Amid policy conference, activist groups protest oil pipeline

By Emma Kinery, Daily Staff Reporter
Published May 27, 2015

MACKINAW CITY, Mich. — Chanting “Shut down Line 5” in the direction of Mackinac Island, protesters of the Pipe Up, Pipe Out, Shut Down Line 5 Rally assembled in Conkling Heritage Park — next to the ferry livery — in hopes of influencing policy makers to remove Pipeline 5.

Members of the Oil and Water Don’t Mix Coalition gathered with the Food and Water Watch, Clean Water Action, the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, the Little Traverse Bay Band of Ottawa Indians, the Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council, the Michigan Student Power Network and Concerned Citizens of Cheboygan and Emmet County. Together, they were a group of over 100 from across the state, the majority coming from the Traverse City area.

Built in 1953 by Enbridge, Pipeline 5 sits in the Straits of Mackinac and, at the time of its construction, was projected to have a lifespan of 40 to 50 years. Sixty-two years later, these groups fear there will be an oil spill in the Great Lakes. For protesters like Lynna Kaucheck of the Food and Water Watch, the dire situation seems imminent.

“With the oil spill in Santa Barbara making headlines, and the community there and the environment there begin on a long road to recovery, today is a really important time and opportunity for us to talk about our pipeline infrastructure right here in Michigan,” Kaucheck said. “When it comes to Line 5, it’s not a question of if the pipeline will fail, but when.”

Kaucheck said she believes the likelihood of a spill is increased because of another Enbridge spill that occurred in the Great Lakes five years ago.

“When Enbridge’s Line B ruptured near Kalamazoo in 2010, residents there suffered from neurological, respiratory and gastrointestinal problems, and a third of the families in that area had to be relocated,” Kaucheck said. “Let’s be real, Enbridge has a shaky track record, from 1996 to 2013, Enbridge has 1,244 reported spills, leaks or releases. Just last summer, they were found in violation of requirements for the very pipeline we’re here to discuss.”

Her statement elicited boos against Enbridge.

The last time an event of this size was held by the Oil and Water Don’t Mix Coalition regarding Pipeline 5 was when hundreds of protesters met in St. Ignace in 2013.

The major organizers set up tents. Protesters encouraged passersby and event attendees to sign a petition to remove the pipeline, carried signs that said, “Shut Down Line 5 Pipeline,” umbrellas that read “Save My World, Save My Water,” and chanted along the roadside.

LSA junior Harry Freedman is interning with Clean Water Action over the summer and manned a tent at the protest. He said he was shocked when he learned the extremity of the issue.

“When I heard all of the details on it, I was astounded and disappointed that it still exists and that we have legislation that allows businesses to use loopholes to their own advantage,” Freedman said. “It’s such a dangerous thing.”

Lee Sprag, a representative from the Ottawa Indians, led the protesters in a traditional Ottawa welcome song with his drum. Several representatives from local tribes also spoke during the event.

During remarks at the protest, Nick Clark, organizer and member of the Oil and Water Don’t Mix Coalition, said protesters were signing in, tweeting using the hashtag #shutdownline5 and sending postcards to their representatives as well as demonstrating. Some Clean Water Action members such as LSA senior Molly Lefanowicz, who is a canvasser for the organization, said that after the protest they planned to inform community members about the issue and encourage them to sign postcards that the organization will send to their representatives.

“We came up for the day to help out at this event and also we’re going to canvass in communities,” Lefanowicz said. “We’re going to knock on doors and let them know what’s going on and how they can get involved.”

Clark said he was interested in seeing the Pipeline 5 status report from Gov. Rick Snyder’s (R) Pipeline Task Force, which is scheduled to be released in the upcoming days. Clark also condemned state Rep. Ed McBroom (R–Vulcan) for signing House Bill 4540. The legislation has been introduced into the House, and would amend the Freedom of Information Act to effectively exempt Enbridge, if passed — thus rendering records regarding the pipeline inaccessible to the public.

However, Clark said he still has faith in the legislature, highlighting the four-bill package for pipeline safety the Sierra Club and Clean Water Action created with several Michigan Representatives, including Jeff Irwin (D–Ann Arbor). He said he is hopeful for future investment in renewable resources that will help mitigate the dependence on oil.

“We know that we can do more to protect our air and water by investing in renewable energy technology,” Clark said as the protesters cheered, “and so we need more investments like that in the state of Michigan.”

Kaucheck emphasized that an oil spill affects more areas than the environment and discussed the effects a spill would have on public health. Sprag talked about how an oil spill would impact the economy.

“A spill here puts longstanding economies at risk. It puts the economy we share together at risk. It puts this great part of the world, with 20 percent of the world’s freshwater, at risk,” Sprag said. “We do not need oil cleanup jobs, we do not need respiratory specialist jobs at the hospital, we need jobs to pull out that pipeline. We need to rethink our economy. We need to get this thing back on track.”

At 3 p.m., the protesters all called Snyder’s office with their grievances in an effort to overflow his phone lines.

U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D–Mich.) did not attend the protest but heard of it while at the Policy Conference on Mackinac Island. Peters, who sits on the Senate Commerce Committee, which oversees the federal agency that oversees pipelines, said he sympathizes with the protesters and feels action must be taken for Michigan’s pipeline infrastructure.

“I’m concerned about the pipeline and safety and want to make sure that we don’t have a pipeline break, because that would be absolutely catastrophic for the Great Lakes and for our state,” Peters said. “I plan to be actively engaged in pipeline safety in bodies of freshwater — which would be the Great Lakes.”

At the Policy Conference, while U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R–Mich.) and U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D–Mich.) did not mention the pipeline in their speech titled “Bipartisan Action Plan for a Brighter Michigan,” they did emphasize the national commitment to maintaining a healthy Great Lakes ecosystem by creating a plan to deal with Asian carp and ban the sale and use of microbeads in cosmetics in the United States.

Mariah Urueta of the Food and Water Watch spoke during the protest and later attended the Policy Conference. She said she was pleased with how many people participated in the protest.

“I’m actually really content with how many local folks showed up because that’s really key: to get people who are more so in the direct area of the pipeline involved,” Urueta said. “I think there are a lot of good conversations and collaboration among the different organizations and, from the sense, I think that a lot of the individuals are going to carry on the momentum and continue to attend different events throughout the summer, and continue to work to decommission Line 5.”

During Michigan Governor Rick Snyder’s (R) opening remarks at the conference, Urueta and other protesters interrupted Snyder, to hear his comments on the pipeline. Urueta urged the governor to close the pipeline while her fellow protestors shouted “keep it pure, shut down Line 5.”

Governor Snyder sympathized with the protester’s cause, but said he was not particularly impressed with their interruption.

“To be open with you, the topic they wanted to talk about — they were yelling about — is a very important topic: it’s about the pipeline underneath the Straits [of Mackinac],” Snyder said. “I respect everything they said. They felt the need to do that. We have an important mission report coming out later in June to help address this because a lot of water is beating on it. How they [the protestors] did it, is another story which I will leave to your discussion in the later hours of today.”