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Great Lakes Article:

Shoreline grooming group forms PAC
By Crystal Harmon
The Bay City Times

The fight by Save Our Shoreline Inc. to keep its members' beaches from turning into wetlands will get a boost from the formation of a political action committee.

The group, which has collected more than $460,000 in funds from its hundreds of members, discussed successes and future plans at its second annual meeting on Thursday evening at John Glenn High School in Bangor Township.

State legislators from the area were in attendance to praise the group's board of directors for help in crafting legislation that became state law in May.

That law allows mechanical grooming and weed-removal along shorelines in Saginaw and Grand Traverse bays.

State Sen. James A. Barcia, D-Bay City, classified the water levels - down nearly four feet from the high water of the late 1990s - as a "natural disaster."

"Our government is designed to respond to disasters," he said. "We are addressing public health and economic issues."

Barcia said the state and federal government would do better to target the real environmental culprits - cities and industries that discharge sewage and industrial waste into the rivers - than target homeowners along the lake.

"If you didn't love the environment, you wouldn't be a property owner along the shoreline," he noted.

State Reps. Tom Meyer, R-Bad Axe; Dale Sheltrown, D-Gladwin; and Jennifer Elkins, D-Lake, also vowed to continue supporting legislation that favors property rights of lakefront residents.

Jay Graebner, of Au Gres, treasurer for SOS, updated members on the legal and general funds, and urged donation to the political action committee fund.

"This is a fight for our beaches, and none of us can do it alone," he said.

SOS President Ernie Krygier introduced members in attendance to Lansing lobbyist Patrick McCollough, a former state senator.

"The struggle is with a bureaucracy that has lost its focus, from going after the source of pollution to going after those who face the consequences of the pollution," McCollough said.

"The real battle is over your property rights. The law has used old laws on dredging and turned them against owners of a little slice of lakefront property," the lobbyist said.

Krygier said the group has hired lawyers in Grand Rapids and Washington, D.C., and hopes to soon hire a lobbyist in Washington.

The goal is to get Congress to approve legislation mirroring Michigan's, which is less restrictive regarding what property owners can do along lakefront property.

Krygier said he and others in the organization are urging representatives who control funding of the U.S. Corps of Engineers to pressure the agency into stop citing homeowners for beach maintenance.

Terry Miller, chairman of the environmental group Lone Tree Council, attended the meeting and was alarmed.

"They are clearly property rights activists with a lot of clout," Miller said. "They've been very successful. I was astonished by the amount of money they've raised and the level of lobbyists they're able to hire.

"This represents a real threat to the environment. What gets lost in the whole debate is the public benefits of emergent wetlands," Miller said.

Environmental groups, with dozens of areas of concern, will be hard pressed to compete with the single-issue SOS, Miller said.

"There's some things that resonate with the public," Miller said. "They use the line, 'What if this was your property and weeds were growing on it?' They've won the rhetorical war early on. People don't like weeds. Grooming weeds, how can you fight with that?"

Miller disputes the SOS claim that only 200 to 300 acres would be affected by their goal of grooming residential beachfront in the Saginaw Bay. U.S. Corps of Engineers estimate the affected acreage to be 2,000 acres.

"We've got a fight on our hands, there's no question about it," Miller said. "They want to open up the Clean Water Act and increase private property privileges to other Great Lakes states and the whole country."

Scientists say the benefits of coastal wetlands include providing wildlife habitat, acting as a filter for pollutants and controlling erosion.

Herb and Marion Kincaid, a Caseville couple who was sued by the federal government after admitting to having their beach graded, received a standing ovation from SOS members on Thursday.

The suit against them was dismissed in U.S. District Court, and the Kincaids now are suing the U.S. Corps of Engineers in an attempt to recoup some $150,000 in legal bills.

Herb Kincaid lavished praise on the board members - 11 of the 12 men wore matching light blue shirts to the meeting - for their support during the legal woes.

"If you had to go out and hire a board like this, you couldn't afford it," he said.

SOS plans another meeting at 9:30 a.m. Saturday the Caseville School Auditorium, 6609 Vine Street. About half of the group's members live in the Caseville area.

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