2017-09-07 / News

Paddlers Protest Against Line 5 Pipeline, Citing Environmental Concerns

By Erich T. Doerr


With a backdrop of the Mackinac Bridge, a flotilla of canoeists and kayakers raise a banner reading “Shut Down Line 5” and they raise their paddles together in unison Saturday morning September 2, during the Pipe Out Paddle Protest in the Straits of Mackinac against the Enbridge Energy oil and natural gas liquids pipeline. The third-annual paddling protest was organized by a number of environmental and Native American groups. With a backdrop of the Mackinac Bridge, a flotilla of canoeists and kayakers raise a banner reading “Shut Down Line 5” and they raise their paddles together in unison Saturday morning September 2, during the Pipe Out Paddle Protest in the Straits of Mackinac against the Enbridge Energy oil and natural gas liquids pipeline. The third-annual paddling protest was organized by a number of environmental and Native American groups. Saturday, September 2, saw Mackinaw City host a series of related peaceful protests against the Enbridge Energy Line 5 pipeline. The protests were organized by a number of Native American and environmental organizations.

The protests were centered in and just off the shore adjacent to Colonial Michilimackinac. The events were divided into three stages, starting with the Pipe Out Paddle Protest serving as the opening act for the National Rally and Protest against the line later in the day. The Pipe Out event saw kayakers and Native American canoeists rowing into the Straits of Mackinac to display protest signs against the pipeline. The protest was centered on the pipeline issue but those gathered in Mackinaw City took the opportunity to bring attention to other causes, such as the movements related to banning fracking, cultural concerns, sustainable farming, and the promotion of renewable energy.

The Pipe Out protest began just after 10 a.m. on a slightly chilly Saturday morning with the canoes and kayaks launching from the park and paddling out into Lake Huron. The Straits were smooth as glass. The event drew a large number of Native American and Canadian First Nations people in addition to non-Native residents from throughout the state.

Said organizer Jannan Cornstalk: “This is one of the world’s largest bodies of fresh water, and very important both economically and spiritually. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.”

The protest group paddled far out into the Straits before raising banners with messages of “Water is Life” and “Shut Down Line 5.” Those who remained on shore also held up signs with messages against the pipeline while chanting messages matching those on the water and several others such as “What’s our mission, decommission” and “You can’t drink oil, keep it in the soil.” The beat of a native drum accompanied the protest with the occasional sounding of an air horn following. The protest wound down just after noon, leading into a performance of jingle dress dancers to pray for the water’s health and a group lunch.

The participants in the paddling protest included friends Carolyn Belknap of Petoskey, Mary Johnson of Boyne City, and Tami Stagman of Traverse City. Their kayaks set off with their signs in place. This was their first time being involved in the event and they said they have been following the Line 5 issue closely.

“Any oil spilled from this pipeline is unacceptable,” Ms. Stagman said. “We don’t want another Kalamazoo River (level spill here).”

“It’s the water that connects all of us,” Ms. Johnson said.

“The Great Lakes are a very precious resource with 20 percent of the world’s fresh water,” Ms. Belknap said. “It’s our job to protect them.”

The paddlers Saturday also included a group of students from Central Michigan University. Plymouth student Steve Keene and three of his friends came because they are supporters of the environment and dedicate time to social justice causes at CMU. They thought it was culturally disrespectful for the pipeline to be located at the Straits because of the area’s importance to some Native tribes.

The protest offered Haslett kayaker Kathy Fay her first chance to paddle into the Straits. Her concerns focus on the health of Great Lakes waters in general, including international food and drink company Nestle’s bottling of Michigan waters for sale. She finds it disturbing companies are allowed to bottle and sell water for a profit while some communities lack safe water for drinking.

“Water is a resource we all depend on,” Ms. Fay said. “It has no boundaries, but too often it is treated as a commodity to be sold.”

Sherry Gerlach of Indian River was one of the on-shore protesters Saturday morning. Line 5 bursting is her major concern, but she looks beyond the Straits, noting the pipeline passes near her home on Burt Lake on a narrow strip of land between that lake and neighboring Mullett Lake. If the line failed there, the resulting spill would be disastrous for the Inland Waterway. She said she often sees Enbridge crews out working on the pipeline in her area and this concerns her. She wants the pipeline shut down. Her friend Diana Carr of Grand Blanc joined her for the protest as she wants the pipeline shut down to preserve the water so it will be just as clean for her grandchildren as it is now. Mrs. Gerlach had previously collected signatures to send to Governor Rick Snyder about the pipeline at northern Michigan events such as Alanson River Fest as part of her work with the Concerned Citizens of Cheboygan and Emmet Counties.

Lansing resident Patty Sutherland and Clinton County Commissioner Dwight Washington also protested from the shoreline. Ms. Sutherland runs an East Lansing yoga studio and has an anti-Line 5 sign in the window of her business.

“Line 5 threatens our way of life,” Ms. Sutherland said. “I grew up in the Traverse City area and it chokes me up thinking about the possible impacts of an oil spill.”

Dr. Washington was pleased with the turnout for Saturday’s activities by political officials, noting the importance of the Line 5 issue to the state. Many ordinances have been passed by communities across the state rallying against the line.

He saw a bald eagle on the St. Ignace side of the Straits before the protest, and said it made him think about how a spill could drive them from the area or kill them.

“We want to know if the preparations for a spill are sufficient for protecting the area’s wildlife,” Dr. Washington said.

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