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Bridge Authority, carefully consider tunnel plan

Nov. 8 is an important date for the future of Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac. On that day, the Mackinac Bridge Authority will meet and hear presentations about why the Authority should take ownership, once it is built, of a tunnel that has been proposed to carry a new Line 5 and other utilities under the Straits.

This week, both proponents and opponents have been busy sharing their opinion of the tunnel before next week’s meeting. If Authority board members ultimately approve the concept and assume ownership, then the drama is removed from the debate. If, however, they do not, then the question that must be answered by everyone IS, if not the Authority, then who?

Keep in mind, the Authority is not being asked to endorse the tunnel concept, only to assume ownership of the completed project.

While the proposed tunnel might not be perfect, it provides a timeline now of getting an alternative to Line 5 constructed. The alternative, by the way, would be 100 percent paid for by Enbridge Energy, with no cost to taxpayers.

If not the tunnel, then what other options are there? Horizontal drilling is not feasible. And shutting down the line really isn’t an option, as it would end up being debated in the courts and could drag on for years at taxpayers’ expense.

Here’s a sampling of the commentary regarding Line 5 this week.

One of the leading opponents to the tunnel are members of FLOW (For Love of Water).

FLOW Founder and President Jim Olson said in a news release the proposal to have the Authority assume ownership would violate the state’s constitution, threaten the financial integrity of the Authority, and make the state vulnerable to liability.

“The MBA (Authority) should postpone any hasty decisions that dilute its single-purpose mission to protect and maintain the Mackinac Bridge and that burden this authority for the next century to take ownership responsibility for a risky private tunnel venture,” Olson wrote. “The principle of MBA independence, so critical to lawmakers for six decades, is too important to be cast aside by a lame-duck governor in the waning weeks of his administration.”

A contingent of state officials from the Department of Natural Resources and Department of Transportation visited the newspaper Thursday to discuss the proposal.

DNR Director Keith Creagh and the contingent stressed that, under the tunnel proposal, no fares from the bridge would be diverted to the tunnel. Creagh emphasized that Enbridge assumes all costs associated with the tunnel’s construction and, in regards to liability, has agreed to hold $1.8 billion in reserve, should there be a catastrophic failure of the pipes and a large spill occurs.

“We should not tolerate any risk relative to the Great Lakes, so, fundamentally, no matter what side of the issue you may be on, we all appreciate the Great Lakes and make sure we want to do the most to protect them,” Creagh said.

Barbara Brown, vice chairman of the Authority, also weighed into the debate this week. Brown brings an historical perspective to the discussion as she is the granddaughter of Prentiss Brown, the first chairman of the Authority.

She pointed out that the Authority has operated “for over 60 years as an independent authority free from outside influence and political pressure.”

Brown called the tunnel proposal a “shotgun wedding” arrangement between the administration of Gov. Rick Snyder and Enbridge Energy.

“I strongly submit to readers that the proposed tunnel should never become the property of the Mackinac Bridge Authority,” Brown said. “The tunnel is not and should not be the Mackinac Bridge Authority’s responsibility. The Mackinac Bridge must remain the independent authority that has served travelers and the State of Michigan so well.” (See Brown’s full commentary on Page 7A).

The Alpena News is on record supporting the tunnel concept as a positive step toward the eventual shutdown of Line 5 under the Straits as it exists today.

Is it a perfect solution? No.

Is it a step in the right direction? Yes.

Thus, I hope Authority members give the issue some careful consideration.

“It (the tunnel concept) gets us from if Line 5 will be shut down to when it is going to be shut down,” Creagh said in Alpena on Thursday.

In my estimation, that is an accomplishment worth appreciating.

Bill Speer can be reached at bspeer@thealpenanews.com or 989-354-3111, ext. 331. Follow Bill on Twitter @billspeer13.

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