What Happened

On June 23, 2008, the dam at the Song of the Morning Ranch on the Pigeon River, operated by Golden Lotus, Inc., failed for the third time in 60 years. This failure, like the two previous, resulted in a massive fish kill and habitat destroying silt release. The State Michigan, joined by the PRCA and Trout Unlimited, filed a complaint in 46th District Court in Gaylord against Golden Lotus, requesting removal of the dam on the grounds that it’s presence and operation posed a hazard to the river system. Negotiations between all parties resulted in the signing of an Interim Order filed with the court mandating removal of the dam.

Subsequent disagreement arose between the parties about whether Golden Lotus was required to remove the entire dam structure or if they could leave the lower structures in place. Golden Lotus argued for the latter, stating it was necessary to keep that part of the dam to support the bridge providing acccess to their main compound. The PRCA and TU argued for complete removal and restoration of the river to a free flowing condition. The court supported this position, and ordered complete dam removal. As of late 2011, the court has issued a stay of its order pending Golden Lotus’ pursuit of an appeal, and no physical work on removal has started.


May, 1957: Earthen dam on the Pigeon River at the Lansing Club Pond fails, causing massive flooding, siltation and fish mortality. The earthen dam is subsequently replaced by a concrete dam.

May, 1969: Golden Lotus, Inc. acquires the dam and opens the Song of the Morning Ranch, a yoga retreat.

June-July 1984: Dam fails during a planned drawdown to repair it, again causing major flooding, siltation and fish mortality.

September, 1988: Court hearings and negotiations between teh DNR and Golden Lotus result in a Consent Judgment filed in 46th CIrcuit Court in Gaylord, MI regulating future dam operation.

June 23, 2008: Another dam failure causes flooding, draining the 60 acre pond behind the dam. Golden Lotus closes the dam gates to refill the pond, shutting off all downstream river flow. Golden Lotus also fails to report either the dam failure or gate closing to the DNR or DEQ.

June, 2008 – February, 2009: Investigation by the DNR determines that the dam failure caused significant harm to the fish population and habitat of the Pigeon River, killing an estimated 474,486 trout between the dam and the M-68

February 13, 2009: The State of Michigan files a formal complaint in the 46th Circuit Court against Golden Lotus, Inc., seeking removal of the dam and monetary damages. The Pigeon River Country Association (PRCA) and the Michigan Council of Trout Unlimited (Michigan TU) later join the State as intervening plaintiffs.

April 2, 2010: Negotiations between all parties result in an Interim Order whereby Golden Lotus agrees to remove the dam and pay $150,000 in damages over ten years. The order specifies conditions under which the dam removal process is to proceed.2010-2011: The parties disagree about the terms of the Interim Order. The primary disagreement involves the term ‘dam removal.’ Golden Lotus contends the agreement allows part of the lower structure of the dam to remain as support for a bridge to their main buildings. This would leave an approximately three-foot spillway, blocking fish passage and retaining a smaller pond. The PRCA and Michigan TU contend that ‘dam removal’ means removal of all structures and restoration of a free-flowing river.

The PRCA and Michigan TU also object to Golden Lotus’ falure to include Dr. Bryan Burroughs, Executive Director of Michigan TU and a trout stream dam removal expert, in the removal planning process as specified in the Interim Order. They also object to the permit for removal submitted by Golden Lotus as inadequate as to sand and silt removal from the pond during the drawdown process.

The disputes over the Interim Order and permit application delay the start of the drawdown process, originally expected to begin in spring/summer 2011.

July 22, 2011: Judge Dennis Murphy of the 46th Circuit Court rules on a motion brought by the PRCA and Michigan TU that the Interim Order requires removal of all dam structures.

August 8, 2011: Golden Lotus files a motion to reconsider the court’s July 22 ruling.

August 26, 2011: Judge Murphy denies the motion to reconsider.

September 15, 2011: Golden Lotus files and Application for Leave to Appeal with the Michigan Court of Appeals (COA), which is essentially asking the COA for permission to appeal the Circuit Court ruling. At the same time, Golden Lotus files a motion with the Circuit Court requesting a stay of proceedings pending appeal.

November 9, 2011: Judge Murphy grants Golden Lotus’ stay pending their Application for Leave to Appeal

March 23, 2012: The Court of Appeals denies Golden Lotus’ Application for Leave to Appeal Judge Murphy’s ruling that the Interim Order requires removal of all dam structures.

May 14, 2012: The Court of Appeals denies Golden Lotus’ Motion to Reconsider.

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