Michigan Trout Unlimited (MTU) reported earlier this week that their ongoing lawsuit to protect the Pigeon River has finally come to a successful close, with the most-recent court order in place to, well, enforce a previous court order.
In 2010, MTU, the Pigeon River Country Association (PRCA), and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) sued Golden Lotus Inc. (owner of Song of the Morning Ranch – a yoga retreat center) over a 100-year-old dam on their property. The dam periodically malfunctions and releases high volumes of water into the Pigeon River, significantly harming the environment and the health of the river. Fish kills result from each breach, the most recent incident in June 2008 killing thousands. Golden Lotus was approached with requests to remove the dam throughout the past 30 years, but talks fell through every time.
In April, 2010 however, the court issued an Interim Order calling for “removal of the dam” following the lawsuit and additional negotiations.
But following that decision, Golden Lotus filed a permit for “partial” dam removal in March, 2011, hoping that the effort would be enough, citing feasibility and economic difficulties. MTU, PRCA, and WMEAC all filed protests to the permit, noting that aside from being in blatant violation of court order, allowing the dam to stand – even partially – would be detrimental to the river ecosystem and continue to limit its social and economic value to the surrounding community.
To clarify the situation, the Honorable Judge Murphy of the Otsego County 46th Circuit Court (who wrote the original Interim Order) sided with MTU and the other plaintiffs this past Friday, July 22, writing: “In other words, ‘dam removal’ means dam removal.” The court also noted that “the meaning of ‘dam removal’ is clear and statutorily defined”, and “…the Interim Order is not ambiguous,” said MTU on their blog.
“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.