The Bad River (Mashkiziibi or Medicine River) Band of Lake Superior Chippewa tribe is denying renewal of the Enbridge Line 5 crude oil pipeline easement through its reservation in Northern Wisconsin.
On the evening of January 4 the Bad River tribal council passed a formal resolution not only denying the Canada based Enbridge Energy’s easement for its 64-year-old pipeline but also calling for its decommissioning and removal from all Bad River lands and watershed.
“This is truly a historic moment, as we are the first tribe to take action in this manner over a pipeline,” said Sandy Deragon, a member of the Bad River tribe.
Indeed, as noted in an article in Earth First Journal, most public and tribal opposition to pipelines has concentrated on halting new construction.
The tribe’s decision caught Enbridge leaders unawares.
“We are surprised to learn of the Bad River Band’s decision not to renew individual easements within the reservation for Line 5 after negotiating in good faith for the past several years,” Enbridge leaders said in a statement.
Bad River tribal council member Dylan Jennings said the tribe’s decision was not related to opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) near the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota.
“We stand in solidarity with our Standing Rock relatives, but this decision has been long overdue for our community,” Jennings said. “Our people have been concerned about the safety of this pipeline for quite some time.”
Environmental and citizen groups in the region have been sharing concerns over the aging pipeline with the tribe for years, according to reports.
During the past few months as public awareness of potential problems with the pipeline grew, tribal members expressed concern about the lack of transparency of ongoing negotiations between Enbridge and Bad River tribal agencies, according to Deragon.
At last, the community called for a public pipeline meeting at which Bad River Tribal Chairman Robert Blanchard called for the January 4 resolution to deny the easement.
Although there have been no reported leaks on the Bad River reservation, there have been 85 reported leaks of crude oil from Enbridge pipelines in Wisconsin over the past decade, according to an August 2016 Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) report.
Formerly known as Lakehead Pipeline Company, Enbridge sought renewal of rights of way with the Band for the existing line that was constructed in 1953 and runs through 12 miles of land on the reservation. Fifteen individual grants of easement rights of way for Line 5 expired in 2013. However, Bad River had reacquired interests in 11 of the 15 parcels of land within the grant of easement rights of way.
“As many other communities have experienced, even a minor spill could prove to be disastrous for our people. We depend upon everything that the Creator put here before us to live mino-bimaadiziwin—a good and healthy life,” said Blanchard. “We will work with our Native and non-native communities to make sure that Line 5 does not threaten the rights of people living in our region, and we will reach out to federal, state and local officials to evaluate how to remove Line 5, and we will work with the same communities and officials to continue developing a sustainable economy that doesn’t marginalize indigenous people.”
A 645-mile-long petroleum pipeline, Line 5 carries approximately 22.7 million gallons of oil per day from Superior, Wisconsin, through Northern Michigan to Sarnia, Ontario, in Canada. The pipeline is part of Enbridge’s large Lakehead System of approximately 4,700 miles of pipe, according to Oil and Water Don’t Mix, a watchdog group.
Line 5 runs under the Straits of Mackinac, a 30-mile stretch of pristine water in Michigan where the Grand Traverse Tribe of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians has fishing rights. The tribe is lodging legal arguments against a multimillion dollar settlement between Enbridge and the EPA for the company’s oil pipeline spill in 2010, as Inside Climate News reported.
Enbridge’s Line 6B, part of the Lakehead System, along the Kalamazoo River in Michigan was the site of the 2010 “Dilbit Disaster” in which more than a million gallons of oil spilled into the Kalamazoo River, creating the most expensive oil cleanup in U.S. history—more than three-quarters of a billion dollars, according to Inside Climate News.
The Grand Traverse tribe said it was never consulted about the settlement between Enbridge and the EPA, which includes making safety upgrades on Line 5.
Bill Rastetter, an attorney representing the tribe, told Inside Climate News that had the tribe been consulted as required by the 1836 Treat of Washington, the tribe would have requested a full Environmental Impact Statement. The issue has not yet been settled.
Environmental groups as well as tribes allege that Enbridge is operating its pipelines under Lake Michigan illegally and site problems with corrosion along Line 5, according to Michigan Public Radio.
“We’ve been operating [Line 5] for over 60 years,” Brad Shamla, Enbridge’s vice president of U.S. operations told the Associated Press.
Shamla insisted the pipeline is safe and is inspected at least once every five years. He added that it is too early to speculate about the Bad River tribe’s authority over the pipeline.
“Enbridge has got a real challenge here,” Jim Bowe, a partner with King and Spalding law firm in Washington D.C. told Earth First Journal regarding the Bad River tribe’s decision not to renew the pipeline easement.
Indeed, James Freeman, partner with the law firm Zabel Freeman in Houston opined in the same article, “There’s not much you can do because tribes are sovereign; you cannot exercise the power to condemn.”
Pipeline companies can use eminent domain laws to give them rights to build projects on private land if it can be determined that construction is for the greater public good.
“We are forging new ground here,” admitted Bad River Council member Jennings.
The tribe is working closely with its natural resources department and attorneys as they create a safe process for removing the pipeline, according to Jennings.
“We have a flood of support from those in our community and in the region,” Jennings said.
“It doesn’t take an engineer to understand that a catastrophic oil spill would affect our land and water for generations to come,” he added. “We all have a right to clean water.”