For Immediate Release
April 18, 2016
For More Information Contact
David Waymire 517-290-3610
Permit fight over Au Sable Fish factory goes to DEQ Director
Anglers of the Au Sable submits evidence showing permit will allow pollution, harm water quality and blue ribbon trout fishery
An important battle for the future of the Au Sable River has reached a key point. River conservation and fishing organizations on Friday provided final testimony showing the permit issued in 2014 by the Department of Environmental Quality to allow an industrial scale fish farm to operate would open the door to pollution and degradation of the premier blue ribbon trout stream in Michigan.
The information developed now goes to an administrative law judge who will make a recommendation to DEQ director, Keith Creagh for a decision. Anglers of the Au Sable called on Creagh to withdraw the permit and halt the hatchery’s operations.
During the three-month hearing, Anglers of the Au Sable and the Michigan Sierra Club provided 27 witnesses and 4,000 pages of evidence that the current permit for the proposed 300,000 pound/year Harrietta Hills Trout Farm on the East Branch of the Au Sable River in Grayling should be withdrawn.
“Gov. Rick Snyder has said one of the lessons learned in the Flint water contamination disaster was that state regulators focused on ‘technical compliance over common sense’,” said Tom Baird, president of Anglers of the Au Sable. “This permit seems to be a good example, with the Department of Environmental Quality issuing a permit that common sense says will allow pollution levels that will harm the river fishery and the Crawford County economy, which is built on the river’s clean water. And we provided evidence that the permit does not even meet technical compliance with state laws and regulations.”
“We are not opposed to the development of an environmentally appropriate hatchery near the river,” Baird said. “The state’s Platte River Fish Hatchery shows how that can be done. This permit, however, fails to meet the standards that must be upheld to maintain the world-class fishery on the Au Sable and the county economy that relies on that fishery and a clean river.”
Among the key pieces of evidence put into the hearing by Anglers:
• The Au Sable River currently fails to meet DEQ phosphorus goals and State of Michigan dissolved oxygen standards during low-flow, high-temperature conditions even with the current limited fish production at the Grayling facility.
Additional loads that are allowed under the permit will further deteriorate water quality conditions, hurting the river’s world renowned brown and brook trout fishery.
• The river already has higher algae growth below the hatchery than elsewhere, an indication that both nitrogen and phosphorus enrichment is occurring due to hatchery operations. Increasing fish production at the Grayling Fish Hatchery will facilitate even greater algae growth below the hatchery in the East Branch, and also in the Mainstream, including the world famous “Holy Waters”.
• The river below the hatchery already has the intermediate host for the dreaded whirling disease, which infects fish and has seriously damaged other fisheries nationally. The host will increase in abundance with the addition of organic sediments from the hatchery, increasing the probability of an outbreak, a potential disaster for the river.
• A clean river is vital to the Crawford County economy.
o Eleven percent of the county’s properties are located along the river, and they pay 23 percent of the county’s property taxes. Reducing their value will damage the county’s abilities to provide services or require a tax increase to maintain those services.
o Recreational fishing is expected to be affected by degradation in water quality. That would mean a loss of economic value to recreational anglers of about $250,000 to $645,000 per year and lost impacts to the regional economy of about $1.77 to $4.6 million per year.
o Water sports of canoeing, kayaking and floating are expected to be affected by degradation in water quality. That would mean an estimated loss in economic value to watersport recreation users of about $422,000 per year and lost impacts to the regional economy of about $880,000 per year.
o The economic contributions likely to stem from production expansion are uncertain and likely to be small for many reasons. The expansion will add few jobs (two to three) to the regional economy. The bulk of the economic gains from the use of the public resource will accrue to a handful of private individuals.
o The price Harrietta Hills is counting on is far above the national price for trout, indicating a high chance of failure for the facility. Given the lax permit, the cost of that failure and of trying to repair the river will fall on taxpayers, not the polluting trout farm should it fail.
o The value of the project as a tourism site seems dubious. News reports suggest the county was losing money operating the facility to produce these benefits, thereby suggesting that from the perspective of Crawford County administrators, the contributions the facility makes to Crawford County are not worth the costs of operating the facility.
o If these tourism benefits were deemed to be significant enough to warrant sustaining them, they can be provided without added pollution from an industrial scale fish farm.
“Anglers are proud to stand up for the river, its fishery, and its future. It’s a long tradition with our group,” said Baird. “We have successfully protected the Au Sable River from excessive water withdrawals, oil production pollution, over-logging and abuse by various groups. We are confident the director of the Department of Environmental Quality will see the error of issuing this permit and rescind it.”
Baird noted that the legal action has been expensive, and requested those who wished to support the river consider visiting the website and make a contribution to cover ongoing costs.
Anglers of the Au Sable is a voluntary membership organization created to preserve, protect and enhance the Au Sable River System for future generations of fly fishing.