Brief

Environmental groups ask Army Corps of Engineers for review of Line 5 reroute

By: - September 5, 2022 6:00 am
Enbridge sign

Enbridge, Sti. Ignace | Susan J. Demas

A group of environmental organizations have sent a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, calling on the agency to conduct an environmental review for the proposed new segment of Enbridge Line 5 in northern Wisconsin. Doing so, the groups argue, will provide an assessment which is independent from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The Aug. 29 letter was jointly submitted by Midwest Environmental Advocates, Clean Wisconsin, Honor the Earth, the Sierra Club’s Wisconsin chapter, Wisconsin Green Fire, 350 Wisconsin, and the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin.

“Environmental review by the Army Corps represents a critical opportunity for the public to provide input on a controversial proposal that continues to move forward, despite the harm it will cause,” Elizabeth Ward, executive director of Wisconsin’s Sierra Club, said in a statement. In their letter, the groups state that initiating an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) would provide an independent, comprehensive view of how the pipeline project may affect the local environment. The public would also be provided the opportunity to comment over a given period of time.

The proposed 41-mile segment of the Canadian pipeline aims to avoid the Bad River reservation by crossing through Ashland and Iron counties. “Specifically, the project will impact hundreds of wetlands and waterways, and facilitate the continued transportation of, on average, 540,000 barrels per day of unconventional crude oil and/or natural gas liquid through these sensitive areas for the foreseeable future,” the letter reads. “Not only will this segment of new pipeline adversely impact the people and the environment of northern Wisconsin, it will also prolong the life of Line 5 as a whole.”

Debate over rerouting the 645-mile pipeline, built in 1953, has been heating up over the last several months. While the Bad River Band succeeded in blocking the pipeline running through the tribe’s reservation, legal battles have continued. While the tribe aims to keep the pipeline out of its watershed entirely, many locals along its rerouted path have their own concerns. In February, a public hearing culminated in over 10 hours of testimony, from both ends of the pipeline debate. Local proponents of Line 5 pitch the project as crucial for jobs and energy production. Those pushing against the project point to the need to transition to renewable energy rather than extend the lifespan of fossil fuels. Environmental impacts from pipeline spills also weigh heavily on the minds of many.

“Given the significant risks associated with pipeline construction and operation, Enbridge’s Line 5 proposal must be held to the highest possible environmental scrutiny at both the state and federal levels, said Robb Lee, staff attorney for Midwest Environmental Advocates. Fred Clark, executive director of Wisconsin’s Green Fire, echoed Lee’s sentiment. “It’s crucial that the Army Corps independently evaluate the claims in Enbridge’s incomplete and inaccurate permit application. The people of Wisconsin have a right to know the full extent of the project’s impact on our wetlands and waterways.”

Earlier this month, the DNR announced it is assisting in the investigation of contaminated soil along Line 5. The DNR was taking the backseat to Enbridge, with the company suspecting that the contamination was from a historical discharge, and not an ongoing leak. Enbridge is required to document the actions it takes to address the contamination, including how much soil is excavated.

“No further pipeline permits should be given to Enbirdge — anywhere in the United States — until they clean up their mess in Minnesota, where they have ruptured aquifers and spilled chemical drilling fluids into our rivers and wetlands,” Paul DeMain of Honor the Earth said in a press release. The Associated Press reported in March that three aquifers were ruptured during construction of Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline. Nearly 300 million gallons of groundwater flowed to the surface from the punctures. “The safety of Wisconsin’s water resources is now at risk.”

Debra Cronmiller, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, fears the harm Line 5 could do to northern Wisconsin’s wetlands, streams, and wildlife. “As the climate crisis intensifies, those impacts would be exacerbated by extreme weather events, like floods, that are becoming more common.”

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Isiah Holmes
Isiah Holmes

Isiah Holmes is a journalist and videographer, and a lifelong resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Holmes' video work dates back to his high school days at Wauwatosa East High, when he made a documentary about the local police department. Since then, his writing has been featured in Urban Milwaukee, Isthmus, Milwaukee Stories, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Services, Pontiac Tribune, the Progressive Magazine, Al Jazeera, and other outlets. He was also featured in the 2018 documentary The Chase Key, and was the recipient of the Sierra Club Great Waters Group 2021 Environmental Hero of the Year award. The Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council also awarded Holmes its 2021-2022 Media Openness Award for using the open records laws for investigative journalism. Holmes was also a finalist in the 2021 Milwaukee Press Club Excellence in Journalism Awards alongside the rest of the Wisconsin Examiner's staff. The Silver, or second place, award for Best Online Coverage of News was awarded to Holmes and his colleague Henry Redman for an investigative series into how police responded to the civil unrest and protests in Kenosha during 2020. Holmes was also awarded the Press Club's Silver (second-place) award for Public Service Journalism for articles focusing on police surveillance in Wisconsin.

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