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Great Lakes Article:

County Bd. votes ‘no’ to easing shoreline permits
By Amy Hubbell
Leelanau Enterprise
Published June 17, 2004

Riparian owners of property along Grand Traverse Bay may have to seek a state permit to more intensely groom their beaches.

The county Board of Commissioners voted 4-2 Tuesday to turn down a request from the Save Our Shoreline (SOS) organization to apply to the state for a “general” permit for grooming.

The “one permit for all” option was allowed in a state law signed one year ago.

Under the law, property owners no longer need a state Department of Environmental Quality permit to mow bottomland vegetation to a height of not less than two inches. However, they may not disturb soil or plant roots. Other permissible maintenance includes raking the top four inches of bottomland soil to remove trash, shells and dead fish; leveling bottomland lacking vegetation; and building temporary pathways to open water.

The law was aimed at making it easier for property owners to maintain bottomlands that were exposed by near-record low water levels in the Great Lakes. However, property owners complained of excessive paperwork involved in the application process, and asked commissioners to intercede on their behalf.

“The permit process is frustrating,” said Omena resident Bob Devroux. “The DEQ doesn’t tell you what you can do—only what you can’t.”

Commissioners voted 4-2 at their June 8 meeting to recommend approval of the request. The vote was reversed however, after board members received phone calls and letters from constituents questioning long-term affects of disturbing bottomland vegetation.

Commissioners Mary P. Tonneberger and Thomas F. Evans Tuesday maintained their position that the issue could be better addressed by the four townships bordering West Grand Traverse Bay. They were joined Tuesday in their opposition by chairman Bob Hawley and District No. 7 commissioner Melinda C. Lautner, both of whom supported the measure at the committee level.

“I supported this at the executive level to keep the process alive so we could get feedback,” Hawley said. “In the time between, I’ve had several conversations with those involved in the field… My biggest concern is that we are going to have to create an enormous amount of bureaucracy to administer this.”

Lautner, a staunch supporter of private property rights, reversed her earlier position after receiving a number of calls on the issue.

“All the calls were opposed to this…which surprised me,” she said. “While I don’t want to vote ‘no’, I don’t feel comfortable voting on this tonight given the input from our staff members.”

In a 1-page memo to board members, drain commissioner Steven R. Christensen, urged the elected officials to be “exceedingly cautious” when contemplating any disturbance of sensitive areas near the county shoreline.

“Nearly all of these bottomland permits also require a (soil erosion control) permit…,” he wrote commissioners. “A large amount of disturbance of the bottomlands would potentially lead to significant environmental problems in West Bay.”

Commissioner Jean I. Watkoski and Richard A. Schmuckal, whose jurisdictions include West Grand Traverse Bay, supported county application for the general permit.

“If we can shorten the process to assist these people… with the taxes they are paying…the people speaking in opposition haven’t given the riparian owners enough credit,” Watkoski said. “They are going to do anything detrimental to their beach areas.”

The decision to turn down the request came after a motion by Schmuckal to table the issue failed by a deadlocked 3-3 vote. Commissioner Mark Walter remains on duty with the Army Reserve at Guantanamo Naval base in Cuba. Schmuckal, Lautner and Watkoski supported tabling the request; Tonneberger, Evans and Hawley were opposed.


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