Michigan Water Advocate: Pipeline Expansion Puts Tribal Fishing Rights at Risk

It’s been a year since Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s order to close the Line 5 pipelines was supposed to take effect – but the pipeline system is still operating, and its company Enbridge Energy is proposing an expansion.

The expansion would route Line 5 through hundreds of waterways in Michigan and Wisconsin, and the company also plans to build a tunnel around the existing pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac.

Jannan Cornstalk is director of the Water is Life festival and a citizen of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians. She is among those who signed a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers, asking them to reject permits for expanding Line 5.

“Our community is a tribal fishing community,” said Cornstalk. “If and when the pipeline breaks anywhere along the line, it will affect so many tributaries, inland streams, lakes, not just the Straits.”

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According to the National Wildlife Federation, Line 5 leaked 29 times from 1968 to 2017.

A company spokesperson said an estimated $46 million dollars will be spent with Native-owned businesses and communities for the rerouting, and the project is undergoing reviews by state and federal regulators.

The integrity of those reviews has been questioned by tribal leaders and environmental groups.

Bill Latka is one of the co-founders of the coalition Oil and Water Don’t Mix. He pointed to research that shows anchor strikes are the most likely way that the pipelines could rupture.

“It’s located in the middle of a business shipping channel,” said Latka. “And when you put those two things – pipelines and anchors – next to each other, it’s bound to happen. There’s bound to be a rupture.”

Cornstalk added that it’s important for the Army Corps of Engineers and other agencies responsible for issuing permits to consult with Tribal Nations that have been stewards of the land for centuries.

“As tribal people, it’s like we need to be included in the conversation, immediately have consultation from the beginning,” said Cornstalk, “because we are supposed to have a government-to-government relationship, and many times that doesn’t happen.”