Mason Tract, An Environmental Win

It's another win for environmental advocates in Crawford County
Sheri McWhirter, Traverse City reporter

On the conservation front you’ll note the following comment by Sheri McWhirter in the Traverse City paper: GRAYLING -- It's another win for environmental advocates in Crawford County.A federal judge this week denied Traverse City-based Savoy Energy's request to join a three-year-old lawsuit that he decided five months ago. U.S. District Judge David Lawson of the Eastern District of Michigan denied Savoy's motion to intervene in a case that involves blocked mineral exploration beneath a wilderness area known as the Mason Tract.

Lawson refused the company's request in a scalding opinion issued Monday."During all this time, Savoy was not heard from, although the case received considerable public attention, and the preliminary injunction prevented Savoy from proceeding with its drilling project. Then, once the smoke of battle cleared, Savoy emerged from the woods on September 4, 2008 to file its motion to intervene, seeking to urge an appellate court to walk through the battlefield, as the saying goes, and shoot the wounded," Lawson said.

Lawson ruled Savoy's request was untimely and was a disservice to the litigants, including the government and court. "They've been sitting like snakes in the grass for the last three years. Now they want to come to the party? This dance is almost over," said Rusty Gates, president of Anglers of the Au Sable, one of the plaintiff groups.Savoy officials declined to comment.

The company for years wanted to slant drill a new well beneath the 4,700-acre state preserve from a nearby spot on federal forestland. A pipeline and production facility would be installed if gas is found and plans called for the widening of roads and removal of more than three acres of old growth forest.

A lawsuit was filed in 2005 by Anglers of the Au Sable, the Mackinac Chapter of the Sierra Club and Tim Mason, grandson of the man who donated the property in Crawford County to the state. Our chapter supported this suit. The suit questioned whether the U.S. government performed an adequate environmental assessment of the proposed drilling. Lawson ruled in July the government failed to do just that and threw out the study, sending federal forest officials back to the drawing board if drilling is ever to occur there.In September, both the federal government and Savoy filed notices of intent to appeal Lawson's decision.

The Mason Tract is a scenic wilderness area along the South Branch of the Au Sable River, 15 miles east of Grayling. It was donated as a public preserve in 1954 upon the death of auto executive and renowned outdoorsman George Mason.

The spot is well-used throughout the year by campers, hikers, fly-fishers and cross-country skiers, among others.