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WUWM's Susan Bence reports on Wisconsin environmental issues.

Wisconsin Enbridge pipeline hearing elicits more voices of concern than support

Water as seen in Bad River.
Susan Bence
Critics of Enbridge's proposed 42-mile reroute through a wider swath of the Bad River watershed was discussed at a Feb. 2 Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources hearing.

Shifting from fossil fuels to renewable energy has become part of international discourse. But coal-burning power plants and pipelines carrying oil and gas won’t disappear anytime soon.

One of the lines in service since 1953, owned by the Canadian company Enbridge, cuts through Wisconsin and is receiving a lot of attention.

Enbridge's Line 5 carries up to 23 million gallons of crude oil and natural gas liquids daily. The pipeline crosses 645 miles from Superior, Wisconsin to the southern tip of Lake Huron in Sarnia, Ontario.

The source of consternation in Wisconsin is the section of the pipeline that currently runs through the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa reservation.

Enbridge’s proposed reroute of that section would create a 42-mile loop outside the reservation.

READ: Concerns Over Oil And Gas Pipeline In Northern Wisconsin

For nearly 10 hours last week — stretching into early Thursday morning, people lined up virtually to tell the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources what they thought about the idea.

Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Tiffany spoke in favor of the rerouted pipeline: "Pipelines are the safest and most efficient method to transport energy products, as pipelines account for only .01% of transportation accidents in the country, making them a better and more affordable option than trucks or railcars."

Tiffany said Line 5 is vital and needs to be approved as soon as possible. "Everything about this project is a win-win. A new line will give us better technology, make it even safer. One of the tribes that is affected by this pipeline currently, [who] did not want this pipeline running through their tribal boundaries ... this honors that request by them," he said.

Bad River Band tribal chair Mike Wiggins responded: "With all due respect to the congressman, he said that this reroute proposal honors our request. The only thing we have ever asked of the oil company is to get out of our water."

The proposed reroute will occur within the same watershed, just further upstream, flowing into Lake Superior.

According to the DNR, the reroute would cross 186 waterways. Some wetlands would be filled in for the construction — temporarily or permanently.

Lake Superior's Chequamegon Bay outside Ashland, Wisconsin. The Bad River watershed makes its way into Lake Superior. Critics fear the the Line 5 reroute will increase the risk of harming the watershed and the Great Lake beyond.
Susan Bence
Lake Superior's Chequamegon Bay outside Ashland, Wisconsin. The Bad River watershed makes its way into Lake Superior. Critics fear the the Line 5 reroute will increase the risk of harming the watershed and the Great Lake beyond.

Wiggins said tribal concerns about the resource-rich watershed that, he described as the epicenter of Lake Superior's fishery, have been ignored.

“It is over 40% of the coastal wetlands of Lake Superior. This is the power center that drives the overall health of Lake Superior. And that underscores the essence of our defense and our resistance,” he said.

Representatives from trade and business associations, including the Wisconsin Paper Council and the Independent Business Association of Wisconsin, favor the pipeline, saying it helps provide reliable, affordable energy and supports jobs.

Some area residents also spoke in support of the pipeline plan. "Hello, my name is Kathy Schutte, and I live in the route of the new Line 5, and I am in support of it. It's cold in Marengo tonight — it's way below zero. We need fuel to heat our homes, drive our cars, get to work, for health reasons ... this is one of the major reasons I am in support of Line 5," Shutte said.

But Schutte was in the minority. Nearly every person living in the region closest to the proposed relocation expressed concern.

Others who live far from the Bad River watershed, like Washington state, New Jersey and Colorado, also zoomed or called in.

Madeleine Grigg, who lives in Colorado, said: “Wisconsin has so much natural beauty and wildlife, and I being young in my life, have not yet had the chance to travel and see such gorgeous landmarks such as Lake Superior. Thinking about the ways in which this pipeline would threaten such pristine spaces, the question is not what is most reasonable, but what’s at risk."

Throughout the hearing there were calls for a more extensive study of the proposal's impacts on the region's land, water and way of life.

The DNR originally planned to accept public comments through March 4, but has extended the deadline to March 18.

After the hearing, a DNR official told WUWM that the agency expects to make revisions to the draft environmental impact statement after careful consideration of all public comments.

Have an environmental question you'd like WUWM's Susan Bence to investigate? Submit below. 


Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.
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