EVART — A judge says water conservationists shouldn’t have taken their case to him.

The Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation (MCWC) have been trying to halt a potash mining permit in Osceola County.

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (formerly Department of Environmental Quality) granted Michigan Potash Operating, LLC a permit for potash mining on June 1, 2018.

By the end of the following month, the water conservation group filed for a “contested case‘ in an attempt to prevent the mining, which the group argues would imperil nearby wetlands.

They were supposed to get their day in court on Monday, Sept. 16.

But Administrative Law Judge Daniel L. Pulter canceled the hearing.

Pulter’s order says he doesn’t have the authority, also known as subject matter jurisdiction, to handle the case. He said the group should have asked for a hearing with the supervisor of mineral wells before the state issued the permit.

“There are no statutory provisions or administrative rules which authorize a contested case hearing,‘ Pulter wrote.

The potash company’s head says the mining can be done safely.

“A rigorous, four-year permitting process at both the Environmental Protection Agency and the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, validates that all of Michigan’s resources can be stewarded, those on the surface and those in the subsurface, together,‘ said Ted Pagano,the CEO of Michigan Potash and Salt Company, in an emailed statement.

Potash is used in agriculture; most of it is mined abroad. Proponents of the Osceola County operation say it’s critical to have domestic sources.

“Potash is an all-natural fertilizer, and the nutrient most responsible for water use efficiency in all crops,‘ Pagano said. “It helps farmers increase yields with less irrigation, improves dryland farming, reduces new global deforestation, and strengthens our corn and soybean farmers on the homefront. The world’s need is controlled by four principle companies, one in Russia, one is Belarus, and two in Canada.‘

Actual removal and production of potash in Osceola County by Michigan Potash is still years away. Pagano said he anticipates a 36-month build and is still working out finances.

MCWC’s president, Peggy Case, said she didn’t have comment on the judge’s decision because the organization is still reviewing it with their lawyer.

For his part, Pagano says he wants to work with the group.

“All of their concerns are my concerns,‘ he said.

Cadillac News