2018-07-07 / News

Warning Signs for Freighters May Be Posted on Mackinac Bridge Legs

By Stephanie Fortino

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) may ask the Mackinac Bridge Authority to install signage or equipment on the Bridge to remind freighters and ships not to drop their anchors while traveling through the Straits of Mackinac.

DNR Director Keith Creagh and Michigan Agency for Energy Executive Director Valerie Brader attended the Bridge Authority’s finance meeting on Mackinac Island Tuesday, June 26, three days before Enbridge released more reports about the pipeline that crosses much of Michigan and many of its waterways. One of the reports said installing warning signs on the Bridge or on the shoreline is a possible way to reduce the risk of anchor strikes.

The extra warning measurers, such as new signs, are immediate steps the DNR can take while the ultimate future of Line 5 is decided, Mr. Creagh told the Town Crier following the meeting. Since the plan hasn’t been formalized, he and Ms. Brader provided a progress report to the Bridge Authority’s finance committee. A formal proposal to install warning signs or devices on the Bridge would be presented to the whole Bridge Authority board.

Calls for measurers to reduce the risk of an oil spill from Line 5 have been renewed after a vessel’s anchor was dragged through the Straits of Mackinac April 1, severing two American Transmission Company electric cables and denting both of the Line 5 pipes. The incident and the ensuing emergency response measures generated additional interest in the utility lines that cross the Straits.

“It’s a fascinating conversation to have when you start looking at what’s under the Straits,” Mr. Creagh said. “Certainly there’s a conversation about Line 5, but due to the ATC incident, we found out that. . . there are significant other lines that either have been decommissioned or left in place or abandoned.”

The emergency response effort provided a learning experience for all the agencies and organizations involved, he said.

The state is formalizing the emergency rule that does not allow vessels to anchor in the Straits of Mackinac, which has been included on National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration nautical maps for years, Mr. Creagh said.

As for Line 5, Mr. Creagh explained that the state is reviewing a series of reports published in June about various aspects of the pipeline, which Governor Rick Snyder will reference when making a final decision about the future of Line 5 this fall. The latest reports were unveiled June 30 (see related story in this issue).

In mid-July, Professor Guy Meadows of Michigan Technological University will complete a draft of a new risk analysis for Line 5. The final report is due September 15.

“That will be very important to look at insurance and bonds and financial securities and maturity,” Mr. Creagh said. “But our risk needs to be very, very low.”

Once the risk analysis is finished, the state will continue working with Enbridge on amending its November 2017 agreement with the company or developing a new agreement on the future of Line 5. Throughout the summer, the state is in discussions with the company.

One of the options Enbridge explored was replacing the portion of Line 5 at the Straits of Mackinac with a new pipeline beneath the Straits. Gov. Snyder is interested in replacing the twin pipelines with a tunnel. Part of the November 2017 agreement was to replace the portion of Line 5 at Lake St. Clair with a tunnel, which Enbridge is pursing through the permitting process.

The governor has expressed interest in the tunnel option under the Straits,” Ms. Brader said. “Depending on the environmental damage and the feasibility, it’s something he’s definitely interested in further exploration of.”

Pipelines are subject to federal regulations that don’t necessarily take into account state infrastructure elements such as the Mackinac Bridge.

Mr. Creagh mentioned the water crossings report is important to make sure every water feature that could be affected by a spill from Line 5 is being considered, including the portion of the line that runs along shoreline at US-2.

The Mackinac Bridge utilizes signs to warn motorists, Mr. Creagh said, but such opportunities for warnings aren’t available to mariners. The state is relying on a seasonal buoy to provide real-time data on lake conditions, but the device must be removed each winter, he explained.

“We need a longer detection period process,” Mr. Creagh said, especially during the fall and winter when the most adverse weather occurs.

Dr. Meadows is developing a device that could be attached to a land base or the Bridge to give real-time data year-around, which will increase safety, Mr. Creagh said.

The state is exploring how it might install technology to communicate with captains as they travel through the Straits. The state also is considering whether there should be a mandatory checkpoint for all vessels before sailing over the utility corridor west of the Bridge.

“Midterm, we need to harden the surface, harden those processes that will prevent or reduce to the greatest extent possible another incident,” he said.

The U.S. Coast Guard also is reviewing its procedures to make sure penalties for violating the noanchor edict are consistent with the action, Mr. Creagh added.

Bridge Authority Chair Bill Gnotdke asked whether tunneling under the Straits would cause reverberations that could affect the footings of the Mackinac Bridge, which rest on bedrock. Mr. Creagh said the bridge should be unaffected by the tunnel, if that option is pursued.

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