Federal money to help protect Mich.
By Hugh McDiarmid Jr.
Detroit Free Press
Published May 24, 2004
TRAVERSE CITY -- Up to $500,000 in federal money is expected
to beef up protection of Michigan wetlands next year.
Part of the cash will pay for up to four new Department
of Environmental Quality inspectors devoted solely to
scrutiny and enforcement of development projects where
wetlands are filled, drained or otherwise altered, DEQ
Director Steve Chester said Friday.
They would be the only DEQ personnel devoted solely to
those jobs, and put teeth on promises by Chester and his
boss, Gov. Jennifer Granholm, to make protection of the
state's water resources a top priority.
"There is a real need to strengthen our enforcement
program," Chester said Friday, after announcing the
incoming federal money at a three-day conference in Traverse
City commemorating the 25th anniversary of Michigan's
key wetlands protection law.
"If we don't take action, it's a bluff, it's all
More than half of the state's wetlands have been destroyed
during the course of Michigan's settlement, experts estimate.
The state's Wetlands Protection Act in 1979 helped stem
the rate of loss and made Michigan one of the most progressive
states in safeguarding them.
Wetlands -- also known as swamps or marshes -- are valuable
ecological sponges that filter pollutants from groundwater
before they reach lakes and streams, provide habitats
for fish nurseries and rare plants, and temporarily hold
With almost 400 conference participants hailing largely
from environmental groups, Chester's announcement was
warmly embraced Friday.
But the announcement won't be welcomed by all. Wetlands
law enforcement often has been adversarial in Michigan;
developers and private property owners frequently complain
about uneven enforcement. Half of the legal challenges
to DEQ enforcement actions come from wetlands cases, Chester
Nonetheless, he said he's committed to an aggressive
educational effort. "We want predictable, reliable,
effective enforcement," Chester said.
Michigan's share of the $5 million in federal money is
expected to be between $350,000 and $500,000, said Mary
Ellen Cromwell, assistant division chief with the department's
Cromwell said all indications are that the money would
arrive for the start of the 2005 fiscal year, which begins
Oct. 1, 2004.
As the state struggles with revenue shortfalls, Cromwell
said it was a bit of a pleasant surprise.
Michigan will get a disproportionately large share of
the money because it is one of only two states that administer
federal wetlands regulations, in addition to its own.
New Jersey is the other.
Currently, 32 environmental quality analysts inspect
and enforce federal and state wetlands rules, but that
is among dozens of their other duties, said Cromwell.
The new hires would devote all their hours to ensuring
that construction projects, farm operations, municipal
infrastructure projects and shoreline improvements don't
illegally destroy wetlands.