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STATE SHORELINE: Lawmakers should stay out of permit process
Detroit Free Press
Published May 11, 2004

Lake levels have come up a bit, but not enough to end pressure from people -- resort owners, especially -- who want to manicure every inch of exposed Great Lakes bottomland into a smooth, plantless beach.

Their complaints are expected to pour out today at a state Senate committee meeting called to review last year's changes to state rules on bottomlands grooming. But the Legislature ought to do no more than take the issue under advisement.

Because the Great Lakes bottomlands are a public trust, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has oversight along with the state Department of Environmental Quality. The Corps has remained appropriately stricter than the loosened state law. But it has invited more grief by falling behind on its plan to streamline the permit for resort owners that determines where they can remove plants and how much they can grade the erratic bumps and slopes of the bottomlands.

Many parts of newly exposed bottomland qualify as coastal wetlands, which are crucial for maintaining water quality, providing living space for shoreline animals and preventing erosion. Humans mess with these vital physical reminders of the water cycle at their own peril.

Nonetheless, the Legislature passed bills last year that gave shoreline owners more leeway from the state. Companion action by the Corps simplified permit requirements for home and cottage owners. Commercial owners remain restive.

With the Corps missing its April 30 target date for commercial permits, the carping was bound to build. Sen. Patty Birkholz, R-Saugatuck, the committee chair who called today's hearing, said she has no specific plan, but rather is fulfilling her pledge last year to monitor the results of the change in state rules.

The onus is on the Corps. It needs to produce the resort permit plan fast, and everyone else needs to give that system a chance to work.

 

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