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E-M:/ Anglers of the Au Sable and Sierra Club Challenge Forest Service Drilling Approval



Title: Claims not justified

For Immediate Release                                        Contact: Rusty Gates: 989-348-8462

March 7, 2005                                                                  Marvin Roberson: 734-662-8011

 

Anglers of the Au Sable and Sierra Club Challenge Forest Service Drilling Approval

Conservation Organizations Join Forces to Protect the South Branch of the Au Sable River

 

The Anglers of the Au Sable and the Sierra Club today filed simultaneous administrative appeals to overturn a Forest Service decision approving a natural gas well site adjacent to the Mason Tract and within earshot of South Branch of the Au Sable River.  The two conservation organizations each filed an appeal challenging the decision on the USA South Branch 1-8 Exploratory Gas Well Project, which would allow Savoy Energy to drill gas wells at the site within 6/10th of a mile of one of the most revered fly fishing rivers in North America. 

 

The appeals cite major violations of the laws and regulations governing the Forest Service land management practices.  The alliance between the Anglers and the Sierra Club calls on their respective strengths: extraordinary on-the-ground knowledge of the river and surrounding lands of the seven hundred members of the Anglers of the Au Sable; and a decade and one half of experience monitoring Forest Service management and regulations of the Michigan Sierra Club.  (A summary of key points in the appeals of the decision of Huron-Manistee National Forest Supervisor Leanne Marten is attached.)

 

Rusty Gates, President of the Anglers of the Au Sable, said the Forest Service ignored overwhelming public opposition to the plan to allow drilling near the site where the fly fishers kicked off efforts to protect and restore the nation’s trout fishing heritage. The agency received hundreds of comments from across the United States asking them to deny the surface occupancy permit requested by Savoy because it would permanently harm the unique experiences along the river.

 

“The Forest Service’s badly flawed decision would harm the South Branch of the Au Sable, a recreational jewel known to generations of fly fishers as ‘their river’," according to Gates.  “The agency failed to follow their own regulations and laws, approving drilling for a gas well that even they say would be as loud as a rock concert to those who came to this place for peace and solitude found nowhere else.  The Anglers of the Au Sable have long supported management efforts by the Forest Service and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars to help the agency restore habitat along the river, so we were stunned to see a decision so at odds with the law and public concern for this unique place.”

 

“A year and a half ago the Forest Service was forced to pull back its original proposed decision on a drilling site in this area because it was so blatantly illegal,” said Sierra Club’s Forest Policy Specialist Marvin Roberson. “This decision by the Forest Service is again badly flawed.  The agency cited both unjustified claims and outright false assertions in reaching their decision.  In addition, the Forest Service failed to consider alternative sites, as mandated by law, even though the public offered up excellent alternative sites starting more than a decade ago.  In fact, this decision may be the worst Forest Service decision we have ever seen.”  Roberson credited the extraordinary knowledge of the Anglers of the Au Sable with making this appeal one of the strongest he has seen.  The Sierra Club Mackinac Chapter has never lost an appeal of a Forest Service decision in Michigan.

 

The Anglers of the Au Sable appeal and the Sierra Club appeal were submitted to the Forest Service Eastern Regional Forester Randy Moore, who is expected to issue a decision in the next few months. 

 

ATTACHMENT:

 

Reasons for Anglers of the Au Sable and Sierra Club Appeal of 1-8 South Branch Drilling Project

• The Forest Service Failed to Examine Reasonable Alternatives, as Required By Law

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires federal agencies to examine and analyze all “reasonable and prudent” alternatives to the proposal. The Forest Service analyzed ONLY those wellhead locations which were proposed by Savoy Energy, the applicant for the permit. The Forest Service failed to examine alternative locations which would have allowed for access to the minerals from a location which would not have disturbed users of the Mason Tract.

 

• The Forest Service Failed to Respond to Substantive Public Comments

NEPA also requires that federal agencies respond to all “substantive public comments”.

There were many comments to the agency regarding location of wellhead, noise, public nuisance, etc, which were simply not addressed.

 

• The Forest Service Failed to Substantiate Their Decision

NEPA requires federal agencies to disclose the basis for their decision, in order that the public may see, understand, and potentially disagree with, the rationale for a given decision. In this case, the Forest Service relied on numerous unsupported claims, which made it impossible for the public to determine the accuracy of those claims.

 

• The Forest Service Relied on Many False Statements

In the Decision Notice, Finding of No Significant Impact, and Environmental Assessment, the Forest Service simply relied on false claims, including the distance the proposed wellhead will be from the Au Sable, the distance another wellhead (cited as an example of a successful project) is from the river, the effects of oil & gas drilling on property values, and others.

 

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The Anglers of the Au Sable were founded in 1987 “to preserve, protect and enhance the Au Sable River System for future generations of fly fishers.”  The website for the six hundred member organization is found at www.ausableanglers.org .

 

The Sierra Club’s purposes, in part, are to explore, enjoy and protect the wild places of the earth, and to enlist humanity in this cause.  The Mackinac Chapter, the state-wide Sierra Club Chapter in Michigan, has approximately 20,000 members.  More information is available at www.michigan.sierraclub.org .

 

Complete copies of the appeals submitted by the Anglers of the Au Sable and the Sierra Club are available by contacting anne.woiwode@sierraclub.org .