Citizen Action Sets the Stage for Decision to Protect Lake Michigan Sand Dune

Citizen Action Sets the Stage for Decision to Protect Lake Michigan Sand Dune

By Jamie Morton, Alliance for the Great Lakes

A long-awaited decision by Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Director Steven E. Chester, denying Dune Harbor Estates, LLC for a second time a permit to tunnel through a 4,000-year-old barrier sand dune on the Lake Michigan shore near Muskegon, Michigan was recently celebrated by local groups and citizens.

Chester’s decision, unless appealed, brings to a close a nearly five-year dispute between local residents, municipalities, environmental groups and Nugent Sand — a mining company that created Dune Harbor Estates, LLC. Nugent has mined dune sand at this site for nearly 100 years and is preparing the area for a residential housing development. As part of their end use of the site Dune Harbor pursued a permit to build a pipeline through the dune to dump treated mining wastewater into Lake Michigan and to regulate the levels of two inland lakes created by the mining company’s activities in order to maximize acreage for the residential development.

The dune is among those recognized by the state as “critical”and as such is protected under Michigan law. The state describes a critical dune area as a “unique, fragile, and irreplaceable resource.” Because of their fragile nature, most uses and structures on dunes are prohibited unless a permit is granted by the DEQ. In addition to the potential of negatively impacting the protected dune the project would have also disrupted beach walking opportunities, potentially impacted the health of Lake Michigan and may have resulted in the over-development of sensitive dune areas.

During the permitting process, Muskegon Save Our Shoreline members and other concerned groups and citizens worked diligently by educating themselves on the issues, working with regional organizations to gain support, capturing media attention and organizing protests to raise public awareness about the adverse effects the project would have on the local environment and Lake Michigan.

“The decision proves citizen involvement to protect the environment is essential and effective,” according to Darlene DeHudy, vice president of Muskegon Save Our Shoreline, a group that for the past 30 years has served generations to come through its ongoing efforts to protect the Lake Michigan shoreline. DeHudy encourages “all citizens to be vigilant and stand up for the environment. It can truly make a difference.”

If allowed, this permit would have critically weakened the laws that protect our dunes in Michigan. This decision sends a strong message that the DEQ is prepared to uphold the laws that protect our Great Lakes resources, like our sand dunes. DEQ’s decision to deny the permit has strengthened the Sand Dune Protection and Management Act of Michigan so that it can better protect these special places. Dune Harbor Estates is expected to appeal the decision.

For more information:
Alliance for the Great Lakes
700 Washington Ave, Ste. 150 • Grand Haven, MI 49417
PH: (616) 850-0745, x 12 • E-mail: jmorton@greatlakes.org

 

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