Oil drilling fate still up in the air

By: Kayla Dimick | Southfield Sun | Published March 17, 2016

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Southfield residents will have to wait a few more months before the fate of a proposed exploratory oil well at a local church is decided.

Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Michael Warren decided March 16 to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the city of Southfield against the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality for approving a permit application for Jordan Development Co. to drill an exploratory well at Word of Faith International Church, 2000 W Nine Mile.

Warren decided that the Oakland County Circuit Court is not the proper place for the city to file a suit against the MDEQ. Instead, the city should file in Ingham County, which handles claims against the MDEQ.

“I find that this court clearly has no subject matter jurisdiction,” Warren said. “This court shall dismiss claims against the MDEQ.”

City Attorney Sue Ward-Witkowski and attorney Ronald Acho argued that Warren should hear the case in his courtroom. Ward-Witkowski and Acho cited the city’s 180-day moratorium on oil and gas extraction and mining operations, extended unanimously by the City Council in October. Attorneys representing the city also argued that the city holds a zoning ordinance that states drilling is not permitted in a residential district, which is where Word of Faith is located.  In addition to being located in a residential district, City Planner Terry Croad said in a previous report, the property comprises woodlands and wetlands.

“This is a local jurisdictional manner,” Acho said. “We have laws in place. Only you can deal with that. Not some other judge that doesn’t know Oakland County. ”

“This is a residential district,” Ward-Witkowski said. “To allow a drilling operation in a residential area — once it starts and the trees go down, it’s too late.”

Michael Cox, an attorney representing Jordan Development and Word of Faith, said he believes the city had been planning a lawsuit for some time.

“It’s clear from their proceedings. They were planning this a long time. On behalf of Word of Faith Church: We have a permit, let’s proceed with drilling,” Cox said.

MDEQ attorney Daniel Bock argued that the Oakland County Court lacks power over a government agency.

“This court lacks jurisdiction,” Bock said.

Warren also decided not to lift the city’s temporary restraining order filed earlier this month against Jordan Development and the company’s plans to drill the well. Attorneys were given deadlines over the next several months to file motions in the case.

“We’re pleased to say for the record that we reached a temporary resolution. So, no cutting of trees until the court makes a decision,” Acho said.

Cox said Jordan Development will hold off on moving forward with the well until the court issues a ruling, expected in September.
“(We) won’t cut down trees until the order of the court,” Cox said.