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.

The establishment of a state authority to oversee the construction of the Line 5 tunnel beneath the Straits of Mackinac is constitutional, Michigan Court of Claims Judge Michael J. Kelly ruled.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel had attempted to shut down the Line 5 project completely.

At issue was a law enacted by Republican lawmakers and signed by then-Gov. Rick Snyder during last November’s lame-duck session. The law created an oversight committee to govern the construction of the proposed Line 5 tunnel by Canadian company Enbridge.

The company will pay the entirety of the estimated $500 million cost for the tunnel, which will continue to carry enough propane and natural gas to provide heat to an estimated 65 percent of Michigan’s northern Lower Peninsula and Upper Peninsula in addition to transporting fuel to Detroit Metropolitan Airport.

The tunnel would replace a pipeline that had been operated on the floor of the Mackinac Straits without a rupture for the past 66 years. Plans to bury the pipeline 100 feet in bedrock beneath the lake floor were prompted when the line was struck by a tugboat anchor in April 2018.

“We are pleased that the Michigan Court of Claims ruled in our favor,” Enbridge spokesperson Ryan Duffy said in an email to The Center Square. “We are reviewing the decision and may have further comment.”

Duffy said Enbridge remains committed to the Great Lakes Tunnel project and “we continue to believe the tunnel is the best solution for Michigan and that Line 5 can continue to be safely operated during the period while the tunnel is being constructed."

The Thursday ruling is another in a series of high-profile legal setbacks for both Whitmer and Nessel. Earlier last month, courts overturned Whitmer’s executive order to ban flavored vaping statewide and Nessel’s attempt to force all private child placement agencies with state contracts to provide adoptions and foster services to same sex couples regardless of religious objections.

"We appreciate Court of Claims Judge Michael Kelly’s quick decision as this case moves forward through the court system,” Nessel said in a statement. “We have always anticipated that this matter would be resolved in the appellate courts and we are more resolved than ever to continue this fight on behalf of the people of Michigan.”

Nessel said the state will appeal the decision.

“The State of Michigan will not rely on a foreign corporation to protect and preserve our state’s most precious resource, its Great Lakes,” she said.

API-Michigan, a division of the oil and gas industry advocacy group API, lauded Kelly’s decision.

“We welcome this decision by the Court of Claims that allows the Line 5 tunnel project to move forward, which is great news for Michigan’s working families and our economy,” API-Michigan Executive Director Pete Langley said. “The Line 5 pipelines have been safely delivering the fuels that Americans rely on for over 60 years, and the tunnel project will ensure they can continue to do so. We’re excited for Enbridge to hopefully soon begin construction on this project.”

The Michigan Chamber of Commerce also celebrated Kelly’s ruling.

"The facts are clear that the Legislature understood exactly what they were voting on and that all procedural steps in passing the law were consistent with the Constitution," Chamber Executive Vice President & General Counsel Jim Holcomb said in a statement.

"We urge the Governor and Attorney General to stop delaying and work together to get the tunnel built." Holcomb concluded.

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.