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Chicago Surfers To Protest Pipeline They Say May Cause Catastrophic Spill

By Justin Breen | August 16, 2016 5:44am | Updated on August 16, 2016 10:30am
 Surfer Jason Gilbert rides the waves off 57th Street.
Surfer Jason Gilbert rides the waves off 57th Street.
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Mike Killion

CHICAGO — Protests take all forms in Chicago, even on the water.

The Surfrider Foundation Chicago Chapter is holding a protest on Lake Michigan off Montrose Beach for surfers, kayakers, canoeists, swimmers and other paddlers at 7 p.m. Sept. 1.

The event is to raise awareness for what group members and others say is a catastrophe waiting to happen: A possible crack in the Enbridge Line 5 at the bottom of Lake Michigan.

The 645-mile pipeline, which was built in 1953, crosses deep underwater for 4½ miles west of the Mackinac Bridge in northern Michigan. 

Environmental activists believe the pipeline is older than its lifespan and could cause a disastrous oil spill. Enbridge on its website said the pipeline "remains in excellent condition, and has never experienced a leak in more than 60 years of operation. We’re working hard to keep it that way."

The company says it is monitored 24 hours a day and has regular inspections.

RELATED: Montrose Beach Surf Park Plan Nixed After Birders Object

"We feel this is one of the most important issues for this region," said Mitch McNeil, chair of the Surfrider Chicago chapter. "If there were a spill at the Straits, the collateral damage would be severe, fouling shorelines for miles in both directions due to the great surges of water between Huron and Michigan in that narrow passage."

McNeil said Sept. 1's event in Chicago is in "solidarity" with the second annual Pipe Out Paddle Protest in Mackinaw City, Mich., on Sept. 3. The goal for both protests is to eventually shut down the pipeline.

McNeil said his organization has some surfers, but there are more paddlers, kiteboarders, windsurfers, and beach and nature lovers. Surfrider Chicago has several hundred members, from most city neighborhoods and a hodgepodge of suburbs, McNeil said.

Chicago is not the best place to surf, McNeil said, because its shoreline is sculpted by the Army Corps of Engineers' breakwalls, piers and jetties. The best wave in city waters is probably in Lake Michigan off 57th Street Beach, which has a "gently sloping, natural sand bottom," McNeil said. He also noted there "are a few private spots here and there that most folks don't know about."

For more information on Sept. 1's protests, click here or here.

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