All Hands on Deck

On the last day of May, 2017, the Great Lakes Business Network – with support from the National Wildlife Federation and the Groundwork Center – teamed up with Larry Bell of Bell’s Brewery for a happy hour on Mackinac Island highlighting the risk that the aging Line 5 pipeline – which runs underneath the Straits of Mackinac between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron – poses to the Great Lakes and the wildlife, people and businesses depending on them.

The event coincided with the Mackinac Policy Conference, which attracts lawmakers and politicos from all over the state to the iconic island just a few miles from where Enbridge’s Line 5 crosses the straits. Business leaders, lawmakers, members of the media and nonprofit organizations packed Mary’s Draught House, united by their common cause of protecting the Great Lakes from the risk of an oil spill, which University of Michigan researchers estimated could cover 700 miles of shoreline, including Mackinac Island itself.

Both of Michigan’s United States Senators – Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Gary Peters (D-MI) – spoke to the packed crowd, as well as Congressman Dan Kildee (D-MI), Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence (D-MI), Congressman Jack Bergman (R-MI), Mackinac Island City Councilwoman Anneke Myers, and Larry Bell himself.

“We have a continuation of attacks on our water from every angle,” Senator Stabenow said, referencing proposed funding cuts to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. “I don’t know what they have against clean, safe water.”

She energized the crowd with her closing statement, saying “We’re going to push back. We’re going to tell the story. This is in our DNA. This is who we are. This is our precious water and whether it’s a pipeline leak or whether it’s a spill, or whether it’s runoff, or whether it’s invasive species or Asian carp, this is all hands on deck to protect the Great Lakes.”


Senator Gary Peters spoke about the danger of what would happen if there was a spill:

“We had the Coast Guard come and testify before my committee and I asked the commandant of the Coast Guard… Do you feel comfortable with the cleanup plans in the Straits of Mackinac? And he said, on the record, ‘No, I am not comfortable whether or not we can actually clean up a spill.’

“That is frightening,” Peters continued, “absolutely frightening.”


Larry Bell described how he became aware of Line 5 through his experience dealing with Enbridge after their Line 6B pipeline spilled over 840,000 gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River near Bell’s Brewery in 2010.

“Several years ago, in my neck of the woods, there was the largest inland oil spill in the history of the United States when Enbridge’s Line 6 broke down around Marshall.” Bell described having to sue Enbridge after they tried to put a remediation facility right next to Bell’s Brewery. “For a lot of us, that brought up, ‘Okay, where are the other pipelines in our state?’ And we found out, lo and behold, there’s a pipeline in the worst place possible: under the Straits of Mackinac.”


Congressman Dan Kildee, whose district includes Flint, referenced their water crisis and why it’s so important to protect our water resources.

“I’m no stranger to water issues,” said Kildee. “I know what happens when we turn our back on the Great Lakes. My community was subjected to a decision by the State of Michigan to turn away from the greatest freshwater source on the planet, as our drinking water, and we poisoned – ‘we’ meaning the State of Michigan – and we poisoned 100,000 people.”

“These Great Lakes, protecting them, is something that is a great responsibility for those of us who represent Michigan,” said Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence.

“Water is not a luxury. It is a basic human need.”


Mackinac Island city councilwoman Anneke Myers echoed how that basic need would be affected if Line 5 ruptures. “We would lose our entire economy, but not only that, but our community. And I think that we might be in a situation where we had to abandon our homes, which would be devastating.”

For more information about what the National Wildlife Federation is doing about Line 5, click here.