Corps proposes compromise in dispute over beach clearing
By John Flesher
TRAVERSE CITY -- A proposed federal rule would give owners
of hotels along Michiganís Great Lakes shorelines greater
freedom to remove beach vegetation exposed by low water.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers district office in Detroit
released the tentative plan Friday, opening a 30-day period
for public comment. Afterward, the agency will decide
whether to implement the regulation without changes, modify
it or scrap it.
The rule pertains to commercial establishments -- motels,
resorts, condominium complexes -- with at least 100 feet
of shoreline frontage.
They could remove wetland vegetation from up to 25 percent
of their property, not to exceed an area 100 feet wide.
For example, a motel with 200 feet of frontage could
clear vegetation from a 50-foot-wide swath. A resort with
400 feet of frontage could clear 100 feet. But if the
resort owned more than 400 feet, it still could not clear
more than 100.
The rule also would streamline the application process
by establishing a regional permit instead of requiring
property owners to seek individual permits. Army Corps
approval still would be needed for vegetation removal,
but the agency would not solicit public comments for each
Lt. Col. Thomas Magness, Detroit district commander,
described the proposed rule as a compromise in the dispute
over wetland plants along Great Lakes shorelines. The
greenery has surfaced as water levels have receded since
the late 1990s.
Many shoreline property owners have clamored for authority
to dig up the plants, calling them unsightly, foul-smelling
and a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Environmentalists,
however, say they are an important part of the ecosystem,
preventing erosion and providing habitat for aquatic wildlife.
"Weíre trying to find an appropriate balance that
reflects the different needs," Magness said.
But both sides in the debate voiced disappointment with
the Army Corps proposal.
"It could have been worse," said Wil Cwikiel,
program director with Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council
in Petoskey. "But it still would allow further degradation
of a critical resource. It goes in the absolutely wrong
direction in terms of how to manage these systems."
David Powers, vice president of a property owners group
called Save our Shoreline, said the plan "doesnít
go far enough to protect shoreline properties and our
tourist economy. ... Itís a political move by the Corps
so they can say theyíve done something."
A state law enacted last year lets property owners perform
some types of shoreline maintenance, such as mowing and
raking, without a permit.
It also establishes two "pilot areas" -- Grand
Traverse Bay on Lake Michigan and Saginaw Bay on Lake
Huron -- where owners can seek expedited approval from
the Department of Environmental Quality to remove vegetation
on up to 50 percent of the width of their property or
100 feet, whichever is greater.
But most shoreline grooming also requires an Army Corps
permit because Great Lakes coastal wetlands are protected
under federal law.
U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Menominee, is sponsoring a bill
that would require the Army Corps to conform its policies
to the Michigan law. His measure has yet to get a committee
Stupakís office had no immediate comment on the Army
Corps proposal, but SOS members said it didnít meet the
"Itís a farce," complained Michael MacColeman,
a partner in Cherry Tree Inn On The Beach in Traverse
City. It wonít satisfy tourists who are avoiding beaches
in his area because of the vegetation, he said.
Magness said the new policy would make things much easier
for commercial owners, just as the agency did last year
by revising the application process for residential property
Those changes shortened the average application processing
period from several months to about two weeks, he said.
On the Net:
-- Text of Army Corps proposed rule: