MADISON — The Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa is suing Enbridge Inc. in hopes of forcing the Canadian company to remove a key pipeline that runs through its reservation.
The Bad River Band filed the lawsuit Tuesday in federal court in Madison after telling the Daily Press recently that members are concerned that a pipeline failure could contaminate the Bad River reservation.
The Line 5 pipeline carries oil and natural gas liquids from Canada to eastern Michigan. Twelve miles of it runs through the Bad River's reservation along the shores of Lake Superior and the Bad River itself.
The tribe argues in the lawsuit that the 66-year-old pipeline could rupture on the reservation, and easements for the line expired in 2013. The lawsuit seeks an injunction forcing Enbridge to stop using the line and remove it from the reservation.
An Enbridge spokesman didn’t immediately respond to a phone message seeking comment.
The tribe in June held a community meeting to gauge local sentiment about the pipeline.
Tribal Chairman Mike Wiggins Jr. told the Daily Press at the time that he was prepared to go to court to force the Canadian firm to move the line.
“We are going to use every option to protect our waters,” he said. “We are looking at legal action options that are open to us.
In addition, Wiggins said the tribe would look at “ceremonial activities.”
“One of the ways we always we always view this place is being a powerful place of our ancestral homeland and the way we pray and do ceremonies matters. We’re going to proactively get rid of this threat to our water,” he said.
About 30 residents of Ashland and the reservation turned out for the meeting.
Enbridge lines have ruptured several times, including in 2010 when a 40-foot section of line dumped heavy crude oil into a tributary of the Kalamazoo River. Cleanup costs totaled almost $1.5 billion, and the federal government fined Enbridge $3.7 million for safety violations.
The recent agreement for the Straits of Mackinac prompted renewed concerns about the line leaking into the Great Lakes.
“We need to save the water,” Ashland resident Sally Lacey said at the June Bad River meeting. “It’s just the right thing to do. If the water dies, we are all dead.”
Tribal member Aurora Conley said the community meeting was important because people wanted to hear what the tribe might do about the line running across its reservation.
“We are hoping to have more of these in the future,” she said. “The pipeline does run through their land and there is need for community input, and this meeting is an opportunity to voice that.”
A tribal council in 2017 declined to renew some portions of the Enbridge easement across their land due to those fears.
“We recognize that the resources that we have to us in this region, and the work that our ancestors did to create permanent homelands for us — that is invaluable to us,” he said. “There is no amount of money or negotiation that is going to deter us from executing what we set out to do.”
Enbridge representative Becky Haase declined to answer questions about the pipeline, but she did issue a statement in June outlining Enbridge’s position. In it she said the company was “in mediation” with the tribe over an easement renewal for part of the pipeline that expired in 2013.
The release also said that the majority of Enbridge’s leases within the reservation remain current, some through 2043 and others have no end date.
Wiggins said those mediation efforts Enbridge referred to bore little fruit and the tribe was consulting experts who detailed the damage that could be caused by a leak on tribal land.
“Those independent experts have spoken and based on the information we have gathered during the mediation, we understand more clearly than ever that this pipe and the oil spill threat is real and present and we can’t continue to move forward under that imminent threat and the stress of being at the mercy of an old, outdated pipe,” he said.