The Bad River Tribal Council has taken formal action to kick the Enbridge Energy Line 5 pipeline off reservation land.
The band government voted to not renew easement rights of way for the pipeline that runs from Superior east across Michigan. The band also called for the decommissioning and removal of the pipeline from all Bad River lands and the river's watershed.
"As many other communities have experienced, even a minor spill could prove to be disastrous for our people," Tribal Chairman Robert Blanchard said in a statement. "We depend upon everything that the creator put here before us to live mino-bimaadiziwin, a good and healthy life."
Blanchard told the News Tribune that the action was taken at a council meeting Wednesday.
Bad River Band officials have directed staff to begin planning for the Line 5 removal project development and the environmental issues and hazards that exist with removal of old pipeline, including a health study, pipeline contents recycling and disposal and surface restoration.
According to the band, 15 individual grant of easement rights of way for Line 5 expired in 2013. The two sides have been in negotiations since then over renewing the easements. The band owns interest in 11 of the 15 parcels of land within the grant of easement rights of way, roughly parallel to U.S. Highway 2.
Enbridge, formerly Lakehead Pipeline Co., has leased an easement for the oil line since the pipeline was laid in 1953.
In a statement released Friday morning, Enbridge officials said they were "surprised to learn of the Bad River Band's decision not to renew individual easements within the reservation for Line 5 after negotiating in good faith for the past several years.
"Enbridge and the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa have been discussing the easement renewal since before the agreements expired in 2013. Enbridge has responded to the band's requests for information and negotiated in good faith for the past three and a half years. In addition to working toward a mutually beneficial agreement,'' the company said in a statement. "Enbridge also worked with the band's cultural resources, natural resources and legal departmental staff to maintain safe pipeline operations within the boundaries of the reservation."
The company said it's weighing its options. It's not clear if the pipeline could be rerouted around the tribal land. That was an option considered in 2009 when the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa considered not allowing Enbridge's Alberta Clipper pipeline to cross reservation land in Carlton County. The two sides eventually agreed on an easement fee, however, avoiding a pipeline route that diverted around the reservation.
The Line 5 pipeline moves 540,000 barrels per day - 2.3 million gallons - of crude oil, synthetic crude oil and natural gas liquids which are refined into propane.
"These products heat homes and businesses, fuel vehicles, and power industry," the company said.
The action comes as the ongoing dispute over the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota settles into a cold winter standoff, with both tribal rights and environmental activists protesting both the potential environmental damage from any spill and the movement of additional oil, the burning of which climate experts blame for global climate change.
"We will work with our native and non-native communities to make sure that Line 5 does not threaten rights of people living in our region, and we will reach out to federal, state and local officials to evaluate how to remove Line 5, and we will work with the same communities and officials to continue developing a sustainable economy that doesn't marginalize indigenous people,'' Blanchard said.
The Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa has about 7,000 members. The reservation covers about 124,000 acres east of Ashland where the Bad River meets Lake Superior.
"These environmental threats not only threaten our health, but they threaten our very way of life as Anishinaabe. We all need to be thinking of our future generations and what we leave behind for them," said Dylan Jennings, a member of the tribal council, in a statement.
Enbridge said Line 5 "provides a vital link to propane and other energy supplies in northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula.''
Enbridge's Line 5 hasn't received much attention in the Northland compared to other Enbridge projects but it has become a focal point of concern in Michigan. Critics fear the line could pollute the Great Lakes where a segment of the line runs underwater at the Straits of Mackinac, which link Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.