A Chippewa tribe in Wisconsin is calling for 12 miles of pipeline to be removed from its reservation after 64 years of operation, saying they want to protect their land and water from oil spills.
The Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa's tribal council approved a resolution Wednesday refusing to renew easements for 11 parcels of land along a section of Enbridge's Line 5 pipeline, which carries oil and natural gas liquids 645 miles from Canada to eastern Michigan.
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The resolution also calls for decommissioning the pipeline and removing it from the tribe's reservation along the shores of Lake Superior in far northern Wisconsin. The resolution also directs tribal staff to prepare recycling, disposal and surface restoration work that would come with removal.
"We depend upon everything that the creator put here before us to live mino-bimaadiziwin, a good and healthy life," Bad River Chairman Robert Blanchard said in a news release. "These environmental threats not only threaten our health, but they threaten our very way of life as (Chippewa). We all need to be thinking of our future generations and what we leave behind for them."
But it isn't clear whether the tribe can force removal of the pipeline. Brad Shamla, Enbridge's vice president of U.S. operations, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Friday it was too early to speculate on what authority the tribe may have.
Shamla said there's never been a spill on the reservation since he joined the company in 1991.
The resolution surprised the company, Shamla said, because Calgary, Alberta-based Enbridge and the tribe have been negotiating renewal of easements on the 11 parcels — which expired in 2013 — for the last three years. The easements for the majority of the remaining parcels on Bad River tribal land extend until 2043 or rest in perpetuity.
"We'd really like to understand better what's prompting this at this time," Shamla said. "Safety is extremely important to us. We've maintained and operated this line safely for more than 60 years."
Bad River tribal officials didn't immediately respond to messages Friday.
Concerns over drinking water are what partially sparked the massive, months-long protests over Energy Transfer Partners' plans to build a section of the Dakota Access oil pipeline under a Missouri River reservoir in North Dakota. The Standing Rock Sioux and the Cheyenne River Sioux are challenging the pipeline's permits at numerous water crossings.
Enbridge's Line 5 has been a flashpoint of contention in Michigan. Environmentalists fear a portion of pipeline that runs beneath the Straits of Mackinac, which link Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, could rupture and cause catastrophic damage to the Great Lakes.
Shamla insisted the line is safe and is inspected at least once every five years to determine the extent of corrosion as well as spot dents, potential cracks and other problems. The company checks the portion that runs beneath the Straits of Mackinac every two years, he said.
"We've maintained and operated this line safely for more than 60 years," he said. "Overall, Line 5 is in very good condition."
Associated Press writer John Flesher in Traverse City, Michigan, contributed to this report.