FORD?RIVER - On June 25, Gov. Snyder approved a law that removed many of the hurdles lakefront property owners face when maintaining their waterfront. Officials hope property owners take time to understand the new law to avoid fines.
Sen. Tom Casperson (R) sponsored the bill that led to the changes in the beach maintenance law.
"Basically Tom's been trying for probably about a year ... to work with the legislative branches in Lansing - both the Senate, which he's in, and then the House - to see if they could figure out how to maybe relax these beach maintenance rules," said Rory Mattson, executive director of the Delta Conservation District.
In the past, property owners were required to file for permits with both the Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Environmental Quality to make changes to their waterfront. "The confusing thing that happened before is that it was a joint application, but it was two permits," said Mattson.
Property owners were often confused by the delay between receiving the two permits. "They would fill out the application, DEQ charged an application fee so that would go in with it, they would send it in, and they would get that DEQ permit, and all of a sudden they'd start things, well they never got the Corps one," said Mattson.
The new law removes the need for a DEQ permit for many shoreline maintenance projects.
"They removed the DEQ's permit status as far as beach grooming, leveling of sand, just basically grubbing, those kinds of things," said Mattson. "It did retain though, if you were going to dig a channel or you were going to put in a dock or things where you were going to dig for a boat to go out."
The law also removes the state requirements on mowing beaches. Because there are no federal requirements for mowing, this makes it legal to mow. "Now mowing is pretty much open, unless there's a federally-threatened or endangered or a state threatened or endangered species. It doesn't mean you can't, but you still need to comply with the regulations on the that species," said Mattson.
Now that mowing is allowed, it is possible for invasive grasses to be better controlled.
"You tell me what's going into that, because there's absolutely nothing in there except millions of those little shoots. There's no habitat," said Mattson, pointing at an outcropping of invasive Phragmites, a common reed.
The Conservation District recently created a sand beach at O.B. Fuller Park in an area that was once overgrown with Phragmites. Parts of the beach that were not returned to sand were mowed.
"Since we did this, the swans have come back, the geese are here, the ducks are here, and there's sandhill cranes that are actually coming in and their walking through here and they're feeding through all this, so you know the animals, the birds have really come now that this thing is mowed like this," said Mattson.
Wetlands and coastal marshes are still regulated by the state and the DEQ, and all federal beach maintenance requirements are still in effect, which means that many beach projects are still regulated and require permits.
"The grooming of sand, the leveling of sand; bringing a beach that's vegetated right now back to sand, all require permits from the Corps if it's below the ordinary high water mark," said Mattson.
The ordinary high water mark is the highest elevation that a body of water has reached for a long enough period to affect the landscape.
The state defines that elevation as 581 and a half feet above sea level. The Army Corps of Engineers defines it as one foot higher.
Because the ordinary high water mark is based on elevation and not distance from the shore, property owners can inadvertently change the amount of land regulated by the Army Corps of Engineers if they raise or lower the landscape.
Fines for making changes to the shoreline with not having a necessary permit can be as much as $25,000 per day that the changes are in effect.
Contractors and property owners may both face fines for illegal shoreline modifications.
The Delta County Conservation District is offering to help landowners who are confused by the new law.
"The Conservation District is willing, if people want to call us, to provide onsites to make sure people know what they're doing, or at least help them and guide them so they know what to do," said Mattson. The Conservation District can be reached at 553-7700.
This Friday at 1:30 p.m., Tom Casperson will hold an informational meeting at the Manistique City Hall. Another meeting will be held at 4:30 at Bay College in Escanaba in the Herman Center.