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E-M:/ Re:Coastal wetlands threat



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Enviro-Mich message from Terry & Barb Miller <terbar@concentric.net>
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>>Friends,
>>   I've posted below the press release we got out Thursday, on events 
>> happening on the Saginaw Bay shoreline -- a Republican state senator's effort
>>(successfully) to stop the DEQ from doing its job.  Even worse, if Harding
>>comes out with a General Permit -- read on.  The story will be covered in the
>>Bay City Times on Sunday -- but I'm not sure of the perspective.
>>                                                          Terry Miller
>>
>>
>>                "FORMER ADMINISTRATOR/LEGISLATOR CALL FOUL ON
>>                            HARDING/GOUGEON"
>>
>>MEDIA RELEASE                       CONTACTS: Terry Miller (517)686-6386
>>FOR RELEASE SEPTEMBER 7, 2000                 Dave Dempsey (517) 487-9539
>>
>>
>>
>>Low water levels have some Saginaw Bay beach-front property owners taking
>>action into their own hands - violating state and federal wetlands
>>protection laws, and a Bay City Senator who owns waterfront property is said
>>to have pressured the Department of Environmental Quality into stopping
>>enforcement action.
>>
>>At issue are the emergent wetlands that have resulted from low water levels
>>in Saginaw Bay.  Some beachfront property owners resent the vegetation that
>>limits their access to the water.  While many owners have appreciated the
>>change, and taken interest in the heron and other waterfowl that live in the
>>newly formed habitats, others have bulldozed, plowed and even planted in the
>>exposed bottomlands - a move considered illegal according to state and
>>federal wetland protection laws.
>>
>>In June, local state legislators were informed that the Land and Water
>>Management Division (LWMD) of the Michigan Department of Environmental
>>Quality (MDEQ) was about to notify property owners that destruction of this
>>habitat was a violation of state law.  The notification, however, was never
>>sent.
>>
>>According to several sources, the action was halted when State Senator Joel
>>Gougeon, (R. Bay City), a beachfront property owner himself, interceded with
>>the Director of the DEQ, Russell Harding, to have the letter nixed.  Gougeon
>>met with Harding and several beachfront owners in a successful effort to
>>stop the regulatory action.  No Democratic legislators were invited to the
>>meetings, including those whose district includes Saginaw Bay, and the
>>meeting was not noticed to the public.
>>
>>In an August 14, letter to the director, State Legislator, Joseph Rivet (D.
>>Bay City) said:
>>
>>"I would have to remind you of the Department's sworn obligation to uphold
>>the laws of this State and protect our environment and not bend to
>>legislative pressure.  Not providing information after you had initiated
>>this discussion with us and your complete reversal of position is alarming
>>to me.  The citizens of our communities and state deserve to have policy
>>developed based on sound scientific evidence and an open process of citizen
>>input.  Your actions in this matter do not reflect this."
>>
>>Sources inside the DEQ who choose to remain anonymous say the director is
>>now working on a general permit that would allow property owners to destroy
>>these emergent wetlands.
>>
>>Chris Shafer, former Chief of the Great Lakes Shore Lands Section of the
>>Land and Water Management Division of the DEQ, was "aghast" at the prospect
>>of a general permit.
>>
>>"I am appalled by this idea, (of a general permit) but not entirely
>>surprised because of Harding's consistent lack of understanding regarding
>>the state's public trust authority and responsibility," said Shafer.
>>
>>According to Shafer, the property owners may have some legitimate concerns,
>>and selective vegetation removal could be handled by minor permits but
>>"these are clearly state owned bottomlands and this vegetation undoubtedly
>>has great habitat value.  The DEQ shouldn't be authorizing bulldozers to run
>>rampant on the bottomlands."
>>
>>Shafer noted that scientists have found that these relatively rare periods
>>of low water allow for the healthy rejuvenation of coastal marshes.  He
>>pointed out that these coastal wetlands are the most biologically productive
>>and ecologically valuable of Michigan's natural features.
>>
>>The Michigan Environmental Council warned that Harding's unilateral
>>surrender to Gougeon sets a dangerous precedent.  Allowing riparian property
>>owners to encroach upon state-owned bottomlands - part of the public trust
>>belonging to all the people - could give landowners along Michigan rivers
>>and lakes an argument for excluding anglers, duck hunters, and boaters.
>>Exploiters of bottomlands, such as oil and gas companies might also justify
>>some activities as minor or not requiring state oversight.
>>
>>"The law is clear," said Dave Dempsey, MEC policy advisor, "This land is not
>>private property.  The DEQ should think twice before handing over the public
>>domain to the Senator."
>>
>>Local environmentalists have expressed similar concerns.  "He's violating
>>his duty again, " said Terry Miller of the local environmental group, Lone
>>Tree Council.  "These coastal wetlands filter the water, provide for erosion
>>control, and provide habitat for fish and wildfowl.  Director Harding's job
>>is to protect them, not conspire with self-interested legislators to violate
>>the spirit of the law.  Whether it's General Motors and allowing PCBs on the
>>banks of the Saginaw River, or the destruction of coastal wetlands, this
>>director seems to bend the state's environmental laws to the detriment of
>>our watershed.  This is another reason why the federal government must
>>remain strongly involved in environmental protection."
>>
>>
>>The U.S. Corps of Engineers has maintained opposition to any destruction of
>>these emergent wetlands.  The Corps has sent letters to hundreds of property
>>owners warning them they are at risk of enforcement action under the Clean
>>Water Act.  Particularly egregious violations, the Corps says, are those
>>which involve the use of equipment to move earth below the high-water mark.
>>
>>
>>
>>
>>
>>
>>
>>
>
>----------------------------------------------------------------------------
>Alex J. Sagady & Associates        Email:  ajs@sagady.com
>
>Environmental Enforcement, Permits/Technical Review, Public Policy and
>Communications on Air, Water and Waste Issues
>and Community Environmental Protection
>
>PO Box 39  East Lansing, MI  48826-0039
>(517) 332-6971 (voice); (517) 332-8987 (fax)
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>
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