While most of the $500 million safety project still requires state approvals, Calgary-based Enbridge Inc. has started work on tunnels for water crossings of its contested 540,000 b/d Line 5.

Deliveries have begun through a $20 million tunnel that replaced a 66-year-old riverbed trench. The tunnel consists of new pipe in a tube 2,814 feet long and 30 feet beneath the St. Clair River between Port Huron in Michigan and Sarnia in Ontario.

Line 5 also has faced legal hurdles in Wisconsin. Enbridge has secured landowner agreements to a right-of-way that steers a 40-mile detour around the reservation of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. The tribe had filed a lawsuit that demanded Line 5 be removed and damages of $45 million. The new right-of-way deals avoided a court fight and a regulatory battle over construction on property outside the native territory.

Strife continues in Michigan over Line 5, which carries natural gas liquids and oil to the U.S. Midwest and Central Canada. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel won office in late 2018 on a platform that called for shutting down Line 5. 

A verdict has yet to be issued by Michigan’s Ingham County Court in Lansing on a lawsuit that seeks to cancel a 1953 state easement allowing construction of a four-mile leg of Line 5 between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.

Whitmer and Nessel accepted a defeat in the Michigan Court of Appeals, which rejected their claim that an agreement with the former administration to put the straits crossing in a tunnel was unconstitutional. A deadline for further appeal passed without action.

The battle of Line 5 moves next to the Michigan Public Service Commission. Whitmer appointed Chair Dan Scripps and commissioner Tremaine Phillips. Commissioner Sally Talberg, who was appointed by the former Republican governor, is set to step down in 2021. A public hearing on the Line 5 tunnel is set for Monday (Aug. 24). 

“Enbridge’s Line 5 Project,” said the commission, “involves significant factual and policy questions and complex legal determinations that can only be resolved with the benefit of discovery, comprehensive testimony and evidence, and a well-developed record in a contested case proceeding.”