LANSING, Mich. – A Michigan-based transport company is on the hot seat from the state's attorney general after being accused of causing hazardous substances to be released in the Straits of Mackinac.
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette sent a letter on April 16 to VanEnkevort Tug and Barge, Inc. stating the potential for a civil lawsuit for dragging an anchor across state bottomlands and submerging electric and petroleum pipelines in the Strait of Mackinac.
Schuette also notified the company the alleged damage caused by the anchor has prompted common law claims, which includes public nuisance and trespassing on lands owned by the state.
In the letter, Schuette states the Straits of Mackinac are a "no anchor" zone, and evidence shows the company's ship's anchor struck and damaged power cables owned and operated by American Transmission Company on or about April 1. The anchor's strike caused the release of mineral oil, which continued "for days." All this led to potential harm to aquatic life and the lakebed due to the hazardous substances being released.
"Protecting our waters is part of being a Michiganian," Schuette said in a press release. "The waters of the Great Lakes surround our home, and we have a duty to protect them. "The vessel ignored markers in the channel and clearly identified hazards on navigational charts that make clear than an anchor should not be deployed in the area of Straits. Allowing a large anchor to drag along the bottomlands in the Straits has resulted in violations of state law, and we will hold VanEnkevort accountable."
Schuette has enforced the water resources protection section of the Michigan Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act. The section hinders a direct or indirect discharge of substances into water that could potentially damage fish and other aquatic life, among other things. Each discharge could lead to a civil fine up to $25,000 per day of the violation. It could also lead to damages for harm to natural resources, attorney fees and court costs.
The civil lawsuit only applies to state civil violations and not any federal law claims, criminal culpability or liability of anyone who may be responsible for the anchor's deployment or maintenance.