Enbridge contract boat crashed into Mackinac Bridge, authorities say

ST. IGNACE, MI — Authorities confirmed that a small craft operated by a Canadian oil pipeline company contractor crashed into the Mackinac Bridge after nightfall this month.

According to the U.S. Coast Guard, a 33-foot construction vessel struck a bridge pier on Wednesday, Nov 3, resulting in minor injuries among crew members on board.

The boat, owned by J.F. Brennan Co. of Wisconsin, struck a pier on the north end of the bridge about 7:30 p.m. while transporting crew from St. Helena Island to St. Ignace. The boat returned to harbor under its own power. The crash was reported the next morning.

It’s unclear what caused the crash.

“Our staff did go out to inspect the pier and found only a cosmetic scrape on the steel that surrounds the concrete pier,” said James Lake, spokesperson for the Mackinac Bridge Authority.

According to Enbridge, four crew members received medical attention for minor injuries and subsequently returned to work. The crew was working on the installation of a camera surveillance system that monitors the Straits of Mackinac.

Enbridge spokesperson Ryan Duffy said remaining construction work in the straits this year will occur during daylight hours, including work crew transportation.

“Safety is paramount in all Enbridge operations and projects, and Enbridge is committed to maintaining a safe environment for its employees, contractors and the communities in which we live and work,” Duffy said.

St. Helena Island is one of several locations around the straits where Enbridge is installing surveillance cameras to monitor passing freighters, which can pose a hazard to its submerged Line 5 oil pipeline, which is vulnerable to anchor strikes.

In 2018, the twin pipeline segments were damaged but not breached by an anchor drug through the straits by a passing freighter en route to Indiana.

This week, a Democratic state lawmaker introduced a bill to stiffen penalties for ships that drag or drop anchor in the No Anchor Zone in the straits.

The 68-year-old pipeline is at the center of a dispute between Enbridge and the state of Michigan, which ordered the submerged Line 5 segment be shuttered in May due to a history of easement compliance violations and concern for an oil spill. The company has refused to comply and is fighting Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s order in federal court.

The dispute has escalated to an international matter involving the Biden Administration, which is taking political heat from conservatives who are blaming the president for rising energy prices. In October, the Canadian government invoked a 1977 treaty which it claims bars Michigan from interfering with the operation of a cross-border pipeline.

Meanwhile, Enbridge vessels have been a fixture in the area while the company attempts to build a four-mile utility tunnel under the straits to house a replacement for the pipeline, which moves up to 540,000 barrels-per-day of light crude oil and natural gas liquids between Wisconsin and Ontario.

The work has not been without mishap. In 2020, damage was discovered from a heavy cable that was dragged across the submerged oil lines. This summer, the company retrieved a 7.5-ton anchor left on the straits bottom between the dual lines.

Pipeline opponents characterized the bridge crash as another example of a poor Enbridge safety track record.

“Over the last two years, Enbridge contractors have damaged the anchor supports to Line 5 by dragging a cable over the pipeline, they have had to retrieve a 15,000-pound anchor another Enbridge vessel dropped into the straits, and now they have crashed a boat into the Mackinac Bridge,” said Sean McBrearty, policy director for the anti-Line 5 coalition Oil & Water Don’t Mix. “This is yet another example of why Enbridge can’t be trusted to maintain even basic safety protocols, while they continue to illegally operate a 68-year-old ticking time bomb in the heart of the Great Lakes. Not crashing into the Mackinac Bridge is pretty much rule No. 1 of boating safety in the straits and they can’t even get that right.”https://294a1042ab845ffd9e7aa86392b25f4b.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

The Nov. 3 crash isn’t the first time a vessel has struck the Mackinac Bridge, which was completed in 1957. A Greek freighter, the Castalia, struck the north pier on June 2, 1968 in heavy fog but caused no significant damage.

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