The Rains of Gogebic

Written by Iona in Ironwood.

Since our departure from the Lac Vieux Desert Indian Reservation on Wednesday afternoon, the weather hasn’t treated us entirely kindly, though perhaps we should be grateful for the respite from the oppressive heat that we have been dealing with for much of the trip. However, the rainstorm that met us on Wednesday night and Thursday morning did cause some obstacles. Most significantly for me, an imperfect installation of our rain fly led to a leak in the tent that submerged my phone and could have made it permanently inoperable. But I am happy to say today that after a treatment of a day’s isolation among rice in a sealed bag (good thing we hadn’t yet eaten all of it!), the device appears to have been saved. Besides that, we arrived in Wakefield soaking wet, but had the chance to change clothes, rest, and utilize internet at a friendly café called Ma’s Place. Furthermore, supportive connections for the past two nights (Tom of warmshowers.org, and Bean & Pan of chance encounter by the Wakefield library) gave us shelter from the elements that we are quite grateful for.

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In search of our host’s house on Thursday evening.

Our canvassing for the past four days has been varied. One new experience has been ski resorts; Line 5 passes through three of them in Western Gogebic County, two of which we visited on Friday. Neither one had much going on during the off season, but at the first of these (Indianhead Mountain), we were able to hand off a few pamphlets to an employee at their office. Like always, we encountered people both supportive of our message and those critical of it. In the latter category, we spoke yesterday with a man who had an overall very negative impression of “tree huggers” and who felt that asking for Line 5 to be shut down to be too extreme of an ask, though he agreed with many of the safety concerns that we expressed. In our longer conversation with him, we touched on our fears that the risks posed by the pipeline to the Great Lakes are quite extreme, as well as our hopes for a world where our dependence on fossil fuels is significantly curtailed. Though there were deep philosophical differences between us, it was great for this chance to speak with him and to understand where he’s coming from, sharing our own message in the process. On the other hand, we met people in this area very sympathetic to our trip’s goals. In my opinion, some of our best interactions might be not only with the people whom we canvass (who usually have some familiarity with Enbridge, receiving PR materials from them regularly), but with the people whom we encounter by chance off the route, such as the elderly party in the café today who weren’t previously aware of Line 5. I was happy that we have enough extra literature these days to pass on to people like them, which they read and promised to share, before wishing us luck on the remainder of our trip.

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Admiring the view from a ski slope on Friday afternoon.

By the way, the main reason we came to Steep Creek Café today was to utilize their WiFi for participating in a virtual panel that took place at Power Shift 2016: Midwest, in Detroit. This is one of several regional yearly conferences bringing together youth organizers to organize for climate justice, against fossil fuels and for renewable energy. Chalk and I were represented on a panel on “pipeline journeys,” together with organizers from Love Water Not Oil (a canoe and horseback journey along the proposed Sandpiper and Line 3 pipelines) and Sacred Water Sacred Land (a walk along Line 66). These other pipelines are also all the work of Enbridge, and speaking at this panel allowed me to better understand our own trip in the context of the broader campaign against this corporation, and by extension, against fossil fuel infrastructure overall. And in eight days, we will join these other travelers in a final joint “End of the Line” event in Duluth, with live music and food to celebrate our ongoing collective resistance.  We hope you can join us there, and otherwise, until our next blog post! 🙂

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Preparing to virtually participate in Powershift 2016: Midwest, in Detroit, on Saturday morning.

Rolling Through Yooperland

By Iona, published from Crystal Falls, MI

On the evening of Tuesday July 26th, we assembled in front of a casual eatery just off of the last exit onto I-75 before the Mackinac Bridge. At this point, we were down to four, Caroline having departed two days before for her Chicago home. We waited there for perhaps ten minutes until we noticed that our ride had arrived: a pickup truck bearing the words “Mackinac Bridge Authority,” with a long flat trailer attached to the back. We walked over to meet this vehicle on the shoulder of the interstate, and after a few minutes of working with the driver to arrange and secure our bikes on the trailer, we entered the cab of the truck and crossed the bridge, entering the Upper Peninsula. On the other side, we earned the perhaps once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to legally bike on the shoulder of an interstate highway, at least until the immediately available exit that took us into St. Ignace.

 

It would be presumptive to claim great deal of familiarity with the UP at this point. After all, we have spent less than a week in this corner of the world. But what an interesting place it is, with its own vibrant Yooper regional identity, with its own dialect of American English, and for the great amount of natural beauty for which it is known, including Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (which we had visited on a break day with our invaluable supporter and co-organizing MICATS friend Dave), and parts of Hiawatha National Forest (where Chalk and I had recently camped and biked through!).

For us, the UP has been a place of two farewells: with Kevin, who left us in St. Ignace biking north towards further adventures in Canada, and with Fred, who had stayed with us for a week longer than originally planned but ultimately had to leave too, with their father who drove all the way from Maryland to pick them up! Chalk and I already miss them (and Caroline too!), and all the different personalities, perspectives, skills, and stories they brought to Bike the Line. We continue west as just a team of two, but we certainly plan to stay in touch! 🙂

Biking the Line, along US 2 in the UP.
Biking the Line, along US 2 in the UP.

So far, the UP has brought us many new experiences. We distributed literature at the Schoolcraft County Fair, bringing information about Line 5 to such an important venue of local culture. Thanks to the advice of a local shopkeeper, we drank some of the freshest and coldest water we had tasted on this trip from a pump in a seemingly unremarkable grassy clearing by the side of the highway. And I can mention the opportunity Chalk had to connect with a local bike shop and do repairs on both of our bikes at their location.

Chalk & Fred at the Schoolcraft County Fair in Manistique
Chalk & Fred at the Schoolcraft County Fair in Manistique

Yesterday afternoon we’d just arrived in Crystal Falls, MI, the site of the most destructive of all the over 18 leaks of Line 5 that we are aware of in its history. There, in 1999, 220,000 gallons of crude oil and liquefied natural gas spilled into marshland. After local residents were evacuated, Enbridge tried to contain the disaster by igniting a cloud of vapor. They sparked a fire that burned for 36 hours, scorching eight acres of land. We will be discussing this incident in the context of our larger journey at our next event, at Contrast Coffee Co. in Iron River this Saturday August 6th, from 2:00PM to 4:00PM. For those of our readers who are in the area, we encourage you to come hear our presentation. Otherwise, keep reading our blog and expect future updates from days to come. Until then!

Canvassing Marysville

Last Saturday our team of energetic Bike the Liners converged in Marysville, Michigan to begin our summer of canvassing. While our planned bike trip will not begin until our kickoff event on the 25th, we have already begun to speak to community members living along the pipeline in Marysville on the eastern edge of St. Clair County.

It was cold and windy on the edge of Michigan’s Thumb and the rain threatened our unprotected clipboards and flyers all day. Marysville lies just across the river from Canada, where Line 5 terminates at oil refineries in Sarnia, Ontario. Across the river we could clearly see the spires of Shell’s Sarnia refinery where 75,000 barrels of crude oil are refined daily. In addition to Line 5, several other pipelines cross the St. Clair River to Canada in this city. It is here that our journey will begin next week, with a community gathering organized in response to Enbridge’s “Spill Response Drill”. It’s an attempt to demonstrate their supposed “preparedness” for the spill accident that could easily happen. We invited the Marysville residents living along the pipeline to the event so they could share their concerns about the pipeline running literally through their front yards and underneath the river next to their homes. We also spoke with them about the hazards of Line 5 and collected some signatures for a petition calling for the pipeline’s shutdown.

Of the people we spoke with, many were already aware of the pipeline. However, due to the high number of pipelines running through this city (eight!), there was sometimes confusion amongst community members over exactly which pipeline we were speaking with them about. For example, Line 6B, the Enbridge pipeline which caused the 2010 Kalamazoo River disaster, also passes through Marysville. This pipeline was actually recently rerouted in this city to be farther away from residential areas as part of an expansion that increased the capacity of the pipeline overall. A few residents said that Enbridge had informed them of this rerouting. The high number of pipelines, in addition to the machinations of Enbridge, caused some residents to be unaware that Line 5 remains operational a mere yards from their doorsteps.

We got the impression that Enbridge has dedicated a lot of resources to convince the community that the pipeline is safe. This is obviously to prevent any momentum from building to shut the pipeline down. Enbridge has made phone calls, sent mailings, and invested money in television and YouTube commercials. However, in some cases this PR campaign obscures the risk that the pipeline truly poses. During our canvassing we learned that there was a risk of a leak from Line 5 into the front yard of a family living on 18th Street. Enbridge promptly showed up and dug up the yard in its entirety to access the pipeline. Following this incident, the homeowners sold their house and moved to Minnesota. But their neighbors still remember and complained about the disruption this construction caused even 5 years later. Some might laud Enbridge’s proactive handling of the potential leak. Our view is: leaking is inevitable. Therefore the very existence of Line 5 essentially guarantees more disruptive construction.

In another case, we could see how one homeowner’s driveway was sunken in and cracked because of the pipeline underneath. As we neared the end of the street, we noticed a construction site. As we came closer, we saw that Line 5 was clearly visible in a large hole. We were told that this had been unearthed as a part of local utility repairs: maybe Line 5 was uncovered in that manner to minimize risks of hitting the pipeline during unrelated construction? But upon further research about past pipeline incidents, it seems far more likely that this particular section was uncovered because, in May 1987, a 30″ diameter pipeline at that exact spot was found to be leaking due to external corrosion issues. It was most likely line 5 which was corroding back then, since there would be hardly reason to dig up and inspect the non-operating old pipeline 6B today. It was a powerful moment for us: we were able to see before our eyes the very piece of infrastructure that poses such a threat to Michigan and much of the Great Lakes region. The pipeline is underground for most of its length, but we were able to take a few pictures of the exposed pipeline at this site.

Those of us who canvassed along the St. Clair River reported a great deal of community opposition to not just Enbridge and Line 5, but to all eight of the pipelines and the companies that operate them. These pipelines are running underneath people’s yards without their consent, and sometimes even without their knowledge. This is noteworthy because these are some of the people that would be directly affected by an accident. It would be disingenuous to pretend that everyone was opposed to the pipeline however. We talked to some people who frankly were not scared about the hazards present in the pipeline. We left them literature in the hopes that they would reconsider their position. Others were more direct in their pro-pipeline position: one community member swore his allegiance to the pipeline because it allegedly “provides jobs.” His commitment to his community on this issue is certainly understandable in our unforgiving economy, but the amount of jobs that Line 5 provides, and existing pipelines in general, is very limited. On the other hand, 1 out of 5 jobs in Michigan depend on the Great Lakes, and should the pipeline spill in the Straits of Mackinac, the effect on all kinds of employment in this state would be disastrous.

The overall sentiment was certainly anti-pipeline however. One man even brought the whole system into question, worrying that our anti-Line 5 endeavor is not enough and that we would need a full-fledged “revolution” to solve the world’s issues because “money runs everything.” We certainly sympathize with the frustration that this man was feeling in a system that has ignored his concerns for having a safe place to live.

This week, we continue to prepare for the first leg of our bike trip, which will be running for eleven days, from May 25th to June 4th. Expect another update from us after our kickoff, which we invite you to join us for if you are in the area.

Until then!

Chalk, Kes, Iona, Barb, Zoe, and Duncan