Last night at the second gubernatorial debate, the Mackinac Bridge was celebrated but there are plans that threaten its future
and tie the hands of Michigan’s next governor.
Gretchen Whitmer's Closing Debate Remarks
Proposed Enbridge Marriage To Bridge Authority Called 'Shotgun Wedding.'
Last night in closing remarks during her debate with Attorney General Bill Schuette, candidate for governor Gretchen Whitmer celebrated the Mackinac Bridge and its storied history. But the Great Lakes State’s iconic symbol praised as an engineering wonder by Whitmer is now the target of a financially risky move that would up-end the bridge’s 61-year public ownership and is designed to handcuff Michigan’s next governor.
The future of Michigan’s storied suspension bridge spanning the Mackinac Straits and connecting the Upper and Lower Peninsulas will be on the block just two days after Michigan elects its next governor when the Mackinac Bridge Authority meets Nov. 8 in St. Ignace. That’s when the seven-member bridge authority entertains a marriage proposal from Enbridge that would tie them, the Mackinac Bridge and the future of the Great Lakes to the controversial Canadian energy transport giant.
By the time the authority meets, Gov. Rick Snyder—who is championing the Enbridge-bridge authority deal—will have a working majority of appointees and control over the authority that will extend into the term of Michigan’s next governor. His move with the authority is essentially a hurry-up political play that doesn't appear to allow for the kind of prudent, thoughtful analysis that typically accompanies important business decisions. Snyder’s allies on the authority do not include its vice chair, Barbara J. Brown, granddaughter of founding authority chair Prentiss Brown.
Brown, in a recent letter to the St. Ignace News, called Enbridge’s proposal to marry its Line 5 oil pipelines in the Mackinac Straits to the Mackinac Bridge Authority a “shotgun wedding.”
“It should never be the business of the Mackinac Bridge Authority to own and, thus, be responsible and liable for an energy tunnel that serves shareholder owned energy companies,” Brown said. “It is not why the bridge authority was created, and it is not what we do.”
"If a lame duck governor and lame-duck lawmakers want to put the Great Lakes, the Mackinac Bridge, Michigan’s taxpayers, and our state’s economy all at risk in order to benefit a Canadian multinational corporation, they will be suiting up for a long and ugly assignment as Enbridge’s trolls.” - Sean McBrearty, Oil & Water Don’t Mix coordinator
An independent governmental agency, the bridge authority has extraordinary powers, including the ability to condemn property, borrow money, issue bonds and Enbridge may even try to use the authority to bypass state environmental laws. Those powers and ambitions are what attracts Enbridge and Snyder, who see the bridge authority as a tool to keep the Line 5 oil pipelines flowing regardless of who takes office come January.
There’s at least one hitch in their plan: it’s not at all clear that the 1953 law creating the bridge authority was intended to include owning an oil tunnel completely separate from the bridge. That could change, however, if Snyder, as expected, throws the future of the bridge authority into the political swamp of the Legislature’s post-election lame-duck session where mostly politically unaccountable lawmakers do backroom deals and corporate lobbyists dominate.
There are already several questions surfacing among lawmakers about the Enbridge-bridge authority proposed nuptials, including how it would impact bridge operations. Potentially the biggest hurdle for Snyder and Enbridge surrounds the state and Michigan taxpayers assuming financial liability for an oil tunnel and any damages from a tunnel collapse and oil pipeline rupture. Some lawmakers could balk at giving Enbridge the keys to the bridge authority if it means putting the Mackinac Bridge and Michigan taxpayers at financial risk. The Enbridge-Snyder deal caps Enbridge’s liability for Line 5 damages at $1.8 billion and doesn’t address the larger financial liability questions around state ownership of an oil tunnel.
Moreover, by signing off on the proposed 99-year deal they would essentially be endorsing keeping risky and aging 65-year-old oil pipelines in the Mackinac Straits for up to 10 years or more while the tunnel is constructed to benefit a Canadian company responsible for the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history: the 2010 Enbridge pipeline rupture near Marshall, MI. It would also tie Michigan more strongly to fossil fuels instead of cleaner energy.
“If a lame duck governor and lame-duck lawmakers want to put the Great Lakes, the Mackinac Bridge, Michigan’s taxpayers, and our state’s economy all at risk in order to benefit a Canadian multinational corporation, they will be suiting up for a long and ugly assignment as Enbridge’s trolls,” said Sean McBrearty, Oil & Water Don’t Mix coordinator. “There’s no place under the bridge for them to hide from the judgment of history.”