FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
For more information, contact: Barbara Weber (616) 386-9285
Jim Olson or Chris Bzdok (616) 946-0044
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Requests Public's Input
on Homestead Resort's Crystal River Wetlands Application
The United States Army Corps of Engineers has released its Public Notice on the Homestead Resort's application to fill wetlands and build a golf course and housing development on the Crystal River, next to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Leelanau County. The river is well-known for its spectacular clarity and is a state-designated trout stream, enjoyed by thousands of people for canoeing, fishing, outdoor recreation and educational activities. It winds from Glen Lake through the national park, the Homestead, the town of Glen Arbor, and empties into Lake Michigan.
The Homestead's application proposes to build a golf course and residential development in the ancient lake bed which forms the Crystal River's valley. The Homestead plans to cut much of the cedar forest on the site, to fill 3.65 acres of wetlands, and to clear or otherwise impact over 10 more wetland acres. In addition, three of the golf course's fairways are designed to play over the river, incorporating it into the course as a water hazard.
Long-time critics of the proposal include an array of state and national environmental groups, led by the Friends of the Crystal River, and at least four federal agencies: the Environmental Protection Agency, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service and the Army Corps of Engineers. These critics point to the damage that pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers and other pollutants running off the golf course are likely to do to the river and to local drinking water. They also cite the destruction of wildlife habitat, the adverse impacts on local land use and the ecological integrity of the national park, and the dangers posed by resort customers shooting golf balls over the heads of canoeists and other recreational river users.
These impacts, coupled with the existence of a variety of alternatives to the Homestead's plan, such as building the golf course at one of several nearby upland locations or using the site for a smaller number of homes or a natural recreation area, have led many experts to believe that approval of the permit would violate federal wetlands law.
The battle between the Homestead and those who would preserve the Crystal River is one of the most long-standing environmental disputes in Michigan, running over twelve years and counting. In the early 1990s, a coalition of environmental groups obtained an injunction in federal court to prevent the project from going forward on a permit approved by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. In 1992, Federal Judge Richard Enslen found that the Environmental Protection Agency had improperly withdrawn objections to the project (reportedly at the urging of Governor Engler), and the judge ordered jurisdiction over the application transferred to the Army Corps of Engineers.
The Homestead let the application sit incomplete at the Army Corps for several years, while a state lawsuit filed by the Friends made its way to the Michigan Supreme Court, which is expected to hear arguments this fall. The Homestead renewed its application last spring, leading to the public notice issued yesterday.
Friends President Barbara Weber stressed the importance of the Army Corps proceedings. "We are hopeful the Army Corps will deny the application and protect one of the jewels of Northern Michigan. If it has any questions about whether to turn down the proposal, we urge the Corps to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement to get an independent evaluation of the harm this development would do to the river."
Friends attorney James Olson of Traverse City added, "If we learned anything from the erosion disasters at Arcadia Bluffs and the Cedar River, it's that golf courses and lakes and rivers don't mix. This project threatens some of the natural treasures that bring people to this area in the first place."
Written comments are due June 25, 1999, and should be submitted to David Gesl, Project Manager, Regulatory Functions Branch, Construction-Operations Division, Detroit District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, P.O. Box 1027, Detroit, Michigan 48231. The application number is 88-245-003-4D/88-6-5. The public notice can be obtained from the sender of this press release, or by contacting the Army Corps directly.