GRAYLING – Crawford County Circuit Judge George J. Mertz has rejected an effort by Harrietta Hills Fish Farm to dismiss a lawsuit filed by Anglers of the Au Sable to block a polluting fish farm from operating on the East Branch of the Au Sable River.
In a ruling dated Oct. 13, Judge Mertz said Anglers’ contention that the Michigan Environmental Protection Act is being violated because the fish farm is and will continue to pollute the Au Sable, even under a state pollution discharge permit, provides a valid reason for the case to go forward. (Anglers also continues to contest that Department of Environmental Quality-issued permit in an administrative process.)
Harrietta Hills had said the suit should be kicked out of court because it has received a pollution permit.
Judge Mertz also said that the operation of a private commercial fish farm on the site of the old state fish hatchery ‘clearly violates the statute and the deed restrictions’ on the property. It ‘is clear that the intent of the State in granting the property to the County was that it remain open to and used for the benefit of the general public for recreation, fishing and historical purposes,’ the judge’ ruling states.
However, he found that Anglers does not have standing to interfere in the current arrangement, which came about when Department of Natural Resources signed a memo of understanding opening the door to the county allowing Harrietta HIlls to open a fish farm and restrict public access.
‘Anglers is pleased that Judge Mertz is allowing us to submit evidence that will clearly show how the Harrietta Hills Fish Farm is violating the Michigan Environmental Protection Act,’ said Tom Baird, chair of the Anglers of the Au Sable legal committee.
‘The DEQ permit allows the hatchery to discharge massive amounts of fish feces and partially decomposed fish food into the East Branch near its confluence with the main branch. We believe the pollution has already decreased water quality, encouraged algae growth, and very well could result in the spread of diseases, including Whirling Disease, in Au Sable trout.’
‘Anglers of the Au Sable is prepared to continue its fight against pollution by this fish farm in every possible venue,’ Baird said.
Harrietta Hills Fish Farm co-owner Dan Vogler could not be reached for comment via email. (Editor’s Note: When Vogler comments, it will be added to this story).
DEQ Director Heidi Grether is reviewing the pollution permit after Anglers contested the permit in an administrative process. Anglers hopes Director Grether will recognize that discharging pollutants into the Au Sable, one of the state’ crown jewels that attracts anglers from around the globe, is not acceptable under state law when technology exists to allow the hatchery to operate without polluting the river.