LANSING – Environmental groups opposed to putting Enbridge Line 5 into a tunnel beneath the Straits of Mackinac said Thursday they believe an agreement between Governor Rick Snyder and the Canadian energy company is imminent, preemptively declaring it a lame-duck move that would hamstring the next governor and attorney general from taking action they see fit regarding the controversial pipeline.

Snyder’s office denied there being any plans at this time for any such announcement next week.

David Holtz with the Oil and Water Don’t Mix Coalition told reporters Thursday he believes Snyder will announce an agreement with Enbridge next week, possibly Friday, to construct a tunnel surrounding the pipeline underneath the Straits of Mackinac. Holtz and others on the call referred to the possible deal as a “sweetheart deal” with a company that has a poor track record in the state with one of its lines being the source of the largest oil spill in state history.

“That backroom deal will basically shape the outcome,” Holtz said.

Mr. Holtz said enabling such a project, which previous estimates by Michigan Technological University researchers say would take as long as seven years to construct, would saddle the next governor and attorney general with Snyder’s decision.

He cited the November 2017 agreement with Enbridge where both sides agreed to a June 15 deadline for the company to prepare a report evaluating alternatives to the current 65-year-old dual pipeline through the straits. Among the feasible options listed in the report were tunneling under the lake’s bed or using open cut construction with secondary containment.

Snyder spokesperson Ari Adler said in a statement there are no plans for an announcement.

“Discussions continue about how best to protect the Straits of Mackinac and connected waterways while continuing to provide necessary supplies to the residents of the Upper Peninsula. When a responsible agreement is reached between the state and the companies that have infrastructure in the Straits, we will make an announcement at that time,” Adler said. “There are no plans at this time for that announcement to happen next week.”

Concerns over the aging pipeline intensified earlier this year when an anchor strike in the straits damaged electric distribution lines operated by American Transmission Company and dented Line 5. Environmentalists say the anchor strike was a near-miss that could have caused a catastrophic spill.

Various studies have shown a major spill from Line 5 would cause billions in damages to shoreline, local economies and wildlife with cleanup being difficult, particularly in winter with ice in the straits.

“Governor Snyder is getting this backwards,” For Love of Water Executive Director Liz Kirkwood said.

Kirkwood said an agreement would violate Native American treaties such as the 1836 treaty granting tribes fishing rights in exchange for the land that later established the state of Michigan. The move could also trigger a flurry of attempts by other oil and natural gas companies seeking to capitalize on getting permits and agreements to move product through the Great Lakes or other highly sensitive areas.

“We are going to fight to protect our treaty rights,” Bay Mills Indian Community Chair Bryan Newland said of the possibility of legal action.

Newland said next Thursday Snyder will be meeting with tribal leaders in Lansing, followed by a meeting of tribal leaders and the Department of the Natural Resources. He said “we’ve been hearing for some time” about a possible agreement between Snyder and Enbridge. Newland anticipates tribal leaders will be informed of any agreement at that time, saying he believes the meetings are intended to provide cover for the administration that they informed tribes.

Newland, like others, questioned the need for Line 5 at all. He said it is a Canadian line largely serving Canadian interests. He said there is also the fact that there have been numerous spills during the life of the pipeline along different parts of the pipeline.

“This pipeline is all risk … and no gain,” Newland said. “Enbridge has an awful safety record.”

Newland and others on the press call pointed to the 2010 spill from Enbridge Line 6B on the Kalamazoo River, the worst in state history. Environmentalists also cited multiple times Enbridge has misled the state about damage to Line 5 that have drawn headlines.

Company officials have disputed past claims of the pipeline having no benefit to Michigan, saying it transports 55 percent of the propane used statewide and that 30 percent of its oil goes to Detroit-area refineries to be used in Michigan.

This story was published by Gongwer News Service.