DNR Director Creagh Joins Anglers in saying “No Surface Development” On Holy WaterAfter meeting with Anglers President Bruce Pegler and First Vice President Tom Baird and receiving hundreds of emails from concerned anglers and lovers of the Au Sable from around the state, DNR Director Keith Creagh has decided there will be no oil and gas exploration along the “holy waters” corridor anytime soon.The announcement came at a Dec. 12 meeting of the Natural Resources Commission. Anglers of the AuSable thanks Director Creagh for reversing the department’s initial plan to allow development in several parcels near the river, and changing them to “non-development” status. Not only have the leases been set as “non-development,” the director is modifying them to remove language allowing reclassification of surface use without public notice and a new lease process.Anglers, our fellow fishing and environmental friends, local businesses plus hundreds of concerned citizens can finally exhale, for now.“Michigan has special places that deserve careful attention and thoughtful protection,” Creagh said. “The Au Sable River is one of those places. A nondevelopment lease lets us protect an area’s valuable surface features. This, in turn, protects Michigan citizens against the loss of revenue if publicly owned minerals are removed without a lease in place.”In late October, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources auctioned nearly 2,800 acres east of Grayling for potential oil and gas development, much of it smack in the middle of one of the world’s most beloved trout streams. We urged the DNR not to do this. The Department did it anyway.At the December 12 NRC Meeting, DNR Director Keith Creagh announced he would:
- Not enter the leases as originally auctioned.
- Modify the affected leases along the Holy Water to “non-development” status.
- Further tighten the leases to specifically prohibit any reclassification for the full five-year lease period. Any such reclassification, if requested by the oil and gas lease holders, would require public notice and a new auction – which Anglers would naturally oppose.
- Pledged, based on this recent controversy, to assign a DNR taskforce, with stakeholder input including Anglers representatives, to identify “special places” akin to the Holy Waters, where mineral leases and future oil and gas development will be off-limits in the future.“This is a huge win for Anglers of the Au Sable,” president Bruce Pregler said. “Only through intense yet rational public input from hundreds of Anglers members and our friends in the conservation community were we able to convince the DNR to make this change. In fact, during the meeting today the director said he was getting an email every four minutes.”“Thanks to all who took the time to explain to the DNR why the Au Sable is so special and why there was no way any of us would stand by while land was cleared for oil and gas wells in the Holy Water,” Pregler said.Baird also said special thanks go to DNR Director Creagh. “Keith really listened to us,” Baird said. “It took guts to make this change – and vision to pledge to identify other special places where these kinds of controversies should be avoided in the future.”When the lease news broke in October, Anglers went to work. The proposed leasing plan did not bode well for current or future residents of this historic stretch of the Au Sable. We asked again that the DNR reconsider the action. The Department initially declined our request.That meant it was time to roll up our sleeves and do the heavy lifting necessary to help Director Creagh better understand these issues. This was nothing new for us, and we quickly were joined by our usual allies: the Michigan Environmental Council, Michigan League of Conservation Voters, Sierra Club, Au Sable Big Water Preservation Association, North Branch Foundation, Au Sable River Watershed Committee, and Michigan Trout Unlimited. Several local business and government leaders assisted in this effort at well. We had not seen that spirit here since the dark days of the Mason Tract crisis.Given the short time window and enormity of the task it was an extraordinary show of solidarity by all. We are grateful for the support.In the final analysis Director Creagh made the right decision. The “Holy Water” is safe for now thanks to Creagh’s willingness to listen.More work needs to be done to responsibly obtain these resources, but this is a victory worth savoring. Thank you to all who helped us to secure it.- Bruce Pregler, President and Tom Baird, First Vice President