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Michigan panel wants details on Great Lakes oil tunnel plan


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By John Flesher in Traverse City

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — A Michigan regulatory panel said Thursday that it needs more information about safety risks before it can rule on Enbridge Energy’s plan to extend an oil pipeline through a tunnel beneath a waterway linking two of the Great Lakes.

The state Public Service Commission voted 3-0 to seek further details about the potential for explosions and fires involving electrical equipment during construction of the tunnel beneath the Straits of Mackinac.

The commission’s approval would be required for Enbridge to replace two existing Line 5 pipes in the straits, which connect Lake Huron and Lake Michigan, with a new segment that would run through the proposed underground tunnel.

“This has been an extensive process,” Chairman Dan Scripps said. “We want to make sure that we get it right.”

Enbridge and the state of Michigan are mired in legal battles over Line 5. The 69-year-old underground pipeline carries Canadian oil and natural gas liquids used for propane through northern Michigan and Wisconsin to refineries in Sarnia, Ontario.

A 4-mile-long (6.4-kilometer-long) section divides into dual pipes that cross the bottom of the straits.

Enbridge is defying Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s 2020 order to shut down the line, a move long sought by environmental groups and Native American tribes who fear a rupture would devastate the lakes. The company says the line is in good condition and contends in a federal lawsuit that the Democratic governor doesn’t have the jurisdiction to shut it down.

Enbridge, based in Calgary, Alberta, reached a deal with former Republican Gov. Rick Snyder in 2018 to build the $500 million tunnel. Enbridge has obtained permits from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy and awaits word from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as well as Michigan Public Service Commission.

The commission said last year it would not pass judgment on whether the entire 645-mile (1,038-kilometer) line should continue operating, focusing instead on the underwater section.

Its three members are Whitmer appointees. Scripps and Tremaine Phillips are Democrats, while Katherine Peretick is an independent.

In its order Thursday, the commission said testimony, exhibits and briefings included too little about tunnel engineering and hazards.

Also lacking is information about safety and maintenance of the dual pipelines, “including leak detection systems and shutdown procedures,” the order said.

Interviewed by telephone after the meeting in Lansing, Scripps said Enbridge had pegged the likelihood of an oil release from the tunnel pipe as “one in a million.” The commission wants to know how the figure was calculated, he said, as well as steps to eliminate even that possibility.

In a statement, Enbridge said it already had provided “extensive” material on those matters but would answer further questions.

“The engineering and design of the tunnel has been developed in accordance with the tunnel agreement entered with the state, and in close coordination with the Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority to ensure its safety and design life,” the company said.

The corridor authority was created under Snyder to oversee building and operation of the tunnel.

Pipeline critics praised the commission’s push to learn more.

“Enbridge has not proven feasibility or safety for this project,” said Beth Wallace of the National Wildlife Federation. “Enbridge has proven time and again that they cannot be trusted to operate Line 5 and they should not be trusted to blast a tunnel through the Great Lakes.”

The commission’s decision was the latest of many delays for the tunnel, which the company originally pledged to complete by 2024. The Army Corps is conducting a lengthy environmental impact study.

Enbridge said it remains committed to the project.

The Great Lakes Michigan Jobs Coalition, which represents industry and labor groups, urged the commission to “get back to work, move the tunnel project forward and protect tens of thousands of Michigan jobs.”

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Judge rejects request for second appeal for Calgary police officer in assault case

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By Bill Graveland in Calgary

A Calgary police officer who slammed a handcuffed woman to the ground face first will not be allowed another appeal of his original conviction.

Const. Alex Dunn, 36, was found guilty in December 2020 of assault causing bodily harm, and was given a 30-day conditional sentence that involved a combination of 24-hour house arrest followed by house arrest with a curfew.

Dunn had brought in Dalia Kafi in December 2017 for breaking a curfew. A security camera in the arrest area at Calgary police headquarters captured what happened.

The video played during his trial showed him throwing Kafi down and blood pooling on the ground where her face hit the floor.

Kafi died in June 2021 of a suspected overdose, days before Dunn was sentenced.

Dunn, who has been suspended without pay, appealed his conviction last year, but Justice Robert Hall upheld the lower court ruling and rejected calls by the officer’s lawyer for a new trial. He found that even if provincial court Judge Michelle Christopher had believed the offender’s testimony, a conviction was inevitable.

Dunn’s new lawyer, Alain Hepner, appeared before an Appeal Court judge Thursday asking for permission to appeal Hall’s decision.

He argued the original judge was too quick in dismissing the credibility of Dunn’s testimony, in which he said he thought Kafi had slipped out of her handcuffs and posed a threat.

“It is a case where the trial judge, in a way, sort of boxed herself in by making these credibility findings to the point where she deals with the credibility of all the Crown witnesses and, in short, seems to lay or put on Mr. Dunn a heavy onus — almost reversing the onus of proof,” Hepner said.

“I submit that Mr. Justice Hall just followed the line of the narrative by the trial judge without addressing any leave issues.”

However, Court of Appeal Justice Anne Kirker refused Hepner’s request.

“The applicant has failed to satisfy me that the test for permission to appeal … is met and, accordingly, I must dismiss the application,” she ruled.

“The trial judge’s assessment of the evidence and credibility findings are entitled to deference and there’s no suggestion that the summary conviction appeal judge applied the wrong standard of review here.”

The Court of Appeal is expected to hear further arguments on the case next year as the Crown has appealed the 30-day conditional sentence given to Dunn.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 8, 2022.

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WestJet announces new flights to Tokyo, Barcelona, and Edinburgh

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Calgary – WestJet plans to offer flights to Japan starting this spring, marking the airline’s first non-stop flights to Asia from Calgary.

The Calgary-based airline said Monday that it will fly to Tokyo’s Narita International Airport from Calgary this spring.

The non-stop flights will operate three times weekly beginning April 30.

The airline also announced new routes from Calgary to Barcelona and Edinburgh and increased frequency to Dublin, London, Paris and Rome, also starting in the spring.

WestJet chief executive Alexis von Hoensbroech says the new flights are part of the airline’s plan to expand capacity from Calgary by more than 25 per cent by next year, beginning with intercontinental routes.

WestJet also says it is preparing for broader expansion within Canada and North America over the coming months.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 5, 2022.

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