Protect the bridge from Enbridge oil tunnel

Plans calling for the Mackinac Bridge Authority to own the proposed Enbridge crude oil tunnel beneath the Straits of Mackinac are ill-advised.

For over 60 years, the bridge has served as a symbol of our great state – the very manifestation of the courage, cooperation, innovation, and determination of those who risked their political and professional reputations to make the bridge a reality and, also, those who risked their lives to build it.

Built in the 1950s as part of our state highway system, the Mackinac Bridge is governed by the Mackinac Bridge Authority, which is housed within the Michigan Department of Transportation for administrative purposes and has operated for over 60 years as an independent authority free from outside influence and political pressure.

To protect its revenue stream and other assets necessary to construct, maintain, and operate the bridge, the Mackinac Bridge Authority has the power to charge a fare for crossing, issue bonds to raise funds, and the power to condemn private property for its public purpose, as well as statutory protection of its financial assets from raiding by other agencies or the Legislature.

Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration, through agreements with Enbridge Inc., is seeking to hand this private, foreign corporation access to our powers through a “shotgun wedding” with the Mackinac Bridge Authority by year’s end. As of Nov. 1, the governor will have four new appointees on the bridge authority and majority control, with the authority’s next public meeting set for Nov. 8 in St. Ignace.

I strongly submit to readers that the proposed tunnel should never become the property of the Mackinac Bridge Authority. Even if the many experts who must be consulted on the efficacy and safety of such a tunnel determine it to be a safe alternative to Line 5, it would take up 10 years to build and burden the bridge authority with continuous oversight and responsibility to build a tunnel for a private corporation.

The agreement anticipates that the bridge authority will provide Enbridge the land necessary to construct the tunnel. Will this require the bridge authority to condemn its neighbors’property on both sides of the Straits? Who will pay for the appraisals, the legal costs associated with condemnation, and the ultimate price for the property? Who will be liable for accidents and unforeseen problems that are sure to rise down the road?

What are the fiscal implications for the bridge authority and, also, what will happen to bridge fares when our assets are diverted to the tunnel project? Will we need to issue bonds and incur debt to meet our new obligations? Will we need to hire more employees? Who will pay for them? Who will pay for the land? Who will be responsible for the myriad problems that are sure to arise?

Who will pay for the independent, geo-technical studies, the legal analysis of the public/private partnership, the environmental and fiscal impact studies? Very likely, the drivers of passenger cars and freight haulers at the toll booths!

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.

Barbara J. Brown is Vice-Chair of the Mackinac Bridge Authority, on which she has served since 2005. She is the granddaughter of Prentiss Brown, the first chairman of the bridge authority’s board, who served from 1950 to 1973. She can be reached at brownbj07@gmail.com.