Commissioners Pass Line 5 Resolution, Reject Census Resolution
By Beth Milligan | Aug. 22, 2019
Grand Traverse County commissioners heard nearly two-and-a-half hours of public comment Wednesday before voting to approve a controversial resolution of support for the proposed $500 million Enbridge tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac.
Protestors lined the Governmental Center parking lot prior to the 8am meeting, then jammed into the county commission chambers and overflow spaces in surrounding hallways. During public comment at the start of the meeting, more than 50 speakers took to the microphone to discuss the resolution, with nearly all opposed to the measure. The resolution, introduced by Commissioner Brad Jewett, expresses commission support for Enbridge's proposed project to replace Line 5 with a pipeline housed in a larger underground tunnel, urging Michigan "to work with Enbridge to complete the tunnel project as quickly as possible and not disrupt Line 5 service before the tunnel can be completed." The resolution, which was opposed by several local environmental groups, states that "multiple and extensive inspections and safety tests over the last several years have confirmed the integrity of Line 5" and that the economic consequences "are too great for Line 5 to be shut down before the tunnel replacement can be completed."
Commissioner Betsy Coffia left her seat to speak at the microphone during public comment. "We have spent no time as a board (on this issue)," she said, addressing her fellow commissioners. "We've had no study sessions. This has not been an agenda item. We've done no public deliberations...quite frankly, Enbridge is a foreign oil giant that has endless amounts of money to spend on lawyers and lobbyists to do their work for them. That's not what I was elected to do, and it's not what you were elected to do."
Other commissioners, however, defended the resolution, saying the tunnel was a safe and logical alternative to the existing Line 5 pipelines. Chair Rob Hentschel said many public comments he heard at the meeting were based on "emotion" rather than fact. Jewett, meanwhile, said he believed the resolution was in the best interest of Michigan residents. "I think all of us here definitely want safe water," he said. "I do believe that the tunnel would provide safe water for us for generations to come." Commissioners ultimately voted 4-3 to approve the resolution, with Jewett, Hentschel, Ron Clous, and Gordie LaPointe in support, and Coffia, Bryce Hundley, and Sonny Wheelock opposed. Several audience members shouted "shame" at the commissioners as they exited the chambers following the vote.
Also by a 4-3 vote, commissioners Wednesday narrowly rejected a resolution of support for including a citizenship question on the U.S. census. The resolution was first discussed at the commission's July 17 meeting, when Clous asked staff to draft a resolution to be sent to the federal government supporting President Donald Trump in putting a citizenship question on the census. At that meeting, Coffia noted the U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled such a question cannot be included in the 2020 census, and that the next census would therefore not be until 2030 and under a different presidential administration, with different county commissioners. Clous reiterated his desire to have staff bring forward the resolution for a vote.
While Hentschel, Clous, and Jewett voted to support the resolution Wednesday, LaPointe joined Wheelock, Coffia, and Hundley as a swing vote in rejecting the measure. LaPointe said he didn't see the point of the resolution. "At this point, the 2020 census is irrelevant," he said. Wheelock also advocated for including as many voices as possible in the census; opponents to a citizenship question have shared concerns it would discourage some groups from participating and thus impact federal funding distribution. "We need all the funds that we can get," Wheelock said.