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E-M:/ Key Letter for South Fox

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


To influence an environmental assessment the Michigan Department of Natural 
Resources is currently writing (due out soon) on a proposed land swap on 
South Fox Island, contact Dr. Pat Lederle, author of the assessment.

For more information about the issue, see explanation below.

You can submit comments to DNR's Dr. Pat Lederle via email at 
<lederlep@state.mi.us>, telephone <517-373-9338> or through the mail at DNR 
Wildlife Division, PO Box 30444, Lansing, MI  48909.

>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.

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