BIG RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A local group is prepared to sue Gotion Inc., saying that the company’s Big Rapids-area electric vehicle battery plant could harm endangered species.
On Sept. 25, the Mecosta Environmental and Security Alliance sent a notice of intent to sue Gotion Inc., according to a press release from the organization. MESA’s complaint centers on Section 9 of the Endangered Species Act.
It’s been one year since the Mecosta County Board of Commissioners, the Green Charter Township Board of Trustees and the Big Rapids Charter Township Board of Trees voted unanimously in support of the revitalization zone that would become the Gotion battery plant.
For the past 12 months, many people and groups living in the area have protested against the project, including MESA.
“We have, in the letter, brought an Endangered Species Act claim, technically called a Section 9 claim, which allows citizen suits against the government or private parties for anyone who, quote, ‘takes an endangered species,'” Robby Dube, MESA’s attorney, said. “Taking an endangered species can include killing them, harming them, disturbing them, messing with their habitat or their food sources.”
In the notice, MESA said the Gotion property itself is home to bald eagles, rusty patched bumblebees and Karner blue butterflies, along with their sole food source. Two of those species are endangered, according to Dube.
“One of the things we’re seeing around the country is these mega-industrial projects that typically have pretty severe national security concerns and environmental concerns, pop up in small rural communities where the companies believe they can quickly get these projects in, create a sense there’s no stopping them, and kind of bulldoze the people’s rights or ability to have a say in what happens in their communities,” Dube said.
On Wednesday, News 8 sat down with Gerald Fisher, a law professor at Western Michigan University-Cooley Law School. Fisher said these cases are common, but getting solid evidence, like pictures of the species or witnesses, is key.
“The first question that the party receiving this notice will say is, ‘OK, we recognize that these species are maybe endangered or otherwise protected, and that you are making a claim about that,'” Fisher explained. “On the other hand, they’re going to say, ‘You haven’t sent us any evidence.'”
Dube said MESA is feeling confident about its evidence. According to Dube, Gotion will ultimately have two options.
“If they appropriately recognize they’re going to violate federal law by killing these endangered species or otherwise harming them, their options would be to sell the property or to somehow work with official wildlife services,” he said.
Gotion has 58 days from Wednesday to respond to the notice. If Gotion doesn’t respond, MESA will file the lawsuit.