Michigan Group Says Archaeological Findings Enough to Halt Enbridge Tunnel Project
By Maya Goldman
On a foggy day in mid-September, a group of mostly Native
American women set out in a 32-foot wooden canoe to search the lake
bed of northern Michigan's Straits of Mackinac. They wanted to get
a look at energy-firm Enbridge Inc.'s Line 5 oil pipeline, where
the company is proposing to build a $500 million tunnel to encase a
replaced part of the pipeline under the Straits.
The group says they found numerous patterns of evenly-spaced
stones under the water near Line 5 that could date back 10,000
years and would mark the first finding of such man-made patterns
underwater outside of Lake Huron.
Fred Harrington Jr., a member of the group who serves on the
Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians' tribal council, said
the rock patterns were reminiscent of stone circles used in his
tribe's ceremonies. "The circles and ceremonies are part of who we
are, there's no doubt about that," he said.
The group is now hoping they have enough evidence to halt the
project, which also faces some objections from local groups for
environmental concerns, but they have an uphill battle in front of
Enbridge says the purpose of the tunnel is to virtually
eliminate the chance of a pipeline spill in the Straits. The
company will continue to work with the departments and agencies
involved in permitting, but "at the end of the day we believe that
we will be able to obtain the permits for this project," said Peter
Holran, Enbridge's director of government relations, U.S.
The group has submitted their findings to the state as a public
comment on two of the 10 major permits Enbridge needs to begin
construction on its proposed tunnel project. The state's Department
of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy will make a decision on
those two permits by early December.
The potential archaeological site will factor into the state's
decision to grant the permits, and officials are awaiting guidance
from the State Historic Preservation Office on how to proceed, a
spokesman for the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and
Energy, Hugh McDiarmid Jr., said.
The Historic Preservation Office might require an additional
survey to learn more about the findings, ask Enbridge to have an
archaeologist on-site as they are constructing the tunnel or decide
the findings aren't significant, Mr. McDiarmid said.
Matthew Fletcher, law professor and director of the Indigenous
Law and Policy Center at Michigan State University, said that even
if the project gets approved now, it could still face legal
challenges in the future, referencing continuing legal battles over
whether other pipelines, including the Dakota Access Pipeline, harm
Native American tribes.
If the rock patterns were man-made, they would have been created
the last time the Straits were above water, about 10,000 years ago
at the end of the Ice Age, said University of Michigan archaeology
professor John O'Shea. He has found similar rock patterns made by
humans 9,000 years ago in Lake Huron. He said artifacts like this
have never been documented underwater outside of Lake Huron, but
that the Straits would be a natural place for them to exist.
The idea of the expedition came up this summer, when Terri
Wilkerson and her friend Andrea Pierce, also a citizen of the
Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, decided to take an
independent look at Line 5, which transports crude oil from
Wisconsin to Ontario via the Straits of Mackinac.
Ms. Wilkerson has been organizing against Line 5 and the
proposed tunnel project since 2017, and Ms. Pierce for nearly a
decade. An 1836 treaty grants several Native American tribes the
right to fish in the Straits of Mackinac, and if Line 5 were to
cause an oil spill in the Great Lakes, "we stand to lose so much as
a people," said Ms. Pierce.
Two other Native American women quickly joined their efforts
this summer, as did Mr. Harrington. Ms. Wilkerson raised funds to
hire a contractor to use side-scan sonar equipment to search the
lake bottom for the pipeline.
It was the contractor who initially spotted the stones under the
water. The group then went back into the Straits on a community
canoe, known as a jiimaan, to get a second look at the area, with a
remotely operated vehicle.
"It was a huge project, rigging electronics, batteries, all that
crap, onto something that never carried anything but paddlers,"
said Mr. Harrington.
For Ms. Pierce, making this potential discovery "strengthens my
resolve to fight this with everything," she said. "Because this is
my culture and my traditions."
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
October 22, 2020 09:21 ET (13:21 GMT)
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