Tribal Nation Challenges Pipeline Permit Approval

Michigan State Agency approved a permit for the Line 5 Pipeline replacement in the fragile Straits of Mackinac before required analysis was completed


Keith Rushing, Earthjustice, (757) 897-2147

Bala Sivaraman, Earthjustice, 617-650-6422

Debbie Chizewer, Earthjustice, 773.484.3077

Whitney Gravelle, Bay Mills Indian Community, (906) 248-8120

David Gover, Native American Rights Fund, (720) 352-6150

The Bay Mills Indian Community has challenged a permit issued to Enbridge Energy by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) that would allow Enbridge to build a massive tunnel beneath the Straits of Mackinac to house a new segment of its Line 5 pipeline. EGLE, despite recommendations from the MI State Historic Preservation Office and opposition from Tribal Nations, granted the permit before the key cultural and archaeological studies were completed — studies that were required by law as part of EGLE’s evaluation of the tunnel permit application.

“It is incredibly disturbing to learn that EGLE approved this permit without performing sufficient analysis into this pipeline’s far-reaching impacts on our cultural resources and treaty-protected fish and plant populations,” said Whitney Gravelle, President and Chairwoman of the Bay Mills Indian Community. “Side-stepping the concerns of Tribal Nations and rubber-stamping this project before the necessary studies were completed signals a deeply concerning indifference to Tribal sovereignty.”

Earthjustice, in partnership with the Native American Rights Fund (NARF), represents the Bay Mills Indian Community in the Tribe’s fight to protect the Straits and the Tribe’s treaty rights throughout waters in Michigan.

“EGLE sidelined the concerns of the Tribal Nations and the State Historic Preservation Office, a sister agency with expertise over historic preservation and cultural landscapes in Michigan, and ignored its statutory obligation to evaluate the Project’s effects on historic and cultural resources,” said Earthjustice Attorney Adam Ratchenski.

“Enbridge has failed to justify how this pipeline tunnel will be in the public interest while disturbing an area of such historic and cultural significance as the Straits of Mackinac”, said Native American Rights Fund attorney David Gover. “This permit was granted without the adequate information necessary to address the grave concerns of the Tribal Nations who stand the most at-risk from its approval.


The permit, issued under Parts 303 and 325 of Michigan’s Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, would allow the destruction of sensitive wetlands and the placement of structures on the bottomlands within the Straits of Mackinac. This permit is one of many approvals that Enbridge must receive before beginning construction of its Line 5 Tunnel Project. At the state level, this includes the Michigan Public Service Commission’s contested case process for rerouting the Line 5 pipeline through a tunnel, in which Bay Mills has intervened with Earthjustice and NARF’s representation. At the federal level, this includes the Army Corps of Engineers’ review of Enbridge’s Clean Water Act permit application. With Earthjustice and NARF’s representation, Bay Mills has submitted substantive comments to the Army Corps, seeking a denial of that permit.

  • Line 5 crosses over 290 rivers and streams, many of which are interconnected and flow to the Great Lakes and the Straits of Mackinac, and throughout which Bay Mills has treaty-protected fishing, hunting, and gathering rights.
  • The Great Lakes are the largest source of fresh water in the world, supplying drinking water for 48 million people. 
  • If Enbridge is successful oil could continue flowing under the Straits of Mackinac for 99 years. 
  • In 2010, Enbridge caused the largest inland oil spill in our nation’s history when another one of its pipelines released nearly one million gallons of oil into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River.
  • In November 2020, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Department of Natural Resources Director Dan Eichinger notified Enbridge that it will revoke and terminate the 1953 easement allowing the oil giant to operate dual pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac to transport petroleum and other products. 

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