On July 1, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will hold a virtual public hearing related to the Enbridge Energy application to re-route its Line 5 pipeline project in Ashland, Bayfield and Iron Counties. The proposed 42-mile project generated controversy for its potential impact on the environment and Native American communities. Enbridge Line 5 and the Native opposition against it have been compared to the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) troubles of 2016.
Enbridge’s application is specifically for a waterway and wetland permit, which would be needed for the project’s re-routed path. The decision to re-route came to a head in 2019, after a successful lawsuit filed by the Bad River Tribe to keep the project off the tribe’s reservation. Line 5 carries up to 540,000 barrels of oil and natural gas every day, traveling from Superior to Ontario, Canada.
“Enbridge was disappointed by legal action taken in July 2019 by the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians to remove the pipeline from its reservation,” the company states on its website, “after nearly seven years of good-faith negotiations and formal mediation.” The company began studying a new path around the reservation for some 12 miles of the 645 mile pipeline.
Although the company states that, “safety is our top priority,” the tribe and its allies reject that assertion. A different pipeline operated by Enbridge, line 6B, spilled approximately 843,000 gallons of oil into a creek which flows into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River. The river is also a tributary for Lake Michigan and, due to heavy rains, the oil flowed some 35 miles downstream in the Kalamazoo. According to Michigan Live, Line 5 itself has spilled at least 1.1 million gallons over the past 50 years.
The spirit of opposition against Line 5 drew from the resistance against DAPL. Several Native American tribes united with non-Native allies to protest and block the project, which entered the Standing Rock Reservation and damaged cultural sites. Militarized police and private companies cracked down on the protests over the course of several months. Since the project has continued operation, it’s has had at least five spills in 2017.
Enbridge states that there have been no spills on the Wisconsin portion of the pipeline in 15 years. “Of the three incidents on Line 5 in Wisconsin, the two most recent, in 1992 and 2002, were located at Enbridge’s Superior Terminal, and were contained within our facility.”
The pipeline’s proposed reroute, according to the DNR, would affect 109 acres of wetland. Some 29.5 acres of wooded wetland would be converted to non-wooded wetland. “Of the 186 waterways that exist within the proposed project area,” reads a DNR press release, “185 would be temporarily bridged for vehicle access and 87 would have the new pipeline installed via open-cut trenching or dredging.”
Wisconsin’s wetlands represent unique and sensitive habitats which have become increasingly endangered by private industry. They shelter numerous threatened species, and play their own roles in flood control.
For instance, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that an acre of wetland can store 1-1.5 million gallons of floodwaters. With climate change bringing more flooding and heavier rains to the Badger State, preserving wetlands is increasingly timely. According to the DNR, nearly 40% of Wisconsin’s 350 species of birds live in or use wetlands, in addition to countless other life forms. “One-third of the plants and animals on Wisconsin’s state endangered and threatened species list depend on wetlands,” the Department states.
The virtual public hearing will also explore an Environmental Impact Statement compiled on the re-route. It will begin at 4PM on July 1, with access through Zoom or over the phone. “The public is encouraged to attend the online hearing to provide oral comments on the permit application and the scope of the Environmental Impact Statement,” the Department’s release on the event reads. Written comments can also be submitted until Saturday, July 11.