Conservation Impact of the Case: positive
This case clarified an exception to the wetland permit requirement of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act (NREPA). NREPA requires that a permit must be obtained before wetlands can be filled and dredged, but that certain farming activities are exempted from the permit requirement. The unanimous opinion in this case held that a new cranberry farm that would fill and dredge a wetland needed a permit, and that the plaintiff would have to appeal the DNR’s permit denial. The Court’s ruling protected both the particular wetland in the case and the procedures necessary to protect other wetlands.
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Wallace Huggett wanted to build a commercial cranberry farm on wetlands in Cheboygan County. However, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) denied his application for a wetlands permit. Mr. Huggett brought a lawsuit against the DNR to obtain a declaratory judgment that the proposed farm was not subject to the wetland permit requirement because it was an exempted farming activity under the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act. The Michigan Supreme Court held that the activities necessary to establish and operate the proposed cranberry farm did not fall within the farming activities exemption. As a result, the proposal was subject to the wetland permit requirements.
In 1990, Wallace Huggett contacted the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to determine if he would need a wetland permit to build a 200-acre commercial cranberry farm on wetlands in Cheboygan County that were previously the site of a peat farm. The DNR advised Mr. Huggett to obtain a wetland permit. Mr. Huggett applied for a permit later that year. The DNR denied his application and did not give him a hearing, even though he requested one.
Mr. Huggett filed a lawsuit against the DNR. He wanted a court to declare that the proposed cranberry farm was not subject to the wetland permit requirements because it was an exempted farming activity under the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act (NREPA). The trial court agreed with Mr. Huggett and issued an order declaring that his farming activity was exempt from the wetland permit requirements. The Court of Appeals reversed, because it thought that the farming activity exemption only applied to existing farms, not new farms like the one Mr. Huggett hoped to build.
Is a new cranberry farm exempt from wetland permitting requirements as a “farming activity” under the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act (NREPA)?
A unanimous Court decided that Mr. Huggett was required to obtain a permit before building and operating a cranberry farm on wetlands in Cheboygan County, because these activities did not qualify for the “farming activities” exemption under NREPA. The Court focused on the nature of the proposed activity and determined that building the cranberry farm would entail filling and dredging in a wetland and constructing pumping stations and an airfield. None of these activities fall within the farming activities exemption, so Mr. Huggett’s proposal was subject to permitting requirements. Mr. Huggett was left with the option of appealing directly to the DNR to reconsider its decision to deny his permit.