TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — An environmental group filed a challenge Monday to a recently issued state permit allowing a northern Michigan commercial fish hatchery to boost operations and increase discharges into the Au Sable River, a revered trout stream.
The Sierra Club contends the permit issued in July by the Department of Environmental Quality would allow water quality to be degraded in a particularly valuable and sensitive section of the river known as “the holy waters.” DEQ officials say the permit contains adequate safeguards and pledge the river will be watched closely for signs of excessive pollution from the Grayling hatchery.
“If you looked for the dumbest place in Michigan to put an industrial commercial fish farm, in the middle of the Au Sable River just upstream from the holy waters would be hard to beat,” said Marvin Roberson, a Sierra Club policy specialist.
The group submitted a petition for a hearing before a DEQ administrative law judge, the usual procedure for seeking to overturn an agency permit decision. If the judge sides with the regulators, opponents could file suit in circuit court.
Built a century ago, the hatchery once was owned and operated by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Crawford County now owns the facility and leases it to Harrietta Hills Trout Farm LLC, which also has a fish farm near Cadillac.
Under the permit, Harrietta Hills can increase production from about 20,000 pounds of rainbow trout a year to 300,000 pounds, which company owner Dan Vogler says is essential to make the business profitable. Even then it would be small by national standards, Vogler says.
Bill Creal, chief of the DEQ’s Water Resources Division, said the permit tightly limits the hatchery’s discharges of phosphorus and suspended solids — primarily fish excrement and uneaten fish food. Those pollutants are linked to fatal whirling disease, which causes trout and similar species to swim repeatedly in circular patterns instead of feeding and avoiding predators.
The DEQ will work with the DNR on a plan to monitor water chemistry and organisms in the Au Sable for signs the discharges are harming river quality, Creal said.
“If there’s a problem we’ll know and we’ll know early,” DEQ spokesman Brad Wurfel said.
Anne Woiwode, the Sierra Club’s Michigan director, said the permit doesn’t require “monitoring or control of the release of disease, parasites, most pollutants or even live fish into the river.”
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