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E-M:/ Wetland mitigation/ordinances

Enviro-Mich message from EcoVision@aol.com


I don't know if anyone directed your attention to Keith Schneider's article 
(see below) posted at:


, but I thought it might be helpful. Are you going to post a summary of your 

I recently discovered that Barry County is one of the Michigan Counties with 
a population of less than 100,000 that the State provides no wetland 
protection, not even to wetlands greater than 5 acres 
(http://www.deq.state.mi.us/lwm/grt_lakes/wetlands/count100.htm). There are 
just 20 Counties in the State with a population over100,000.

I am gathering info on wetland ordinances with the idea of introducing the 
concept to the Barry County Planning and Zoning Commission and Barry County 
Board of Commissioners. There are 40 Michigan Townships that currently have 
wetland ordinacnes 



At The Institute

Guess What! Fake Wetlands Don’t Work
DEQ gives itself an “F” for oversight

By Keith Schneider

Destroy a natural wetland for a new shopping center? Don’t worry, developers 
say. State law can require builders to construct an artificial wetland 
somewhere else that will work just as well.

According to a remarkably candid internal audit, however, the Department of 
Environmental Quality says artificial wetlands don’t work and the state 
program for overseeing them is a mess. The DEQ’s conclusions about the 
shortcomings of artificial wetlands are consistent with many other studies 
that have found manmade wetlands simply do not replace the biological and 
ecological values of natural wetlands. Rarely, though, has a state agency 
been as straightforward in assessing the weaknesses of its practices and 
procedures for wetland protection.

Don’t count on it
The internal audit, by DEQ water quality specialist Robert Zibciak, revealed 
how far Michigan’s wetland protection program has strayed from its mission of 
keeping Michigan’s wetlands — nature’s kidneys — functioning. Mr. Zibciak 
reviewed 78 permit applications and resulting state orders to build 158 
artificial wetlands in 33 counties. His investigation found:

• 71 percent of the artificial wetlands were biological failures.
• 14 percent of the artificial wetlands the state ordered never were built.
• One in five artificial wetlands were so poorly constructed that they 
actually caused more erosion than they prevented.
• Only a third of the companies required to monitor their artificial wetlands 
actually did.
• State inspectors consider just one in five of the artificial wetlands to be 

In response to the report’s findings, the DEQ released a statement citing 
improvements in its wetland program and blaming previous administrations for 
weaknesses in enforcing the wetlands law, as well as below-average 
precipitation during the study period. The report’s author, however, said the 
agency’s new steps did not work and that the program’s weaknesses were due 
largely to the DEQ’s overall goal of encouraging economic development at the 
expense of environmental protection.

Campaign promise
The rush to satisfy permit applicants comes at the expense of wetland 
protection, according to the report. “The emphasis is to issue the permits as 
quickly as possible,” said Mr. Zibciak’s report. Taking the time to gather 
all the facts “would be very unpopular with the regulated community and 
unlikely to be acceptable to MDEQ management.”

The 1979 wetland law requires the state to issue permits within 90 days. 
Before Governor John Engler took office in 1991, according to the report, 
state regulators interpreted the law to mean that the clock began ticking 
only after they had received a complete application — one with all relevant 
information from developers. Builders grew frustrated, and complaints about 
the slow pace of wetland permitting escalated. Mr. Engler campaigned on a 
message of making government more responsive to its constituents and speeding 
up the permitting process. Russell Harding, the DEQ’s director, took the 
campaign promise to heart.

Enforcement nightmare
According to a September 2000 draft of the internal audit that the Michigan 
Environmental Council obtained, the DEQ’s front office advised staff members 
to issue wetland development permits within 90 days irrespective of whether 
the applicant had submitted all necessary information. The DEQ generally 
issues such permits on condition that the applicant provide the missing 
information later, typically within 90 more days.

But the state never follows up in most cases on those conditions, Mr. Zibciak 
reports. The result is a “department-created” enforcement nightmare. “Permit 
violators that receive no follow-up contact from the MDEQ regulatory staff 
are sent a clear message by this inaction,” the draft report reads. “That 
message being that the MDEQ will not follow up on their project, and 
compliance with their MDEQ permit can be a low priority item or ignored 

CONTACT(S): Dave Dempsey, Michigan Environmental Council, 517-487-9539, <
davemec@voyager.net>; Ken Silfven, Department of Environmental Quality, 
Take Action
Citizens can help build public awareness and pressure for improvements in the 
DEQ’s wetlands program by writing letters to the editors of local newspapers. 
Use the facts in this article to explain problems with state oversight and 
the importance of protecting wetlands. Please send a copy to Keith Schneider 
at the Institute or <keith@mlui.org>. 

A copy of the DEQ’s final wetland mitigation report is available on the 
agency’s Web site: <www.deq.state.mi.
wetlands/mitstudy.htm>. For a copy of Mr. Zibciak’s earlier draft, write or 
call Keith Schneider at the Institute 231-882-4723 or <keith@mlui.org>. 

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