Recommendations released for Grayling Fish Hatchery permit
Dan Sanderson | Staff Writer
An administrative law judge from Lansing is recommending stricter requirements for a proposal for commercial fish production at the Grayling Fish Hatchery, but conservation groups seeking to block the move vow continued legal battles.
Daniel L. Pulter released his proposed recommendations on Feb. 1 for a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit for the Grayling Fish Hatchery that was issued to the Harrietta Hills Trout Farm LLC. Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Director Heidi Grether will make a final decision on the permit after further exceptions in a contested case are reviewed.
In May 2012, the Harrietta Hills Trout Farm and the Crawford County Board of Commissioners entered into a contract for the operation of the Grayling Fish Hatchery, to keep the 103-year-old community attraction open to local residents and tourists. Before entering into the contract, the Grayling Recreation Authority informed county officials that it no longer wanted to oversee fish hatchery operations because it was a financial loss.
The NPDES permit was issued by the DEQ on July 1, 2014, since Harrietta Hills plans to increase trout production from 20,000 per year up to 100,000 per year.
Harrietta Hills hopes to gradually increase production to levels where 300,000 pounds of trout are produced per year, but all of the trout will not be in the hatchery’s raceways at one time since they will be removed and harvested once they reach 1.25 pounds.
The Anglers of the AuSable, a local angling and conservation group that was established 30 years ago, and the Sierra Club, challenged the permit in a contested court hearing that stretched out over three months last year.
In his recommendations, Pulter stood by the DEQ Water Resources Division staff’s provisions included in the permit. The DEQ set specific limits on the phosphorous that can be released into the river after the water flows through the hatchery during the different seasons of the year.
The total amount of suspended solids, in the form of fish feces and uneaten fish food, was also established in the permit.
During the contested hearing, the Water Resources Divisions sought provisions to mandate weekly reporting for Carbonaceous biochemical oxygen demand or CBOD, ammonia, and dissolved oxygen. The reports must be submitted when trout production reaches 50,000 pounds per year, and each time production increases by 50,000 pounds.
The initial permit called for quiescent zones, screened off areas below the rearing areas at the end of the raceways to increase the settling rate of nutrients prior to discharge, to be installed when fish production at the hatchery reaches 100,000 pounds. In his recommendation, Pulter called for installment of the quiescent zones six months after a final determination order has been made regarding the permit.
The Anglers of the AuSable and Sierra Club contend that pollutants released from the hatchery would impact the water quality, impact fly hatches, impact wild trout, and reduce canoeing and other recreational sports.
“The fish farm will still use the river as its sewer, and that should be unacceptable to all who use and live on this outstanding waterway. We will ask DEQ Director Heidi Grether to reject this permit completely and restore common sense to this situation,” said Tom Baird, president of the Anglers of the AuSable.
The Anglers argue that the State of Michigan runs a state-of-the-art fish hatchery adjacent to the Platte River, another important trout stream in the state. At the facility, water is used by the hatchery and then is thoroughly treated before being discharged. The Anglers of the AuSable said the organization would support this type of fish farm in Grayling.
“We are still shocked that state officials would willingly allow one of the nation’s top trout streams to be subject to pollution from any source,” Baird said. “To allow Harrietta Hills Trout Farm LLC to discharge pollutants into the AuSable instead of using proven pollution prevention practices is an outrage to all who live along the river or use the river for recreation.”
While addressing this issue, Pulter noted that $9 million was spent on renovations at the Platte River facility, which has an operating budget that exceeds $1 million per year. He added the Grayling Fish Hatchery would have to be completely redesigned for use of a similar system.
In the contested case hearing, Vogler noted that there are four drain pipes that release effluent into the East Brach of the AuSable River, contending that water quality tests admitted into evidence by those who oppose the fish hatchery plans were skewed.
Vogler said the standards included in the permit are appropriate for what he is trying to do so that he can keep the fish hatchery open for tourism and still have an economically viable business.
“They’re going to protect the river,” Vogler said. “That’s what we’ve been saying all along.”