Mich. Flotilla Protest Pushes Gov. Snyder To Protect Great Lakes From ‘Catastrophic’ Spill (IMAGES/VIDEOS)

The Great Lakes are at dire risk of devastation at any moment, all for the private profit of a single Canadian company, Enbridge, with a track record of environmental catastrophe in Michigan already. What’s more is that the pipelines pumping light crude oil and natural gas liquids under the Mackinac Bridge connecting Michigan’s lower and upper peninsulas are older than the one that ruptured and virtually killed the Kalamazoo River back in 2011, referred to by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as the largest on-land oil spill in American history.

Readers can check out one video on the matter, below:

What could go wrong with such a pipeline under the world’s largest collective body of freshwater, providing drinking water for some 35 million people – 10 percent of the U.S. population (30 percent of Canada’s)? What could go wrong for that 20 percent of the world’s surface freshwater supply, the surrounding land, wildlife, residents and tourist economy – the very quality of life for all those living near the shores of the Great Lakes?

Luckily, there are many people working diligently to bring the matter to national attention and force enough pressure to shut the pipelines down. Just last weekend, over the Labor Day holiday, when Michigan hosts its annual Bridge Walk across the Mackinac Bridge, complete with local, state and national government officials, as well as a few celebrities here and there, several groups got together for a flotilla demonstration to do just that.

Titled the “Pipe Out Paddle Protest & Bridge Walk,” the event took place Sunday, Sept. 6, and brought together groups such as Idle No More, the MI CATS (Michigan Coalition Against Tar Sands), D CATS (Detroit Coalition Against Tar Sands) and L CATS (Lansing Coalition Against Tar Sands), not to mention Food & Water Watch, the Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities, Oil & Water Don’t Mix, the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians and the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians. Mixed amongst the groups were also longtime dedicated Occupiers who have continued organizing for environmental and social justice since at least 2011, as well as concerned citizens aligned with no group whatsoever.

The flotilla demonstration took place largely at Colonial Michilimackinac Park, in Mackinac City, Michigan, next to the Mackinac Bridge. Kayakers and “tribal jiimans (canoes)” raised two banners on the waters of Lake Huron that day, reading “WATER IS LIFE” and “SHUT DOWN LINE 5” while demonstrators cheered them on from the park, where several informational booths were set up to help further inform the public of the dangers the pipelines, known as Line 5, pose.

In a nutshell, literature gathered at the event states:

“Paddlers are calling on Governor Snyder and Attorney General [Bill] Schuette to shut down the Enbridge Line 5 oil pipeline to prevent a catastrophic Great Lakes oil spill.”

Program Director at Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities Jim Lively stated in greater detail, however:

“I work at the Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities, formerly Michigan Land Use Institute, based in Traverse City. I am one of the founding partners of the Oil and Water Don’t Mix campaign, which now includes more than 20 groups from around Michigan working together to Shut Down the Enbridge Line 5 pipelines that run under the Straits of Mackinac, just over a mile from here.

“That’s right. As we stand on the shore of these beautiful Mackinac Straits, in the shadow of the Mackinac Bridge that is iconic of the vaunted ‘Pure Michigan,’ we are within the immediate spill zone of two 20” pipelines pumping 23 million gallons a day of dirty oil. Those pipelines are exposed in the open water of… Lake Michigan, more than 200 feet deep, and they are more than 62 years old. That’s right, they were built before anyone could buy a color television.

“For years, those pipelines were completely forgotten. But in July, 2011, a younger pipeline owned by the same Canadian corporation, Enbridge, ruptured near Marshall, Michigan, spilling a million gallons of tar sands oil into the Kalamazoo River. That was the wake-up call that launched a campaign to raise awareness about this incredible threat to the Great Lakes. Last summer, more than 20 environmental groups came together to form the Oil and Water Don’t Mix campaign – initially to raise awareness about this pipeline.

“In just the past year, we have elevated this to a top tier issue in Michigan. As a result of our efforts, Governor Snyder formed a Petroleum Pipeline Task Force to study the issue. Importantly, the Task Force clarified that Michigan has all the authority necessary to shut down the pipeline. Specifically, Attorney General Bill Schuette could immediately wield his authority as Michigan’s top attorney to file an injunction to shut down the pipeline. At the time of the Task Force report, Schuette said a couple of important things – that we would never allow this pipeline to be built here today, and that the days of this pipeline are numbered. Well, it’s been 54 days since Schuette said that, and nothing substantive has happened to shut down the pipeline.

“Yet, last week there was some news that Governor Snyder has appointed another committee to being another long process to further study the pipeline problem. And state officials convinced Enbridge to agree to never allow heavy tar sands oil in the Line 5 pipeline – something Enbridge had already indicated they did not plan to do.

“So there has been some grandstanding, and some strong language – but no action. We’re also now beginning to see a well-funded media campaign by Enbridge to attempt to persuade the people of Michigan to trust them with the waters of our Great Lakes. To trust them with these iconic straits.

“What is most needed now to shut down this pipeline, more than another study or another committee, is a clear, loud and overwhelming message from the citizens of Michigan that elect our top leaders that we demand they not risk our clean Great Lakes waters for corporate energy profits.

“What is happening here today with this amazing kayak flotilla is evidence of the clear, overwhelming position of the people of Michigan that it is past time to Shut Down This Pipeline!”

Further information offered at the demonstration also states:

“Line 5 was built in 1953, before a law known as the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act was adopted. Now, because of the Act, if a company sought to build a pipeline on the bottom of the Great Lakes, it would have to go through a permitting process to ensure that the pipeline’s use of the Lakes would not pose a threat to the waters or to the public’s use of the waters – such as fishing or navigation. Line 5 has not had to get approval for its use and for its occupation of the Great Lakes bottomlands.”

It should also be known that “one out of every five jobs in Michigan is linked to the high quality and quantity of fresh water, and, according to Michigan State University Extension, ‘Tourism is one of Michigan’s largest income industries based on the billions of travelers’ dollars spent, generation of state and local taxes, and the nearly 150,000 jobs it creates.” And you can bet the amazing lakes around Michigan are the largest draw for tourists in the first place.


“Agriculture, fisheries and shipping/transportation also depend on the Great Lakes, which deliver over 50 billion gallons of water daily for industrial, agricultural and municipal uses. In 2009, the Lakes were linked to over 1.5 million jobs, with Michigan accounting for 35 percent of the jobs.”

Clearly, it’s plain as day that the Great Lakes are far too precious a resource to gamble with a company that already has “the worst on-land oil spill in American history.” To underline that point further, take a few minutes to read up on how Enbridge has dealt with the infamous spill into the Kalamazoo River, and you’ll get a clearer picture as to what might occur should a spill actually take place in the Straits of Mackinac.

A 2014 University of Michigan study states:

“Within 20 days of a spill or leak, contaminants could cover large ground – diffusing material both southeasterly to Rogers City in Lake Huron and westerly to Beaver Island in Lake Michigan. A contaminant release in the Straits could severely impair the surrounding ecologically sensitive areas.”

Most disturbingly, however, is the fact that scuba divers inspecting Line 5 in 2013 found “structural defects.” The following year, at least one “pinhole” leak was detected. Anyone knows a small break in a dam can lead to its whole collapse due to the pressure behind it. A pipeline pushing 23 million gallons a day is not much different, and word is Enbridge is actually seeking to double the pipelines’ output, rather than shut it down.

Something needs to be done before an environmental holocaust ruins not only the Great Lakes, plants and wildlife, as well as the state of Michigan, but every other state bordering the Great Lakes, and Canada, too. This is why the flotilla banners read:


For further information, contact flotilla organizer Jannan Cornstalk, Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities program director Jim Lively, and Mariah Urueta of Food & Water Watch.

Love and solidarity to all you CATS and environmental warriors out there. Together, we are Idle No More!


Featured image via Dylan Hock