Oil plans at Southfield church grounds on hold

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Pontiac — A plan to drill for oil on the grounds of a Southfield church was temporarily stalled Wednesday.

The city of Southfield had obtained a temporary restraining order last week against Jordan Development and its plan to explore for oil on the grounds of the Word of Faith church. Attorneys for the company and church, and also the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, all argued before Judge Michael Warren in Oakland Circuit Court why he should lift the order.

Warren did not and attorneys signed a stipulation that is expected to play out in other legal battles in the weeks and months ahead — in Pontiac and in Ingham Circuit Court, which handles disputes involving the state DEQ.

Both sides claimed temporary victory: Southfield, for keeping the restraining order in place; Jordan Development and the church, for not being banned from pursuing future drilling, which they predicted will eventually take place.

“We feel this is a zoning issue and are trying to enforce our zoning regulations,” city attorney Susan Ward-Witkowski said. “There will be no cutting of trees, no drilling for oil ... This is no for now.”

Former state Attorney General Mike Cox, who represents Jordan Development of Traverse City, said he suspected matters would be worked out in respective courts.

Southfield argued it has a woodlands and wetlands ordinance in place and also a moratorium, in effect until April 28, that prohibits oil drilling or mining in the city — especially in a residential area around the church.

Daniel Bock, an attorney for the DEQ, convinced Warren the department should be separated from the complaint and restraining order.

“I feel this court clearly does not have subject jurisdiction,” Warren said. “I will dismiss all claims against the DEQ.”

It is expected Southfield will refile its suit against the DEQ in Ingham Circuit Court over its issuing of a permit for the drilling project. That could take several months to be decided, Cox said.

Warren gave attorneys several deadlines up to September for filing legal motions in the case before him.

Attorneys reserved the right to — at any time — file to have the restraining order dissolved, Cox said.

Jennifer Cantrell, one of several Southfield residents in court, said she was pleased by what happened in court.

“Oil companies just can’t do things in a hurry without it being questioned,” she said. “This will give everyone time to address concerns.”


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