Victory in Northern Michigan for the Au Sable River
September 22, 2012
On September 22, a lengthy legal battle over a gas wellhead proposed near the Au Sable River in northern Michigan ended when a Traverse City company withdrew its permit request.
The U.S. Forest Service said that Savoy Energy notified it and the Bureau of Land Management in a two-sentence letter that the company was withdrawing its application to drill below what is known as the Mason Tract in Crawford County.
That ends a nine-year legal battle that united Anglers of the Au Sable and the Michigan Chapter of the Sierra Club against the Forest Service, which initially approved Savoy's permit in 2003. Both Sierra Club and Anglers of the Au Sable credited Nancy Shiffler, a Sierra Club volunteer, and the late Calvin (Rusty) Gates, founder of Anglers of the Au Sable, with discovering the permit and alerting them before construction began.
The Mason Tract is a 4,700-acre wilderness area given to the state as a gift by auto executive and naturalist George Mason. His directive was that the property never be developed. The South Branch of the Au Sable flows through the tract.
Savoy had proposed an exploratory well using slant drilling techniques from nearby land in the Huron-Manistee National Forests that did not allow motorized vehicles. Savoy would have cleared 5 acres to install the drill pad, a brine pit and processing equipment, along with building access roads.
The drill pad was near Mason Chapel, a nondenominational, open-air chapel designed for people to sit in and contemplate the river. Thanks to this victory, visitors to this area can continue to enjoy the peacefulness this area has to offer.
December 22, 2008
In a major victory for anglers, hikers and canoeists, the US Forest Service has dropped its appeal of a Federal Court decision to protect the Mason Tract and nearby Au Sable River from oil and gas drilling. Established in 1955, the Mason Tract has one of the most spectacular trout streams in the world, which could have been destroyed if the Forest Service did not drop its appeal. This is a huge win towards protecting the almost 4,500 acres of pristine hunting, fishing and hiking lands.
This is the latest development following a decision issued by Michigan Eastern District Federal Court Judge David M. Lawson this past July. The decision came in response to concerns raised by the Sierra Club, Angles of Au Sable and Tim Mason about the Forest Service plan to allow Savoy Energy Company to clearcut and drill on National Forest land next to the Mason Tract and within earshot of the river. When developing its plan, however, the Forest Service failed to adequately consider the environmental impacts and alternatives to address concerns including noise and habitat destruction. Because of this, the court ordered the Forest Service to stop all activities related to the Savoy Project. The decision by the Forest Service to drop its appeal leaves the lower court decision in place and protects the Mason Tract from destructive drilling.
Many thanks to attorney Marianne Dugan of Eugene, Oregon, for representing the environmental groups in this case.
December 7, 2005
It's bad enough that the Bush administration is moving ahead with plans to drill the Arctic, off our coasts, and in other pristine areas around the country, but when the administration recently decided to exploit the Au Sable River, a world-class trout stream, they violated a key principle: don't mess with sportsmen! Just ask Rusty Gates, a former "Angler of the Year" in Rod and Reel magazine who's been fishing the Au Sable River for over 40 years. "We have hundreds of anglers up in arms over this, and we'll be darned if they're going to ruin one of the most special places we've got left." Even the local chamber of commerce (along with about 500 local residents) weighed in to "echo" the Sierra Club's concerns, but that hasn't stopped the Bush administration from moving ahead. But now there is some good news: Michigan anglers are celebrating an initial victory that will help protect the Au Sable River from the administration's ill-conceived oil and gas drilling project. On December 7, a federal judge rejected the administration's argument that the drilling would cause no environmental harm and ordered a stop to bulldozing and other clearing on the proposed site until he reaches a final decision in the case. The preliminary injunction means that this heritage site has been spared—for now. Oral arguments in the case are scheduled for late March. Read more about the victory in our press release and case in focus below.
June 8, 2005
The Mason Tract of the Au Sable River is renowned as a world-class trout stream that draws visitors from across the globe for fishing, canoeing, and other recreational activities. The pristine area, which inspired the creation of “Trout Unlimited,” was originally donated to Michigan by avid fly-fisher George Mason in the 1930s. Regrettably, in 1999 the state consented to a lease sale of oil and gas rights on the property, and now this special place is in peril because Savoy Energy wants to drill and build a production facility on neighboring Forest Service land. There are other places where Savoy Energy could drill without spoiling this historic river, but sadly the Forest Service failed to consider alternate locations even though the public is overwhelmingly opposed to drilling near the Au Sable. After more than a year of work with those who love the river best, in June, Sierra Club joined with the Anglers of the Au Sable and the descendents of the donor of the Mason Tract in an unusual coalition to use the courts to protect this gem. After all, we don’t fish in their oil wells, and they shouldn’t drill in our rivers.
Details and Documents:
For more information on how Sierra Club and Anglers of the Au Sable worked together on this case click here!
To read the entire Winter 2009 Angler's newletter click here!
Sierra Club Press Release December 20, 2008
Mason Tract Drilling Ban Upheld
December 20, 2008 by John Flesher The Associated Press
Judge blocks land clearing for Mason Tract drilling
December 7, 2005 by John Flesher The Associated Press
Sierra Club Case in Focus
December 7, 2005, Highlight of the initial victory
Sierra Club Press Release
December 7, 2005
Order Granting Preliminary Injunction
December 7, 2005 US District Court for Eastern District of Michigan, Northern Division
June 23, 2005 Sierra Club’s RAW: The Uncooked Facts of the Bush Assault on the Environment
Gas project foes sue feds
June 12, 2005 by the Associated Press, The Detroit News
Anglers to sue to stop drilling near Mason Tract
June 8, 2005 by Jeff Kart, Bay City Times
Au Sable-area drilling OK'd
Energy company gives up 9-year fight to put a gas wellhead near Au Sable
The Michigan Sportsman Forums, Interactive message board on the Au Sable
September 15, 2012, Associated Press
See other "Promoting Resilient Habitats" cases.