Groups want tougher action on Great Lakes pipeline

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TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — Some environmental groups are asking Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder to get state government more directly involved in efforts to determine the condition of an oil pipeline beneath the Straits of Mackinac and to guard against spills.

More than a dozen organizations signed a letter contending Snyder has the power to demand answers from Enbridge Energy Partners LP about the line, which was laid in 1953. It is part of the 1,900-mile Lakehead network, which originates in North Dakota near the Canadian border. A segment known as Line 5 runs through northern Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula before ducking beneath the Straits of Mackinac and winding up in Sarnia, Ontario.

The line divides into two 20-inch pipes beneath the straits at depths reaching 270 feet and carries nearly 23 million gallons of crude oil daily. The 5-mile-wide straits area, which links Lakes Michigan and Huron, is ecologically sensitive and a major tourist draw.

"To date, the position of the state has been that they don't have jurisdiction to do much but can encourage a review" by the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, said Jim Olson, president of FLOW, based in Traverse City. "What has been missing for 60 years is the state's assertion of its authority as trustee of the bottomlands and the waters of the Great Lakes."

Snyder spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said, "We appreciate and share the concern expressed in this letter for protecting Michigan's waters. That's exactly why our administration, in coordination and cooperation with the attorney general, has taken multiple steps to date, including the formation of a special task force to look at these very issues."

The state attorney general's office and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality posed a lengthy series of questions to Enbridge about the pipeline in April. The agencies received the company's response last week, said Brad Wurfel, spokesman for the DEQ.

The information will be made public after it's reviewed by the task force that DEQ Director Dan Wyant and Attorney General Bill Schuette appointed to look into all pipelines transporting oil around the state, Brad Wurfel said.

"It's an enormous amount of information," he said. "The task force members are looking forward to reviewing it. We're as concerned as anyone about the protection of Michigan's waters."

Enbridge Energy Partners is a unit of Calgary, Alberta-based Enbridge Inc.

Company spokesman Larry Springer said the straits pipeline crossing "has operated without incident since its construction, and through even greater oversight and the use of new technology, Enbridge is committed to maintaining this incident-free record into the future."

The environmental groups said Michigan's recent actions were encouraging but more should be done. They said conditions of an easement that the state granted Enbridge when the pipelines were placed beneath the straits give Snyder leverage to demand detailed information about the contents, safety and use of Line 5.

Another legal tool would be the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act, which provides for protection and preservation of the public's interest in bottomlands, the groups said.

State leaders "have broad authority to demand that Enbridge conform to the duties and standards and correct or address any violations or potential violations of public trust law," the letter said.

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