The struggle over drilling in the Jordan Valley Management Area has entered a new phase. Even though the Department of Natural Resources rejected Walter Zaremba's attempt to build a pipeline through the natural area, and the Department of Environmental Quality denied his drilling application, the Elmira businessman has not given up.
Now Mr. Zaremba is pleading his case to a third state agency, the Michigan Public Service Commission, in his bid to drill the first natural gas well on state-owned land in the Jordan.
Mr. Zaremba claims that because his pipeline will provide gas to the public it should be considered a "public utility." Therefore, he argues, his request for a pipeline should be granted under eminent domain--the power to condemn land against the will of the landowner. He has applied for a "certificate of public convenience and necessity" from the Public Service Commission, which he believes will allow him to override the DNR's opposition to a pipeline on the protected state land.
In his application, Mr. Zaremba argues that his proposed pipeline "will serve the public convenience and necessity by providing the producers of gas a means of transporting the gas."
Read that quotation carefully and consider this: Mr. Zaremba's proposed well site is surrounded by miles of state-owned land which never will be drilled. The only "producer" he possibly could be referring to is himself.
In short, Mr. Zaremba is arguing that by serving himself, he is serving the public interest and therefore should be granted approval to condemn public land.
"It's an obvious attempt to use public land for private purposes," said John Hummer, Program Director of Friends of the Jordan River Watershed. "A private party cannot force the State of Michigan to allow development on public land. We are confident that as the facts are revealed in this case the Commissioners of the Public Service Commission will realize what is at stake and deny this application."
The DNR submitted its formal opposition to the plan before the Public Service Commission at a July 15 hearing in Lansing. Represented at the hearing by the Attorney General's office, the DNR argued that 1). a gathering line from a single Antrim well does not fall within the Commission's jurisdiction, and 2). that even if the Commission did certify the pipeline, under state law a private party can not condemn public lands.
The Institute, together with Friends of the Jordan and the Michigan Environmental Council, have filed opposition to Mr. Zaremba's proposal and are urging the Public Service Commission to deny the application. The decision, which is expected early next year, will be made by the three governor-appointed Public Service Commissioners and a state Administrative Law Judge.G
For more information, contact: Hans Voss at the Institute, 231-882-0063; or John Hummer at Friends of the Jordan, 231-533-5063.