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Dickinson supports Enbridge tunnel pipeline

THE EAST LEG of Enbridge Inc.’s Line 5 pipeline near St. Ignace. The line runs under the Straits of Mackinac. (Dale G Young/Detroit News via AP, File)

IRON MOUNTAIN — Dickinson County adopted a resolution Monday in support of Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline, urging completion of a tunnel replacement project with no disruption of service.

The resolution comes in response to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s recent demand the company shut down its oil pipeline that crosses the bottom of the waterway connecting Lake Huron and Lake Michigan.

“We can’t give up this fight,” said Commissioner Joe Stevens, saying a shutdown would severely restrict propane supplies in the Upper Peninsula, leading to price hikes.

“I think we’ve been very proactive on this — our county,” Stevens said, predicting negative consequences statewide if the pipeline closes.

The board adopted the measure unanimously, although Commissioner Kevin Pirlot said he’d like assurances a new tunnel can be completed in several years. “I support the concept of the tunnel, but it can’t take forever,” he said.

Extensive inspections and safety tests have confirmed the integrity of Line 5, the county’s resolution states. It also notes Enbridge’s proposed $500 million investment in the replacement project and the crucial need to continue fuel shipments in the meantime.

“We all want it to be done safely,” Stevens said.

The 67-year-old pipeline has been targeted for shutdown by environmentalists who fear the implications of a spill in the Straits of Mackinac. A month ago, Whitmer accused Enbridge of failing to safeguard Great Lakes waters. A Michigan Department of Natural Resources report said Enbridge has failed to meet numerous safety standards.

Enbridge, in turn, has filed a legal challenge to the Nov. 13 shutdown order, set to take effect in 180 days.

Line 5 moves about 23 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids daily between Superior, Wisconsin, and Sarnia, Ontario, traversing parts of northern Michigan and Wisconsin.

The underwater section beneath the straits is divided into two pipes. Enbridge says they are in sound condition and have never leaked, while Whitmer contends they’re vulnerable to a catastrophic spill.

Enbridge reached an agreement with then-Gov. Rick Snyder in 2018 to run a new pipeline section through a tunnel that would be drilled beneath the lake bottom. The company is seeking federal and state permits for the project, which has drawn support from industry and labor groups and is not directly affected by Whitmer’s shutdown order.

In other action during its Zoom meeting, the county board:

— Rejected, by a 3-2 vote, a motion from Stevens to send an email to President Donald Trump, thanking the entire Operation Warp Speed team for the rapid development of a COVID-19 vaccine. Pirlot countered that Trump has been uncooperative with President-elect Joe Biden during the transition to a new administration. Stevens was joined by fellow Republican Barbara Kramer in voting yes, while Democrats Pirlot and John Degenaer Jr. voted no, along with Chairman Henry Wender, a Republican.

— Tabled a resolution of support for Michigan House Bill 6452, which would allow counties to contract with a private security company to transport individuals for involuntary psychiatric hospitalization and screening. Sheriff Scott Rutter said he’d like further study of liability risks and other implications of the bill, sponsored by state Rep. Beau LaFave, R-Iron Mountain.

— Agreed to accept proposals until Jan. 11 on health care counseling services to be funded through a millage county voters approved Nov. 3. The tax levy of 0.1 mills, or 10 cents per $1,000 of taxable value, will raise an estimated $93,000 annually to help provide professional assistance for obtaining Medicare, Medicaid, prescription drugs, affordable health insurance and other related health care benefits. The Medical Care Access Coalition is currently performing such work, but the process is open to other potential bidders.

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