Mason Tract – Reverse Chronology (2002 to Present)
December 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. The Au Sable River is one of the world’s premier blue ribbon trout streams.
The agency action follows a decision issued by Michigan Eastern District Federal Court Judge David M. Lawson in July. The decision came in response to concerns raised by the Sierra Club, Anglers of the Au Sable and Tim Mason about the Forest Service plan to allow Savoy Energy Company to clearcut and drill on National Forest land adjacent to the Mason Tract and within earshot of the river. For full story click here.
September 2008 - Savoy Energy has filed a Motion to Intervene for Purposes of Appeal.
The defendants in the lawsuit, the United States Forest Service and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, filed an appeal on 5 September 2008. The concern with the 6th Circuit Court in Cincinnati is that they are a very conservative court and does not have a record of pro-environmental decisions.
September 2007 - No news is good news. Magistrate Judge Binder's opinion was forwarded to Judge Lawson for review. Judge Lawson was then re-assigned to another District, taking our case with him. A permanent injunction is in place, meaning no activity on Well 1-8. An updated opinion could come at anytime.
September 2006 - Late fall, Savoy Energy drills Well 1-16, approximately two miles south of contested Well 1-8. A five-acre drilling site was completely leveled, in the middle of Kirtland Warbler habitat. The on-site brine pit is one hundred feet wide by three hundred feet long. This exploratory well came up empty….dry hole.
June 2006 - Magistrate Judge Charles Binder ruled, almost totally in the favor of the Anglers on June 20, 2006. Recommendation: Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment be GRANTED: Defendants' Consolidated Motion for Summary Judgment be DENIED: the Decision Notice and Finding of No Significant Impact for the USA & State South Branch 1-8 Well Project be declared INADEQUATE: the Defendants be ENJOINED from using the Decision Notice and Finding of No Significant Impact for the USA & South Branch 1-8 Well Project: and the matter be REMANDED to the Defendants for further proceedings.
February 2006 - Oral arguments are to be heard March 21st, in Bay City. While the Anglers have four legal eagles working on the case, we also have an expert litigator, Marianne Dugan of Eugene, Oregon. Her specialty is NEPA cases.
December 2005 - Notice was given to the Anglers on December 1st, that Savoy Energy planned to start clearing the well site on December 7th. A Temporary Restraining Order was drafted, and filed December 2nd. The morning of December 7th, Judge Lawson issued a Permanent Injunction, without oral arguments. Case, already scheduled, will now be heard on its full merits.
September 2005 - Michigan Council of Trout Unlimited rescinded its offer of $1,000 to help the Anglers with the costs of fighting the Mason Tract suit. They also chose to pull their support from the Kolke Creek litigation. This is disturbing to the board as many of the individual chapters of Trout Unlimited are supporting our efforts.
May 2005 - Our appeal of FONSI was denied May 4th. Anglers have now formed an alliance with Sierra Club and the Mason Family to file suit in the U.S. District Court Eastern District of Michigan. We filed June 7th citing violations of the National Environmental Policy Act, the National Forest Management Act, the Administrative Procedures Act, and the Minerals Leasing Act.
March 2005 - The Decision Notice/FONSI (Finding of No Significant Impact) was issued late January. The "Special Forces" committee had thirty days to file, firing off a 21-page document hammering the Forest Service once again for their cursory efforts to mitigate our concerns and approve drilling under the Mason Tract.
December 2004 - The Au Sable "Special Forces" committee files a 13-page letter with the Forest Service on Environmental Assessment review and comments. Focus was on a lack of documentation to make a sound decision based on the information available. This included effects of noise, economic impact, recreational effect, and violations of existing statues. The Environmental Assessment appears to be written with the goal of issuing a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI), without any consideration for the human element.
September 2004 - The Forest Service Environmental Assessment was released in August. "Special Forces" committee is in the process of comments for the Environmental Assessment. There are glaring holes in the Forest Service report.
June 2004 - Representative Matt Gillard sponsors a bill aimed at protecting the Mason Tract as well as other wilderness areas in the State.
March 2004 - The State has denied any seismic testing on any Mason Tract lands. The testing will start on the Federal land adjacent to the Mason Tract.
September 2003 - So many folks responded to help, a special committee was formed to take on the drilling issue. They have been nicknamed, "Au Sable Special Forces". Forest Service tried to "Categorically Exclude" the original scoping document. Second Scoping Document is now due out by November 17th. Sierra Club successfully had this withdrawn on the grounds that it required National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysis.
In a letter from Governor Granholm to the Forest Service she says, "The proposed location for this drilling site is too close to one of the most cherished natural sites in our state. The U.S. Forest Service has the opportunity now to look for alternate locations for the drilling pad that are further from the Mason Tract and further away from the South Branch of the Au Sable River."
June 2003 -The Anglers put out the call to stop this drilling, which is considered an encroachment on the river system. This call resulted in the most comments ever received for a single US Forest Service project. This is hallowed ground as far as the fly fishing community is concerned. Very quickly we were able to rally all units of Government to our cause. It received statewide press.
June 2003 - A Scoping Document was received detailing plans for South Branch Well 1-8. This well is to be slant drilled from U.S. Forest Service land, to a mineral lease under State owned land, under the Mason Tract. George W. Mason owned many parcels in this area, but never had an interest in this one 40-acre parcel, where the mineral lease lies. In 1959, in a land exchange to even out the boundaries of what we know today as "The Mason Tract", the State acquired the surface rights to this 40-acre parcel, while the Forest Service kept their mineral rights.
Sept 2002 - The United States Forest Service representative announced a lease for an exploratory gas well, near the Chapel. The Anglers discuss potential impact at Board of Directors Meeting.