its Line 5, which carries about 23 million gallons (87 million liters) of oil and natural gas liquids daily between Superior, Wisconsin, and Sarnia, Ontario, traversing large sections of northern Michigan. A more than 4-mile-long (6.4-kilometer) section, divided into two pipes, lies on the floor of the churning Straits of Mackinac.

Environmentalists, native tribes, tourism-related businesses and other critics say the twin pipelines, which were laid in 1953, are ripe for a spill that could inflict catastrophic damage on the lakes and region's economy.

Key members of the Republican-led Legislature support the tunnel that would be leased to Enbridge and potentially other users such as electric cable companies. But they said Monday they oppose involving the bridge authority in the project that is projected to take seven to 10 years and cost Enbridge $350 million to $500 million.

"I do not wish to see them distracted by another job, and because of that, I am pushing to create an entity that can meet this obligation instead of the bridge authority," GOP Rep. Lee Chatfield of Levering said on Facebook. Chatfield's district includes the Mackinac Bridge and he will be House speaker in the two-year term that starts in January.

"The most important thing is that we protect our beautiful Great Lakes and give northern Michigan families the ability to heat their homes this winter," Chatfield said. "I am doing all that I can to place a solution on Governor Snyder's desk that enables the construction of an underground infrastructure corridor with the proper oversight to hold all parties accountable."

Critics told a Senate committee last week that the legislation — if not rewritten to establish a new authority — should at the very least be revised to protect the bridge entity from legal costs and to ensure that Enbridge makes payments in lieu of taxes. Environmental groups continue to oppose the tunnel deal because the existing pipeline would keep operating for up to a decade.

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