When a small group of property rights advocates known as Save Our Shoreline (S.O.S.) were successful in convincing the legislature to pass the 2003 beach dooming amendments, there was a provision in those amendments that said the DEQ may create a General Permit category for beach dooming activities. The General Permit is reserved for activities found to have no significant individual or cumulative impact on the environment. Given a May State Senate hearing (during which top wetland researchers demonstrated that “beach grooming” can damage the state’s valuable coastal wetlands) most wetland advocates thought DEQ would not create a beach dooming GP since it was not specifically required by the legislature.
Recognizing their loss at the State Senate hearing, and taking a page out of the Karl Rove political playbook, S.O.S. decided to take its case for the GP to individual counties. They tried and failed to convince both the Leelanau County Commission and Grand Traverse County Commission to apply to the DEQ for a non-existent beach dooming General Permit on behalf of all shoreline residents in these counties. In both cases, members of the Michigan Wetland Action Coalition (MWAC) – a network of wetland advocates across Michigan – helped to write letters and give testimony at county meetings on the S.O.S. proposal.
Wetland Advocates Harness the Power of the Internet to Comment on Proposed GP
Having failed to convince Leelanau County and Grand Traverse County, S.O.S. continued to put pressure on the DEQ to move forward with a GP category for beach dooming. In late July, the DEQ released the public notice for a proposed beach dooming GP. Michigan’s wetland advocates were determined to send the DEQ a strong message that further relaxing coastal wetland protection would not be accepted.To that end, MWAC teamed up with the Michigan Action Project (MAP) to post a form letter on the MAP website that wetland advocates could personalize and submit – sending a fax to the DEQ.
Thanks to the actions of over 500 Michigan wetland advocates, the DEQ’s fax machine rang off the hook for several days straight. The DEQ has yet to indicate whether they will abandon the GP.Teaming up with the Michigan Action Project to generate faxes to the DEQ is just one example of how MWAC is using the internet to organize and advocate for strong wetland protection in Michigan. MWAC also hosts a web-site and sends out a bi-weekly email newsletter. You can check out MWAC on the web at:www.michiganwetlands.org.
Sample letter to Michigan DEQ sent via the Michigan Action Project
As a Michigander who values the health of the Great Lakes, I am writing to urge the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to abandon the proposed General Permit for Limited Removal of Vegetation on Specified Great Lakes Bottomlands. Coastal wetlands are tremendously important to the health of the Great Lakes. Healthy vegetation is critical to the proper functioning of these wetlands. Unfortunately, this permit ignores the value of coastal wetlands and sets the stage for further destruction.
During the recent low period, emergent coastal wetlands have appeared in exposed bottomlands. These wetlands are critical for providing fish and wildlife habitat, protecting water quality and preventing erosion as water levels begin to rise. Mowing this vegetation destroys habitat values and also disrupts the photosynthetic process that is critical to maintaining strong root systems, as well as nutrient and energy cycling in the wetland.
Public Act 14 of 2003 weakened the state’s wetland law by exempting certain “beach grooming” activities that can degrade coastal wetlands. However, it is important to note that the amendments allowed for, but did not require, the DEQ to establish a General Permit category for this type of activity. Given the testimony presented by wetland researchers at a May hearing of the state Senate Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs Committee about PA 14, as well as the reactions of the senators, I think it is a tremendous mistake for the DEQ to move forward with a permit that could encourage further damage. The DEQ must do its job to protect the public trust natural resources of the state, including coastal wetlands, by not establishing a General Permit for their destruction.