Enbridge Line 5 Oil Pipeline Relocation – Wisconsin’s Green Fire Analysis of Waterway and Wetland Permit Application

WI Green Fire, July 13, 2020

Timber mat and construction equipment
Photo: John Spangberg

On July 1st, 2020 the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) held a public hearing on a Waterway and Wetland Permit Application from Enbridge Energy for their proposed re-route of portions of their Line 5 oil pipeline which currently runs through the Bad River Indian Reservation in Ashland and Iron Counties.  Wisconsin’s Green Fire (WGF) has completed an analysis and provided extensive comments in response to the Enbridge permit application.

Assistant Director Nancy Larson testified at the July 1, 2020 public hearing.

WGF members Nancy Larson and Tom Jerow submitted written comments on the Enbridge application on July 11th.

The proposed relocation of the Enbridge Line 5 oil pipeline around the Bad River Indian Reservation would still put the high quality waters, lands, and cultural resources of the Lake Superior region at risk. The proposed relocation would skirt the Reservation and construct the pipeline further upstream in the watershed. Many organizations and citizens, including Wisconsin’s Green Fire, are particularly concerned about the risk of an oil spill in this area. Wisconsin’s Green Fire recognizes that the Department of Natural Resources does not have broad authority over the location of an oil pipeline. For more information on the project, see the DNR Enbridge web page at https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/eia/enbridge.html, which has links to a recording of the public hearing, information on the scope of the Environmental Impact Statement, and links to the Enbridge submittals for the Waterway and Wetland Permit and the Environmental Impact Report prepared by the company.

The exact route of the Line 5 Relocation project has not been established, since negotiations with landowners continue, and the Enbridge application for a Public Interest Determination for authorization to condemn property is before the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin. Wisconsin’s Green Fire commented that the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) should be developed based on exact information on the route, water crossings, and wetland impacts. The EIS should include robust evaluations and consideration of the unique unstable watersheds and hydrology in the Lake Superior basin which can/could lead to flooding and catastrophic events. These watershed factors would impact structural stability of the pipeline, increase the risk of spills, and affect spill response. Furthermore, the construction of the pipeline could easily exacerbate hydrological impacts and watershed stability.

WGF maintains that the information submitted by Enbridge in the Waterway and Wetland Permit application is incomplete. Enbridge has not submitted site-specific plans for each waterway and wetland crossing. The permit decisions and conditions need to be informed by the actual site-specific plans and the analysis of the EIS. Wisconsin’s Green Fire recommends that a second public comment period be held on the permit application after the EIS is complete and Enbridge submits complete site-specific plans and information for each waterway and wetland crossing. Without this input opportunity, the public is denied the right to review and comment on the actual defined project.

Wisconsin’s Green Fire (WGF) is a statewide conservation organization formed in 2017 with a mission to support the use of science in natural resource decision making. Our members have extensive experience in natural resource management, science, education, law, and other fields. Our review team includes people with Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources experience who have reviewed and issued hundreds of waterway and wetland permits. Our team also includes people who have worked in the Lake Superior basin in regulatory and resource management fields. WGF and Midwest Environmental Advocates developed fact sheets about oil pipeline approvals and permits in Wisconsin to help concerned citizens understand the government authorities and opportunities for public input.

You can visit Wisconsin Public Radio’s coverage of the July 1, 2020 public hearing.

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