5.4 Consumers Energy Hydropower Projects, Au Sable, Manistee, and Muskegon Rivers, Michigan -- FERC Project #2436 Et Al

Project Description: Consumers Energy operates 11 hydropower projects on three rivers in the lower panhandle of Michigan. The largest of these is the Foote Project located on the Au Sable River (FERC project number 2436). New licenses were issued for each of the projects on July 15, 1994 that incorporated conditions of a settlement agreement negotiated between Consumers Energy, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, USFS, FWS, NPS, and the Michigan SHPO. As required in the license, Consumers Energy submitted three Land Management Plans, one for each river basin, which were approved by FERC on March 5, 1997.

Magnitude of Lands Protection: Over 11,000 acres of project lands are managed under the land management plans including 5,348 acres of federal lands located within the Huron/Manistee National Forest. The key features of the land management plans are:

  • Establishment of a 200 foot buffer zone (measured from the high water mark) around each project reservoir except where lands are privately owned or recreation activities preclude 200 feet.
  • Establishment of a 100 foot buffer zone where existing recreation development occurs.
  • Establishment of a 660 foot secondary protection zone (as defined by USFS) within all project owned shoreline to protect potential bald eagle nest sites which prohibits land clearing, clear cutting, major construction, and other land use changes but allows for continued recreation use.
  • Establishment of a 100 foot greenbelt between waters edge and campsites.
  • Consumers Energy is required to allot $1 million for shoreline and river corridor erosion control and is required to contribute $575,000 annually to the State of Michigan Habitat Improvement Account.

Mechanism of Protection: Consumers Energy initiated the settlement agreement process in 1991 after initial meetings with resource agencies yielded little progress. After a year of negotiations a settlement agreement was reached and submitted to FERC. The agreement was incorporated into the license with few changes. Consumers Energy established the Manistee, Muskegon, Au Sable Coordination Team with representatives of the signing parties to implement the requirements of the agreement and license.

FERC Involvement: In its approval of the Land Management Plans, FERC states: "The management strategy would protect and enhance the visual quality of the shoreline of each impoundment and minimize the potential impact that unrestricted uses of these shorelines could have on riparian habitat and associated biota."

Current Status: In the Land Management Monitoring Report submitted March 30, 2001, Consumers Energy reports that several campsites have been relocated from the 100 foot buffer zone, there has been a 70% reduction in individual docks (replaced by group docks), and the wetlands inventory shows an increase in emergent wetlands. Consumers Energy conducts annual inspections of all leased properties to insure compliance with the goals of the Buffer Zone Management and Land Management Plans. There have been disagreements and rehearings on how funds should be spent and which mitigation projects are a result of effects caused by Consumers hydropower projects.