Victory for the Pigeon River

Court sides with Michigan Trout Unlimited and Pigeon River Country Association in Golden Lotus Dam case motion.

July, 25, 2011

A recent opinion from the courts just validated what we at TU already knew, that an agreement for a “dam removal” means the physical removal of all of the parts of the dam. It does not mean partial dam removal, dam modification, or dam drawdown as alleged by Golden Lotus and the State of Michigan! With the judge’s ruling today, Golden Lotus is required to completely remove all of its dam on the Pigeon River – the same dam that has caused three large fish kills in the past.

Michigan Trout Unlimited and the Pigeon River Country Association (PRCA) filed motions in the case earlier this year when the dam owners, Golden Lotus, Inc., put forward a plan for dam drawdown that would not remove all of the dam, and would continue blocking fish passage. They stated their responsibilities stopped there, despite the Court Ordered settlement calling for “dam removal” (these documents can be found and read at www.michigantu.org ). The State of Michigan (the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Environmental Quality) represented by Attorney General Bill Schuette’s office surprisingly sided with Golden Lotus in their reinterpretation of the Court Order, and began processing a permit application for the project despite MITU and PRCA objections. Both Golden Lotus and the State argued that despite leaving the base and sides of the dam in the river and blocking fish passage, that the project should be considered “dam removal”.

In an Opinion and Order issued by the Honorable Judge Murphy of the Otsego County Circuit Court, on July 22, 2011, the Court sided in favor of Michigan Trout Unlimited and the Pigeon River Country Association. Judge Murphy stated “In other words, ‘dam removal’ means dam removal.” The court also found that “the meaning of ‘dam removal’ is clear and statutorily defined”, and “…the Interim Order is not ambiguous.”

“We are very pleased with the opinion and its affirmation of our understanding of the settlement agreement we signed onto and of Michigan law,” states Bryan Burroughs, Executive Director for Michigan Trout Unlimited. “This required significant resources for us compared with that of the State of Michigan and an insurance company-paid Golden Lotus defense. But we knew what was right, and what the Pigeon River deserved, and standing up for that at all costs is what we do and why we exist.”

“It’s frustrating that the dam removal was so seriously side-tracked during this dispute,” states Dave Smith, Chair of Michigan Trout Unlimited. “We’re anxious to get back into a productive planning mode to see this project is done and done right, and get the Pigeon River healing from over 100 years of this dam’s impacts to it.”

The parties will now have to work together to develop a new plan for completely removing the dam.

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