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Residents look to DEQ for beach solutions

July 29, 2011
By Jenny Lancour - Staff Writer , Daily Press

FORD RIVER - Local lakeshore property owners continue to be confused about what they can and can't do to maintain their beaches. They're also frustrated with the permitting process on both the state and federal levels.

A group of property owners along Lake Michigan, including Portage Point and Ford River, met with state officials Thursday to express concerns about their private beaches. Dan Wyant, director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), was among those invited to the home of Mike and Ev Quinn along M-35.

"The reason I'm up here is there's a lot of issues," said Wyant, appointed in January to the DEQ directorship. He also told the landowners there's a lot for him to learn about the local concerns.

Article Photos

Jenny Lancour | Daily Press
DEQ Director Dan Wyant, pointing above, addresses property owners’ concerns regarding state and federal limitations on maintaining private beaches in Ford River and Portage Point Thursday. Invasive weeds are taking over some shorelines as seen in the background.

During an informal meeting on the beach, many property owners spoke of beautiful sandy beaches they once enjoyed; but due to Mother Nature coupled with stricter environmental laws and a conflicting multi-agency permitting process, some of these havens have now turned into weed-infested areas where the lake cannot even be viewed in certain areas.

Property owners told Wyant about state and federal restrictions which do not allow them to clear invasive weeds which have taken over their lakefront. Low lake levels in recent years have encouraged more vegetation to grow on beaches including the invasive Phragmites, a common reed.

Zebra mussels are also a problem, said one person. Debris, some which was dumped into the lake, also shows up on beaches, commented landowners. High sand drifts close to homes are another concern at certain times of the year.

Many of those attending Thursday's meeting said they are willing to clean up their own beaches but are often confronted with roadblocks when applying for permits to do the work. In Michigan, permits for removing plants or sand must be received from both the DEQ and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Anything above the high water mark can be maintained by the property owner but below that there are stipulations. Clean-up activities that are carried out by using human power, such as raking or shoveling on a limited basis, are allowed. Permits are required from the Corps and the DEQ if using mechanical equipment or working on a large scale.

State Sen. Tom Casperson, who supports the lakefront owners, said the process doesn't make sense but often involves the "eye of the beholder." Residents can maintain their beaches to a certain extent but when nature creates a wetland, the areas are off limits to change, he said. Casperson added there needs to be a balance on what's environmentally correct.

Casperson said he has attempted to enact legislation allowing beaches in the Upper Peninsula to be graded by equipment, like some beaches are downstate, but the former governor was against it.

"There's almost like a preservation attitude (downstate) about the area here," he said.

Rory Mattson, executive director of the Delta Conservation District which issues permits, said the permit process needs to be streamlined so property owners know who to contact when there are environmental concerns about beach maintenance. He said the conservation district will continue to work with landowners on obtaining permits to remove the Phragmites weeds.

Wyant said there appears to be a wetland issue between the Corps and the DEQ which have differing interpretations. Other challenges faced in the area are the clean air and water acts where "the feds hold a trump card," he added.

Wyant said he would like to meet with the property owners again to learn more about what's been done successfully in the past and look at streamlining the permit process including possible changes in the law.

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Jenny Lancour, (906) 786-2021, ext. 143,



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