FILE - The Mackinac Bridge in Michigan

The Mackinac Bridge, connecting Michigan's Upper and Lower Peninsulas, carries vehicles over waters flowing from Lake Michigan and into Lake Huron.

Grand Traverse County became the fourth county in Michigan and the first county in the Lower Peninsula to pass similar resolutions approving the proposed Enbridge Line 5 tunnel. Other counties passing resolutions in favor of the proposed Line 5 project include Gogebic, Iron and Dickinson.

Although the resolutions only represent the sentiments of county commissioners and are only symbolic, they serve as a rebuke of efforts by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel to scuttle a 2018 agreement between Enbridge, the Department of Natural Resources and former Gov. Rick Snyder. Under that plan, Enbridge would remove the current pipeline and replace it with a $500 million tunnel buried 100 feet beneath the bedrock of the Straits of Mackinac.

Gary Wolfram, William Simon professor of economics and public policy at Hillsdale College, has defended Line 5 in essays written for the Lansing State Journal and the Detroit News.

In a conversation with The Center Square, Wolfram noted the pipeline makes economic sense not only for Enbridge, but its customers as well.

“Moving by pipe is safer and cheaper than transporting by rail or trucks,” he said, adding that shutting down Line 5 would require 2,000 trucks to move the same amount of petroleum products as the pipeline, which is two to three times more expensive. “This would also drive up the cost of road repairs in the state.”

Wolfram added that fuels transported by Line 5 also supply the state’s largest airports after the fuel leaves a Toledo refinery. He warned that closing Line 5 would result in increased unemployment from closed refineries; falling property tax collections; and increased prices at the gas pump.

“The main point,” Wolfram said, “is there has never been an issue with Line 5 since 1953. The federal government said Line 5 is safe, and moving it 100 feet under bedrock would be even safer. The costs of eliminating ... are far higher than any gains from closing the pipeline.”

During negotiations with Enbridge last spring, Whitmer insisted on shutting down the pipeline in two years, despite the anticipated five years it would take to build the tunnel. Nessel subsequently filed a lawsuit against Enbridge in late June to shut down and decommission Line 5.  

“Real-world events have shown me we can’t wait another five to ten years for Enbridge to build a tunnel,” she said in a statement.

The tunnel proposal was devised after a tugboat anchor caused minor damage to the Line 5 pipeline earlier in 2018. Under the agreement, Enbridge would shoulder the entire $500 million cost of building the tunnel, which would also house multiple utility transmission lines.

The Canada-based company has been transporting oil and natural gas across the Straits of Mackinac since 1953. Prior to the lines, the company employed oil tankers to transport the cargo across the Great Lakes. The lines move approximately 540,000 barrels of fuel each day.

“I don’t know of a single person who actually hopes for an oil spill in the Great Lakes,” Mackinac Center for Public Policy Environmental Policy Director Jason Hayes said in an email to The Center Square. “But I do know of millions of people in Michigan, Ohio and the province of Ontario who benefit daily from the energy, jobs and other benefits that flow through, or from, the existence of Line 5.”

He continued: “By litigating to have the pipeline closed immediately, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel are causing a direct harm to the economies of two states and a Canadian province. They are exposing thousands of workers across the region to job losses, and they are ensuring transportation and heating fuels will be in shorter supply and at higher prices.”

Hayes concluded: “Even worse, their actions could potentially leave the pipeline in the waters of the Great Lakes for far longer than the five years it would take Enbridge to build the tunnel and relocate the pipeline while the issue works its way through the courts.”

Regional Editor

Bruce Walker is a regional editor at The Center Square. He previously worked as editor at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s MichiganScience magazine and The Heartland Institute’s InfoTech & Telecom News.