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E-M:/ South Fox News

Enviro-Mich message from "Bradley Wurfel" <wurfelbj@michigan.gov>

This is from AP, ran in Detroit and the Traverse City Record Eagle last weekend. Hadn't seen it posted here yet. 

South Fox land swap approved 
- After more than a decade of debate, state will retain most of north end of island, south beach 
      The Associated Press
      TRAVERSE CITY - The state and businessman David V. Johnson agreed Friday on a South Fox Island land exchange, ending more than a decade of negotiations.
      K.L. Cool, director of the Department of Natural Resources, said he would approve the latest offer from Johnson, a Bloomfield Hills developer who owns about two-thirds of the 3,400-acre island in northern Lake Michigan about 30 miles west of the mainland.
      The state owns the remaining third, its property interspersed with Johnson's in a confusing patchwork that he blames for a longstanding problem with trespassers. Most of the island is heavily forested and prized by deer hunters, who Johnson says repeatedly wander onto his land.
      "This exchange is a classic compromise," he said. "Neither side received everything they asked for, but under the circumstances, this is a step forward for everyone."
      Under the deal, a scaled-back version of a plan Johnson and the DNR had favored until recently, the two sides will swap parcels totaling nearly 220 acres, including 5,500 feet of shoreline frontage.
      Most of the state's holdings will be consolidated in the northern section, where 860 contiguous, publicly owned acres will be accessible from a boat landing area on the northeastern shore. The state retains the island's sandy, mostly treeless southern end that would have gone to Johnson under the earlier plan.
      Johnson receives a block of land in the west-central part of the island, including what opponents label some of its most ecologically fragile and scenic dunes.
      The Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians says its members have unresolved claims to nearly all the land being obtained by the state. The tribe is considering a lawsuit to block the exchange, tribal attorney Brian Upton said.
      Cool's decision is final unless overturned in court. But the bitter debate between supporters and opponents continued, with both sides accusing each other of putting politics ahead of the public interest.
      "It's terrible, it stinks," said Lana Pollack, president of the Michigan Environmental Council. "It's another argument for campaign finance reform. There's too much money floating around in the system, too many favors being granted at a cost of good government and good land management."
      Cool said swap foes were engaged in "a calculated misinformation campaign designed to further confuse the public and stall the process."
      The public would have fared better under the previous proposal, which Johnson withdrew last month after Congress blocked it from taking effect for at least a year, Cool said.
      "Unfortunately, South Fox Island ... has been caught in the political jaws of ambitious groups gearing up for the coming election year," Cool said. "The deal before us now is the best - and only - available option."
      Although the state would have yielded most of the fragile southern end under the earlier plan, Johnson had promised to establish a conservation easement there, protecting it from development.
      Biologists say that area is ideal habitat for the piping plover. Johnson had promised to fund an effort to return the endangered shore bird to the island, where it hadn't been seen since 1939.
      Nothing prevents Johnson from supporting a plover restoration project with the state retaining the south end of the island, said Jim Lively, an analyst with the Michigan Land Use Institute.
      "It's distasteful to use natural resources as a bargaining chip to protect other natural resources," Lively said.
      Johnson says he intended to build an upscale resort on the island after purchasing his share in 1989, but decided to leave it undeveloped except for his Mirada Ranch estate on the lee side. He plans to build a house on the western shore.
      He says he has been a good environmental steward, but critics fault him for using all-terrain vehicles and building a 5,500-foot asphalt runway for his planes.
      In a letter Thursday, a coalition of conservation and sporting groups urged Cool not to rush to judgment on Johnson's latest proposal, which he made last month. Instead, the DNR should work to acquire more South Fox parcels from Johnson and develop a management plan that would better identify property boundaries, they said.
      The DNR could have asked for a conservation easement in the dune area Johnson will receive, Lively said.
      "They did nothing to protect the island resources," he said. "They gave him the most sensitive part of the island and got nothing in return."
      Johnson said environmental groups apparently hoped if they held out long enough, he would sell his share of the island to the state.
      "My land's not for sale, nor will it ever be," he said.

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