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Great Lakes Article:

Sand dune owners face higher fees
State would charge more for permits along Lake Michigan shoreline.
By Eric Freedman
Capital News Service
Published in the South Bend Tribune March 6th, 2005

LANSING -- Property owners whose land includes sand dunes face significantly higher fees for permits to remove trees, build gazebos, expand driveways and construct homes or commercial structures.

Current fees ranging from $100 to $2,500 are too low to cover the state's expenses in administering its zoning permit and inspection program for "critical dune areas," according to the Department of Environmental Quality.

Michigan has about 250,000 acres of sand dunes, 70,000 of them classified as critical formations that the Legislature characterized as a "unique, irreplaceable and fragile resource" that provides economic, recreational, ecological, scenic and other benefits.

Most of the land is along the Lake Michigan shoreline from the Indiana border north to the Mackinac Bridge. The rest is in the Upper Peninsula along the northern coast of Lake Michigan and the southern shore of Lake Superior.

"It affects the whole west side of the state," said Lynn Egbert, the chief executive officer of the Michigan Association of Home Builders, which opposes the proposal.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm's proposed budget cuts would chop $100,000 between now and Sept. 30 and another $184,000 from the dunes permit program in the following 12 months.

"If the funding isn't replaced in some manner, the program will go downhill," said Martin Jannereth, chief of DEQ's Great Lakes Shoreland Section. "The fee increase is to replace that. It keeps us even."

Currently, most inspections are handled by three DEQ employees, one in Cadillac, one in Grand Rapids and one in Kalamazoo. The department issues 300 to 350 such permits each year.

Fees are charged to both private property owners and public agencies, such as Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore on the Leelanau Peninsula, he said.

Under the proposal, fees would range from $250 to $4,000, depending on the activity and how the property is used.

For example, it would cost $250 to install a short retaining wall or other "erosion protection device," to remove sand or three to nine trees, or to put up a deck larger than 225 square feet. That fee is now $100.

There would be a $600 price tag for a permit to build a garage, addition or storage structure, to install longer retaining walls, to replace a residential septic system or to expand a road or driveway. Those permits now cost $300.

The fee would rise to $1,300 -- also up from $300 -- to build a single-family home, cottage or guest dwelling or construct a driveway serving a single-family home.

Fees would be $2,000 to $4,000 for commercial, multi-family and industrial projects and for projects "that would damage or destroy features of archeological or historical significance."

Egbert said home builders have had no problems with the DEQ permit application process but called the fee hike "a capricious way to get funding when there is an expected loss of revenue."

He also said his association is concerned about potential increases in DEQ fees for other types of permits, such as wetlands permits.

Jannereth said the dunes-related fee change wouldn't apply to the small number of local governments that issue such permits under their own zoning authority. They include Bridgman in Berrien County, two townships on Beaver Island in Lake Michigan, Pere Marquette Township in Mason County and two townships in Emmet County.

DEQ's Land and Water Management Division will take public comments until March 11. DEQ Director Steven Chester will make the final decision.


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