Grassroots Action: Case Study of Wetlands at Risk

Grassroots Action: Case Study of Wetlands at Risk

 

Sheldon Marsh, a 463-acre state nature preserve in Northwest Ohio along the Sandusky Bay region of Lake Erie, is one of the last Ohio remnants of a forest-marsh-lake ecosystem. From old field and hardwood forest, to woodland swamp and cattail marsh, to barrier sand beach and open lake, it provides important habitats for a host of plants and animals. Organisms as diverse as Cardinal Flowers, Blanding’s Turtles, and Common Terns all find refuge there.

The Sheldon Marsh ecosystem has been put at risk in the last two months. Mr. Bob Barnes, owner of Barnes Nursery, applied for a Nationwide Permit (NWP 27) in June under the guise of building a waterfowl impoundment pond and nesting islands. The next day, the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) issued the permit for construction in waters adjacent to Sheldon Marsh. (NWP 27 was designed to allow restoration of wetlands, but not in pristine wetlands and not conversion of existing wetlands to another aquatic use.) Construction created what can be viewed as an “irrigation canal” to bring water in from Lake Erie for the purpose of watering Barnes Nursery stock (approximately 300,000+ gallons/day). The dredging has resulted in a channel 50 feet wide and resultant dike about 1/4 mile in length along the western edge of Sheldon Marsh.

Several points might be made about the process of granting this permit by the Corps:

  • Sheldon Marsh is classified as a Category 3 wetland (pristine, nondegraded) and as such cannot be impacted by a NWP 27 permit (how can you reconstruct or restore this quality of wetland?).
  • Besides the above point, building a waterfowl impoundment pond or nesting islands is not permitted in Category 3 wetlands under NWP 27.
  • The application for the permit was not reviewed by Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA), or any local agencies such as the Erie County flood control supervisor.

 

In late July, Mr. Barnes was ordered to stop all excavation and a meeting was held where the Corps, OEPA and ODNR studied the situation. Recently, when officials from the three agencies visited the unfinished irrigation channel-dike project, they found the work completed did not comply with the plans on the permit application. The Corps decided it had mistakenly granted a nationwide permit to Mr. Barnes, who applied on behalf of a group known as CCCMB (landowners adjacent to Sheldon Marsh) to dig through the pristine state-owned wetlands.

In any case the project has now been temporarily interrupted. In order to continue, Mr. Barnes must apply to the Corps for an individual permit (which is more restrictive and allows for public scrutiny). The question remains as to what should be required of Mr. Barnes to correct the damage done. The Corps should follow through with a permit compliance investigation, and require that the area be restored to its original state immediately. It is important to have this done as soon as possible, since damage is being caused to this vital Category 3 wetland by the presence of the huge dike dredged up when a channel was created. Sediments are entering the marsh and the natural flow of waters from the mainland are blocked. It is through the dedicated efforts of friends of Sheldon Marsh that pressure is being brought to bear on public agencies to correct the damage done and stop the threat of further damage.

Visit the Sheldon Marsh website at www.schaffer.cc/sheldonsmarsh/sheldonsmarsh.html for more information on a wetland at risk and the grassroots efforts to prevent its destruction.

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Images courtesy of Steven Huyser-Honig,
West Grand Boulevard Collaborative, & Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.