Traverse City Record-Eagle

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December 19, 2008

Mason Tract drilling ban upheld

Government won't appeal judge's ruling

(Continued)

The plan was to clear about 3.5 acres of forest for a well site on federal land, then drill beneath the Mason Tract at an angle. If enough gas or oil was found, the company intended to install a pipeline and build a production facility about a mile east of the well.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management approved the project shortly after the Forest Service granted the permit. But it has been on hold since Lawson issued an order in December 2005 blocking the company from clearing land to get started.

Forest supervisor Leanne Marten said when approving Savoy's application that the project wouldn't significantly harm the environment and that the company would be required to keep noise to a minimum.

But the judge ruled the Forest Service didn't consider how degrading the area could harm tourism, and said the agency did a "woefully inadequate" job of evaluating how the drilling might affect the Kirtland's warbler, an endangered songbird that nests in the area.

Anglers of the AuSable and the Sierra Club sued to halt the drilling. Joining the suit was Tim Mason, whose grandfather, auto executive George Mason, donated the original 1,200 acres to the state upon his death in 1954 and asked that it be maintained as wilderness.

Lawson last week denied a request by Savoy to intervene in the case.

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