by Scott McEwen
In response to private property owners wanting to “improve” their access to the water on the Great Lakes, the United States Army Corps of Engineers, Detroit District is proposing a new regional permit that will have a significant cumulative impact on the wildlife and water quality of the Great Lakes. This proposed permit will allow 30 feet of “grooming” and up to 300 cubic yards of fill (in a 200′ by 6′ area) on Great Lakes bottomland. Under this regional permit there will be little individual review and typically no on-site inspection before a permit is granted. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality is also in the process of establishing a similar sort of streamlined permit.
Coastal wetlands are some of the most biologically productive and ecologically valuable ecosystems in the Great Lakes. Periodic low water levels are critical for the healthy rejuvenation of coastal marshes. The general public of the Great Lakes region shares in the water quality, fisheries, and wildlife benefits of these wetlands. Furthermore, the bottomlands that are exposed (land below the ordinary high water mark) are considered “public trust” bottomlands. The public trust doctrine of the United States protects these sensitive areas from individuals misusing them in a way that will diminish their use and enjoyment by others. The Army Corps and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, as trustees of these bottomlands, have an important duty to enact policies that do not favor one public user over another.
The bottomlands that were exposed during low water levels of last summer, and likely to occur again this summer, have spurred many riparians to rake, groom, dredge, and fill areas in front of their properties in an effort to “improve” water access, aesthetics, and swimming conditions. It appears as though this regional permit proposal is an unfortunate admission by the Army Corps and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality that these agencies are unwilling to enforce their statutory responsibilities to protect these Great Lakes bottomlands from abuse. Rather, the proposed permit would create a streamlined process that would allow such activities to continue.
The public comment period on the proposed permit ended on April 20, 2001. However, given the extreme public interest in protecting these wetlands, we encourage you to send in comments encouraging the protection of these valuable resources at any time.
Comments should be sent to:
Engineering & Technical Services
Detroit District Corps of Engineers
P.O. Box 1027
Detroit, MI 48231-1027
Land and Water Management Division
Michigan Department of Environmental Quality
P.O. Box 30458
Lansing, MI 48909-7958