preservation gets $900,000 boost
Money for project from Michigan Natural Resources Trust
By Zac Anderson
They were hoping for more -- a lot more -- but parties
working to preserve a prime piece of duneland in Saugatuck
say they're still happy with the $900,000 allocation awarded
to the project Wednesday by the Michigan Natural Resources
"Every bit helps," Saugatuck City Manager Gordon
However, the allocation is just a small portion of the
$10.7 million conservationists had hoped for as they compete
with developers to purchase about 413 acres of duneland
with a value estimated between $25 million and $40 million.
The property, which includes more than a mile of Lake
Michigan shoreline, is owned by the Gertrude Denison Trust
and the estate of Frank Denison, a Saugatuck Yacht builder
who died in 2000. Beneficiaries of the estate and trust
have expressed an interest in selling the land in the
near future, sparking an effort to conserve the property
by governmental agencies working with non-profit groups
and private residents to raise the needed funds.
But the two sides have not been able to come up with
a deal, something that might have worked against the application
for natural resources trust fund dollars, Gallagher said.
"This emphasizes the need for us to come to an agreement
with the sellers," he said.
Despite lacking a firm goal to shoot for, fund-raisers
have amassed millions of dollars for the project over
the last year.
The reduced allocation is the latest edition to a fund-raising
effort that includes $5 million in private funds being
raised by the Saugatuck resident group Save Our Shores
and $3 million that was allocated last year by the natural
resources trust. Another $2.5 million is expected to come
from the federal government in the 2004 budget.
Although they are still far short of the money needed
to purchase the property, organizers for the project said
support remains strong.
"There is significant momentum in the fund-raising
effort," said Julie Stoneman, executive director
of the Land Conservancy of Western Michigan and one of
the main organizers of the conservation effort.
Phil Miller, executive director of Save Our Shoreline,
said he was happy to see any sort of commitment from the
natural resources trust.
"They probably feel the same understandable frustration
we do with wanting to see a contract for the sale of the
property," he said.
Members of the trust's board of directors said during
their annual meeting in Lansing Wednesday that they were
wary of tying up large amounts of trust dollars over long
periods of time. The trust had about $18 million for land
acquisition grants this year and most of that money was
split among several smaller projects.
In addition, some board members said they were turned
off by the fact that part of the purchase would require
the trust to make annual payments on top of the grant
The Denison property is divided in half by the Kalamazoo
River. The city of Saugatuck is seeking to acquire the
southern acreage which would connect to Oval Beach Park
while the Michigan Department of Natural Resources would
own the northern part of the property, which would be
added to the Saugatuck Dunes State Park.
The DNR, and in this case, the natural resources trust,
must make payments in lieu of taxes to local government
agencies for land owned in a local tax district. The trust
would have to pay about $300,000 annually for the Saugatuck
property, board members said.
"I can't in good conscience vote for that,"
said trust board member Sam Washington.
State Sen. Patricia Birkholz, R-Saugatuck Township, spoke
at the meeting and addressed the payments in lieu of taxes
issue, saying she was working to have the law changed.