The transformation of Michigan’s image from that of a Rust Belt wasteland into Pure Michigan is nothing short of amazing — and a story of hard work and good government.
In the 1970s, the industrial Midwest had a deserved reputation for flaming rivers, poisoned cattle and decaying industrial complexes that oozed toxins. Half a century later, though, the state has been transformed, and today Mackinac Island is a national tourist destination and boasts awards for its recreation and beauty.
In turn, this reputation translates into $42 billion of spending by visitors in 2017, according to the Michigan Economic Development Corp., which notes that related indirect spending is increasing by 10 percent per year. With 232,000 in direct jobs and another 105,000-plus in flow-through positions, tourism accounts for 6.1 percent of all Michigan jobs. In all, the 120 million visitor trips — 90 percent of which are domestic, and 58 percent one-day outings — contribute 4 percent of the state’s overall gross domestic product.
All of these gains, however, are now at risk. The Flint water crisis, the Kalamazoo pipeline rupture and the developing PFOA chemical contamination issue have exhausted our goodwill with the public. In short, we’re one environmental catastrophe away from forfeiting billions of dollars annually — and driving away the millennial talent we need to accelerate the state’s continued economic vitality.
The Line 5 pipelines that run under the Straits of Mackinac could well be that final tipping point. Pumping more than 1 million gallons of oil and other products per hour, the twin 60-plus-year-old pipelines are dangerously out of date, prone to failure — and completely unnecessary in 2018 and beyond.
Ignoring the fact that he is risking Michigan’s economic future in exchange for almost nothing, Gov. Rick Snyder’s Oct. 2 “agreement” on Line 5 effectively saddles Michigan with at least another decade of life under this ticking bomb. Conceived as a solution that will dig under the straits, where the oil pipelines and other cables would be housed, the proposed tunnel is just as likely to be a hole in the water where safety — and political will — go to die.
The most charitable description of the Snyder administration’s agreement with Line 5 operator Enbridge is that it was a gift of unprecedented scope. Non-binding and lacking an enforceable timeline, this agreement actually allows Enbridge to change its mind about building the tunnel once the company explores the project in greater detail.
Taken together with Enbridge’s attempt to re-engineer Line 5 on the fly by using anchor bolt systems to raise it off the lakebed without proper approvals — thus violating the terms of the 1953 Easement Agreement — makes it clear that Enbridge’s trust bank is beyond empty.
To be sure, business leaders and environmental advocates see eye-to-eye on the value of, and pride in, Pure Michigan. We know the risks, recognize that the window for effective action remains open — and wholeheartedly agree that the only responsible decision is to shut down Line 5 now before this danger erases five decades of progress.
Ian Bund has spent the last 50 years in active venture capital investing, including 42 years building the venture capital industry in Michigan.
Barton Bund is the director of a three-part documentary film on Line 5, and Part III: Worst Case Scenario, which premiered Nov. 1.