Michigan Trout Unlimited is the coordination and representation for 19 local chapters of TU and over 7,500 individuals, devoted to the conservation, protection and restoration of Michigan's coldwater fish and their watersheds. Michigan is blessed with a vast wealth of wonderful and unique trout streams, over 11,000 inland lakes, and the largest sources of cold freshwater in North America - the Great Lakes. Michigan TU does whatever it takes to advocate for the prudent management of these resources, including on-the-ground stream improvements, angler & steward education, research, partnerships and collaboration with other conservation groups and governmental agencies, and policy development. Michigan is the birthplace of Trout Unlimited, and Michigan TU continues that proud heritage with its work today.
It was June 23, 2008 when the catastrophe on the Pigeon River occurred. For those that remember, it was when Golden Lotus (Song of the Morning Ranch) discharged tons of sediment from their impoundment due to faulty dam management. This resulted in a fish kill of over 500,000 trout. That sediment discharge was the third such occurrence in 51 years.
Since that date the DEQ & DNR conducted an environmental investigation resulting in a lawsuit between the State of Michigan and Golden Lotus. Michigan Trout Unlimited and Pigeon River Country Association also joined the lawsuit with the State of Michigan. TU/PRCA filed a nuisance claim against Golden Lotus which was part of the ruling by former Judge Porter in the 1984 lawsuit. The primary purposes TU/PRCA entered into this lawsuit were to ensure complete dam removal, so the Pigeon River can flow freely, and to ensure this type of catastrophe would never occur again.
The original settlement that was reached ended up contested. With tireless work and persistence, final agreements have now been reached by MITU/PRCA, the State of Michigan and Golden Lotus regarding the Song of the Morning Ranch Dam Removal case. This took an incredible amount of legal work, science work, negotiating and old fashioned hard work.
On April 3, 2014, almost six years later, all parties affiliated with the case appeared in court to enter the agreed upon and signed final documents before Judge Allen. Judge Allen signed the documents to complete the legal process.
It is very exciting for everyone involved and long overdue to complete the lawsuit, which is a necessary process; but now the real work begins.
The new Collaborative Agreement, an agreement between Golden Lotus, MITU and PRCA, lays out all of the conditions, monitoring, sand removal efforts and work to be completed. As a result of these agreements, a Steering Committee will be established to make critical decisions as they arise during the dam removal. Huron Pines has been named and they have agreed to be the Project Manager for the dam removal and associated projects.
So, what is next for the Pigeon River?
First, the drawdown of the impoundment will start this spring. Due to light organic sediment, being the top layer in the impoundment, the drawdown will be a relatively slow. The Sediment Management Plan 1 will be implemented, including how the sediment will be managed once some of these sediments are transported when the Pigeon River has increased flow through the impoundment. As vegetation seeds are prevalent in the sediment, vegetation growth will occur as the dewatering occurs and the new surface is exposed to oxygen and sunlight. This new vegetation growth will stabilize the newly exposed sediment.
The second phase of the project, which will start following the drawdown, will consist of removal of the dam structures, installation of a replacement bridge over the river (spanning the natural width of river, which is estimated at 35 feet), and removal of sand from the river.
The Golden Lotus Dam is the most significant element impacting the health of the Pigeon River. This nearly 6 year long legal process has taken incredible resources to see through, and MITU would not have been able to effectuate this positive outcome for the Pigeon River without the continued support of our members like you. We are pleased today to report this dam removal process will begin this spring, and the Pigeon River will forever be better because of it. We will continue to provide more information and details about this project, but wanted to share this great news with you as soon as it was official. Thank you for all you do to support the work of MITU.