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Enviro-Mich message from Patty Cantrell <patty@mlui.org>


Lynn Livingston posted a question yesterday on Enviro-Mich about the status 
of a proposed land swap on South Fox Island. The Michigan Land Use 
Institute has been researching the swap. Here's an update and overview:

Three agencies are involved in deciding whether the people of Michigan 
should give up 1.2 miles of exquisite beach, an emergency landing spot for 
boats, an historic lighthouse, prime hunting areas, and 95 acres of land on 
South Fox Island, northwest of Charlevoix.

Petoskey's Bay Harbor developer Dave Johnson, a good friend and financial 
supporter of top Republican politicians, says Michigan should do this for 
him because he has a problem with hunters and boaters trespassing on his 
South Fox Island holdings. In exchange for giving up the best of South Fox 
Island and 95 acres of prime real estate, Mr. Johnson says he will give 
Michigan the opportunity to buy neighboring North Fox Island from him for 
no less than $2 million (a minimum $700,000 profit for Mr. Johnson). North 
Fox Island is not easily accessible to boaters or desirable for hunters.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is one of the three agencies 
that must approve the deal before it can proceed. The DNR hasn't set a date 
for its decision, but Mr. Johnson has urged the state agency to make its 
intentions known by the end of the year for his tax purposes. The Natural 
Resources Commission, which oversees the DNR, has taken the first step. The 
commissioners gave the deal preliminary approval last month despite its 
uneven benefits and the fact that both state policy and a federal deed 
restriction prohibit Michigan from trading the land.

Under state policy, the natural resources department can only sell or trade 
island land if it first offers the property to other governmental bodies or 
nonprofit groups. The DNR failed to do that with this proposal. The Grand 
Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians was one of two public groups 
that could have taken over the lighthouse, which the DNR has 
neglected.  The Band's biologists could also monitor endangered piping 
plover habitat, which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has not been able 
to do.

The federal government has also directed Michigan not to turn 115 acres on 
the southern tip of the island, which includes the historic lighthouse and 
emergency landing spot, into a private beach. The National Park Service 
gave Michigan this land in 1968 with the proviso that it remain accessible 
to the public. To ensure this, the federal agency put a deed restriction in 
its land grant that only allows the DNR to transfer the land to another 
governmental body. The National Park Service, the second of three agencies 
involved in the deal, could lift that condition, however, if the state of 
Michigan decides to renege on its promise to keep the southern tip of South 
Fox Island for the public.

DNR Director K.L. Cool  has already made it clear how he will sign whenever 
the dotted line gets to his desk. Mr. Cool traveled in September to 
Minnesota with Mr. Johnson to lobby the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for 
a speedy public review process. At the meeting, Mr. Cool called the 
acquisition of the island tip a "mistake" and "now an embarrassment to the 
DNR." His words stand in stark contrast to those of one of his 
predecessors, former acting DNR director Dave Jenkins. Mr. Jenkins wrote in 
1969 that the South Fox Island purchase was "valuable beyond measure."

Mr. Cool was lobbying the USFWS because it is the third agency involved in 
deciding if Michigan can give Mr. Johnson the privilege he and his 
supporters in state government want. The federal agency must ensure that 
the land swap meets the demands of the National Environmental Protection 
Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Historic Preservation Act. The DNR 
is now conducting an environmental assessment for the USFWS to use. The 
assessment includes other public land involved in the swap, which Michigan 
bought with revenues from federal taxes on guns and ammunition.

The USFWS will give the public 60 days to comment on the South Fox Island 
land swap once the DNR completes the environmental assessment, which is 
expected later in November. The USFWS comment period is the last chance for 
any public participation in the deal and will include a public hearing in 
Leelanau County.

The Michigan Land Use Institute objects to Mr. Johnson's proposed swap for 
two main reasons.

1. It is not in the public interest to give up land worth its weight in 
gold. Mr. Johnson gains 95 acres of prime property on South Fox Island and 
1.2 miles of shoreline. The deal also gives Mr. Johnson a substantial tax 
write-off and real estate appreciation that will add millions of dollars to 
his net worth.

2. But perhaps more importantly, the swap sets a dangerous precedent for 
how the state honors its legal commitments. The federal deed restriction on 
the island's southern tip is similar to many other legal promises Michigan 
has made and continues to make to the public in the name of land 
conservation. The southern tip of South Fox Island is a priceless asset 
that was to remain public forever. The state should not trade it away to 
solve Johnson's self-made problems of patchwork land ownership on the 
island. If it does, the state will effectively put hundreds of other 
parcels now protected by conservation restrictions up for grabs.

The public's voice is crucial for stopping this impending land swap. Write 
the following lawmakers and agencies now.

Use this link to email Michigan members of Congress.

Use these addresses to contact agency decision makers.

Elyse LaForest
Federal Lands to Parks Program Manager
National Park Service
15 State St.
Boston, MA  02109
telephone (617) 223-5190

William Hartwig
Regional Director
Region 3
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Whipple Federal Building
1 Federal Drive
Ft. Snelling, MN 55111
  Email comments are welcome at:

K.L. Cool
Michigan Department of Natural Resources
Mason BuildingSixth Floor
P.O. Box 30028
Lansing, MI  48909

Mr. Craig Czarnecki
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
East Lansing Field Office
2651 Coolidge Road, Suite 101
East Lansing, MI 48823
Tel: (517) 351-8470 Fax: (517) 351-1443;

Mr. Jon Parker
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Division of Federal Aid
Bishop Henry Whipple Federal Building
1 Federal Drive
Fort Snelling, MN 55111
Tel: (612)-713-5142, Fax: (612) 713-5290;

Patty Cantrell
Public Trust Alliance Project Manager
P.O. Box 228, 845 Michigan Ave.
Benzonia, MI 49616

tel: 231-882-4723 ext. 18
fax: 231-882-7350
e-mail: patty@mlui.org
internet: www.mlui.org

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