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Every day, more than 20 million gallons of oil, some 540 thousand barrels, are pumped through two 63-year-old pipes lying at the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac. Those Enbridge Line 5 pipes are the focus of the Great Lakes Business Network, a newly-formed group of Michigan business leaders who want the twin pipeline shut down.
Among those leaders is Larry Bell. He is the founder and president of Bell’s Brewery, Michigan’s largest brewing company.
In addition to its regular operations out of its Comstock-based brewing facility, the company sponsors the annual Bayview Mackinac Race, which travels from Port Huron to Mackinac Island. It also owns Upper Hand Brewery, which is based in Escanaba, about 100 miles west of the straits on Lake Michigan.
Bell told us that the continued operation of the pipeline puts his and other Michigan businesses at risk.
“Why do we have to have risk to our business model for their business model?" he said. "Michigan takes this risk, our businesses take risk for oil that comes from Canada, traverses our state, and goes back to Canada. So we take all this risk, for very little reward.”
For Bell, concerns over an oil spill are not purely theoretical. In 2010, the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history occurred just miles from Bell’s main brewing facility when an Enbridge pipeline along the Kalamazoo River split open.
Not long after the spill, Bell filed a lawsuit against Enbridge to prevent it from processing contaminated soil adjacent to his company’s main brewing facility.
“They were going to process 435,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil in a method that would have put some pretty heinous compounds airborne, headed straight for the brewery,” Bell said. “We don’t really want airborne benzene coming into our food production. I had to deal with them. It was not a pleasant experience.”
Other companies participating in the Great Lakes Business Network include Mackinac-city based Shepler’s Ferry, Grand Haven-based Werkman Outfitters, and Traverse Tall Ships Co., in Traverse City.
Listen to our full interview with Larry Bell above.