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E-M:/ An Unfair Deal: Conservation Groups Oppose South Fox Swap

For Immediate Release
Contact: Keith Schneider, keith@mlui.org, 231-882-4723

More Harm Than Good
South Fox land deal structured to benefit wealthy developer at public expense

BENZONIA, Dec. 6 -- A coalition of prominent environmental organizations and the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians have formally notified the state that they oppose a proposed land deal on South Fox Island, which would transfer some of Michigan’s most dramatic and scenic shoreline to a private developer.
        In a letter to K.L. Cool, the director of the state Department of Natural Resources, the organizations said the proposed land swap would forever remove from the public domain “globally unique critical sand dunes towering more than 300 feet above Lake Michigan, habitat for threatened and endangered plant and animal species including peregrine falcons and bald eagles, and a stand of coastal white cedars in excess of 400 years old.”
        Nine organizations signed the letter including the Michigan Land Use Institute, the Michigan Environmental Council, Resource Stewards, and the Michigan Conservation Foundation. Representatives of these organizations will join hundreds of Michigan citizens this afternoon in opposing the swap at a public meeting in Lansing held by the Natural Resources Commission --- the citizen oversight body of the state DNR. The Natural Resources Commission is meeting at the Lansing Center and is expected to make a recommendation on Friday morning.
        Developer David Johnson, the island’s only private landowner, recently offered the latest in a string of proposals to trade land he owns on South Fox Island for public land managed by the DNR. South Fox Island is located about 25 miles off the coast of Leelanau County in Lake Michigan, just west of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. The state and Mr. Johnson assert that swapping 219 acres of private land at the island’s north end for 218 acres of publicly-owned shoreline on the south side is a fair trade.
        Opponents, however, argue that the parcels do not have equal environmental, scenic, or economic value and the proposal runs counter to the state’s responsibility to protect the public trust. The groups opposing the swap raised several issues of concern in their letter:
1)      The swap does not meet criteria established by an internal DNR policy regarding transferring public island properties.
2)      The same internal policy requires a thorough island management plan that studies resources and develops management objectives, which has never been done on South Fox Island.
3)      The DNR has historically not managed the lands on South Fox Island because of its distance from the mainland, contradicting a state assertion that the swap would improve management.
4)      The DNR claims a public benefit of consolidated public lands, but there is no public group on record supporting the swap.
5)      There are historic claims which cloud the title of much of the land that the state proposest to transfer.
        The groups opposing the swap also identified several alternatives that would benefit the public:
1)      Establish a DNR policy to offer to purchase additional lands to create contiguous ownership rather than swap existing lands.
2)      Complete the required management plan for the island.
3)      Improve signs and other boundary markers to reduce trespassing.
4)      Increase DNR management of public island properties.
        A copy of the letter to Mr. Cool is attached.

        For more background on the South Fox swap, see the Michigan Land Use Institute’s work at:
        Campaign Donations Yield Treasure Island for Michigan Developer
        MLUI Opposes South Fox Swap
        Hearings Set For South Fox Swap

KLCool letter.doc