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WI Tribes Raise New Concerns Over Enbridge 'Line 5' Reroute

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The Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources issued a draft Environmental Impact Statement on Enbridge's Line 5 project on Dec. 16, and will continue to gather public input on the proposal through March 4, 2022.

Wisconsin tribal organizations are raising new concerns about a proposed reroute of Enbridge's Line 5 oil pipeline.

The Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, which represents eleven Ojibwe tribes across the Midwest, said the state is not providing a clear picture of how the project will affect surrounding tribal territories and waters, including disruptions to wilderness and the potential for oil spills.

John Coleman, environmental section leader for the Commission, said Line 5's draft Environmental Impact Statement does not properly take tribal rights into account.

"There's some tribes, Wisconsin tribes, that are represented in the document, other tribes aren't," Coleman pointed out. "There's no rationale presented for why some tribes are included and others aren't."

The Department of Natural Resources said it will consider all public input before issuing a new Environmental Impact Statement for the project. Enbridge said keeping the nearly 70-year-old pipeline up and running is critical to the company's operations in the U.S. and southern Canada.

The Red Cliff Band's territory is just north of the proposed Line 5 reroute.

Noah Saperstein, environmental justice specialist for the Red Cliff Environmental Department, said the draft Environmental Impact Statement is too flawed to serve as the foundation for future impact statements.

"Should all of these concerns be addressed and included into the next Environmental Impact Statement, it would be a document that looks so drastically different than what was released for public review," Saperstein asserted. "It would be something that would warrant another public comment period."

The Red Cliff Band has passed a resolution calling for the removal of Line 5 from tribal territories.

Linda Nguyen, environmental director for the Red Cliff Environmental Department, said preserving tribal lands begins with honoring tribal treaty rights.

"Red Cliff remains committed to protecting 'nibi,' which is water, and 'aki,' which is land," Nguyen stated. "And the air of our current and ancestral homelands for our people and the generations to come."

Line 5 currently carries oil through Michigan and Wisconsin, crossing about a dozen miles of the Bad River Reservation in the Northwoods.

The proposed reroute, to circumvent the reservation, was drafted after the tribe decided not to renew the pipeline's right-of-way in 2017. Wisconsinites can weigh in by email, or attend a public hearing on the proposal Feb. 2.

Born and raised in Indiana, Jonah Chester has been covering issues in Wisconsin for the past several years. He previously worked at WORT 89.9 FM in Madison, where he earned awards for his coverage of everything from law enforcement and policing to the 2020 presidential election.