Court settlement in 2008 fish kill will protect, enhance Pigeon River

(Michigan DNR Press Release) – The State of Michigan today announced a settlement with Golden Lotus, Inc. resolving a 2008 sediment release on the Pigeon River which killed thousands of fish.

Golden Lotus, Inc. owns Song of the Morning Ranch, located in Vanderbilt. The property includes a large reflecting pond created by the Lansing Club Dam, where a gate malfunction in June 2008 caused a rapid and large sediment release. The release killed numerous fish species, including brown and brook trout.

A lawsuit filed against Golden Lotus, Inc., by the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Environmental Quality, with Michigan Trout Unlimited and the Pigeon River Country Association serving as intervening plaintiffs, sought to recover lost public trust damages and to provide a mechanism to permanently fix problems with the dam.

The settlement reached today in Otsego County Circuit Court requires Golden Lotus, Inc. to work in coordination with the DNR and DEQ to permanently draw down the impoundment behind the Lansing Club Dam, prevent significant discharges in the future, and provide mitigation for the damages caused in 2008.

Golden Lotus was fined $120,000 in mitigation and damage costs, to be paid over eight years. The organization will pay an additional $30,000 if it fails to submit to the state a plan for additional river restoration within two years of the date of the settlement.

“I appreciate the good faith efforts made thus far by Golden Lotus and the organization’s demonstrated commitment to restoring the Pigeon River,” said DNR Director Keith Creagh. “This settlement represents a thoughtful resolution that will allow Golden Lotus to continue to operate while at the same time protecting and enhancing one of Michigan’s world-class natural resources for current and future generations.”

“We are pleased to see this long-standing litigation resolved,” said DEQ Director Dan Wyant. “The terms of this agreement are a win for Michigan’s environment, the ranch, and the thousands of people who enjoy the Pigeon River each year.”

The impoundment draw-down is scheduled to begin this spring and will be monitored closely to ensure water quality is protected. The draw-down and termination of all dam operations will return the river to its natural course and reduce the structure’s negative effects on downstream river reaches.

The draw-down is the first step to what all parties believe will be a more comprehensive river restoration project to come. The cooperative nature of this settlement will be a key ingredient to all future restoration activities.

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