HERSEY — The proposed potash mine near Hersey is facing another challenge, and the water conservationists who have been fighting it have indicated there could be more legal challenges to come.

In September, Administrative Law Judge Daniel Pulter tossed the Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation’s (MCWC) appeal (called a “contested case‘) of the Department of Environmental Quality’s (now the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy) decision to issue a permit to Michigan Potash Operating, LLC for potash mining. The judge said he didn’t have jurisdiction and MCWC should have sent their request to the Supervisor of Mineral Wells first.

At the time, MCWC told the Cadillac News they didn’t have comment because they were still reviewing it with their lawyer.

On Oct. 21, the water group announced that they would continue the fight.

“Since we did submit such a request and since that request was part of the official permit record compiled by EGLE, we have appealed the dismissal and the case will now go to the Environmental Permit Review Panel,‘ said MCWC President Peggy Case, in an emailed statement. “The upshot of all this is that, for the past year and a half, no one in Lansing has been looking into the serious issues involving Michigan Potash’s plan and site.‘

MCWC went on to cite future steps Michigan Potash will have to take before mining can begin, hinting that the water conservation group will challenge those permits.

“That’s my understanding, too,‘ said Doug Miller, an MCWC member who lives near the proposed mining site. He was responding to a Cadillac News question about whether MCWC would file additional challenges in the future. Another MCWC member was listed by the organization as the person reporters should call for additional comment; however, Miller is the one who responded to the call, telling the Cadillac News that person had instructed him to call the newspaper.

For his part, Michigan Potash CEO Theodore Pagano defends potash mining in Michigan.

“Michigan potash manufacturing has been successfully and economically deployed under EPA and EGLE regulatory experience for 30 years less than 1.5 miles away (and two miles closer to the Muskegon River),‘ he wrote in an email to the Cadillac News.

Potash supporters say the United States needs its own potash source.

“Michigan’s unique manufacturing process disturbs less than 1% of the surface by utilizing deep geothermal wells to create a fertilizer necessary to reduce crop irrigation, ensure crop heath, protect farmer welfare, and ensure global food security,‘ Pagano said.

But MCWC says the site where Michigan Potash plans to mine, near Hersey in Osceola County, is too fragile because of nearby wetlands and springs.

The group also criticizes EGLE and Michigan Potash for relying on old environmental assessments.

“The DEQ allowed them to slide through with submitting that old paperwork that PPG did 40 years ago for that old site,‘ Miller said.

“High risk, intensive industrial activity at such a uniquely vulnerable site is not something we’re willing to accept without a fight,‘ Case said. “Michigan already has far too many areas that have become ‘water sacrifice zones.’ As Michiganders, we view fresh clean ground and surface waters as our birthright!‘

MCWC and Michigan Potash disagree about the usefulness of the potash source in Osceola County.

“This project appears to be facing many headwinds: Low potash prices (glut due to worldwide overcapacity a problematic site, lack of rail access, and distance from the U.S. agricultural heartland, to name a few,‘ Case said. “Previous companies gave up on mining potash here for some of these same reasons, even prior to the glut in production capacity.‘

But Pagano says they can just use trucks.

“Michigan can administer to its own potash demand, and to the U.S. corn belt by truck, displacing imports that otherwise must travel 1,600 and 7,500 freight miles from Canada and Russia,‘ he responded. “I am proud of Michigan’s prior operational accomplishments, and that expertise should be sustained to safely and wisely fulfill a need.‘

Cadillac News