Judge Donald Shelton will rule by the end of the day today on an injunction sought by “Protect Our Northwest Diverse ecoSystems” (or PONDS) to prevent construction of the proposed high school until further environmental study can be done.
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Scott Howard, arguing for the plantiffs, contended that the proposed construction would eliminate three habitats for the small-mouthed salamander, an endangered species in Michigan (the salamander is plentiful in Ohio). He held that wetlands mitigation has “an 80% failure rate” in Michigan, and that mitigation would not be an adequate replacement of the habitat.
Richard Landau, arguing for the Ann Arbor Public Schools, said that there would be a net increase in the amount of habitat, as the mitigations would improve existing wetlands and result in a net increase in total wetland acreage.
Shelton eliminated one area of contention by being willing to assume that the salamanders were indeed small-mouthed ones, prior to the full battery of blood tests coming back from zoological experts. During a recess, Julianne E. Chard, the bond director for the school, said that her most recent information indicated that these were hybrid salamanders and therefore not protected under the Michigan Engagered Species Act.
Shelton had hard questions for Howard about the total acreage, which Howard did not seem to answer to Shelton’s satisfaction. Landau alledged that if the plantiff’s guidelines for no construction within 300 feet of the wetlands was followed, 90 percent of the area would be unbuildable by any developer.
Landau also cited the Michigan Department of Natural Resources endangered species director’s affadavit in which he said of the salamander population at the site “regardless of whether or not the mitigation is constructed, the chances of survival are low.” According to Landau, every effort has been made to artificially exceed the current natural habitat.
Denise Heberle, of the PONDS group and speaking after the trial, said that this was another tactic in the group’s continuing opposition to the high school and the site chosen.
“There are still numerous problems with the site: traffic problems, demographic problems, and accountability problems,” she said. “This school is going to be built in the richest, whitest part of town, and the kids who need the new school the most won’t be there unless they’re bussed in at 3 a.m.”
Both sides say that they’ll know how they feel about the judgement at the end of the day, when Shelton releases his opinion.
“If it goes your way, you’re happy. If it goes the other way, you’re angry. Same as all decisions,” said Howard.
Shelton denied the injunction in a 9-page brief. Thank you, LNM, for that and the correction on the lawyer’s name (I screwed the pooch on that one).