Martin VanValkenburg, Senator North's legislative assistant has advised that the Environmental Area Proposed Regulations rule change has been filed without action by the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules. In effect, the rules changes now become operative for the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to use as they wish.

If any property is designated by the DEQ, the owner of that property does have an opportunity to oppose the designation and attempt to remove the designation.

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The final rules for Environmental Areas have been sent by the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to the Director, Russell Harding as of July 16, 1998. Under DEQ procedures, the Director is to sign them and send them on to the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR). If no hearing is set by the Committee, the rules will become effective in 45 days.

The promulgated rules are substantially the same as originally proposed, with only stylistic and technical changes. They still allow the DEQ to identify Environmental Areas within 1000 feet of a Great Lake shoreline. Once these areas are designated, the activities which can be conducted without a permit from the DEQ are severely limited. Any alteration of vegetation, such as "mowing, cutting, clearing, spraying, burning, trimming, thinning," brush, grass, or trees would only be allowed if "no other feasible and prudent alternatives exist and . . . the alteration will not adversely impact essential fish or wildlife habitat." Timber harvesting without a permit is prohibited now, whereas, previously, a permit was only required if the harvesting involved an identified bird nesting area, such as a heron rookery.

Areas can be designated if fish, birds, or water mammals can eat, sleep, reproduce, rest, or nest on them. Because of the broad definitions, virtually any area within 1000 feet of the shoreline is subject to designation. Once this happens the DEQ reserves the right to limit the area of your property which can be used for ordinary living to NOT MORE THAN 12,000 SQUARE FEET.

It appears that the only way now to stop this program is legislatively. Senator Walter North is now the Chairman of JCAR. It is possible that this committee, which has 5 members each from the State House and Senate can take action to stop this rule change. Under the rules of the committee, the majority of each chamber has 3 members and the minority has 2. Any rules change must pass by a majority of each body. You can contact Senator North at the Michigan Senate, P.O. Box 30036, Lansing, MI 48909-7536, by phone at (517) 373-2413 or e-mail him at SenWNorth@senate.state.mi.us.

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Lawrence N. Witte, Chief of the Land and Water Management Division of the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), has advised that "the DEQ has made only one new designation of an Environmental Area (EA) since 1987. The exception was designated at the request of the property owner. A second request was received this year and is under consideration. Areas can only be designated upon a showing that they meet the definition of an EA." (Remember, however, that if a seagull lands on your lot, it meets the definition.) He went on to say that "(t)he entire coast was studied in the 1970s and 1980s and we do not envision any significant increases. The DEQ does plan to update existing EAs by more accurately surveying the boundries, updating ownership records, and making boundary changes if warranted. Any increase in the area regulated would provide the owner the right of appeal." He further states: "We believe that the updating process will result in a slight overall decrease in the number of EAs."

This type of process was used to establish the present shoreline setbacks. Almost no one appealed the designation because they did not realize the significant restrictions which would be imposed upon their use of the land if the designation remained. Those two residents in this area who followed through with the entire appeal process spent three years in doing so, but succeeded in avoiding the designation of high risk erosion areas.

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APRIL -- MAY 1997

LEGISLATIVE ALERT!! The people who brought you shoreline setbacks and sent FEMA to try to establish velocity zones along the shoreline are now making a new attempt to try to regulate shoreline owners off the Great Lakes. The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) -- in the person of the same people who were after property control when they were part of the DNR -- have decided to try to activate "Environmental Areas". They could declare Areas anywhere in the State within 1000 feet of the shoreline of any Great Lake. This could amount to about 680 square miles in the State. What makes a piece of property susceptible? If any fish or any waterfowl, shorebird, gull, or other bird "associated with coastal or wetland area", or any mammal such as muskrats, beavers, otters, mink, or other "mammal associated with coastal or wetland habitat" might spawn, shelter, feed, grow, breed, court, mate, nest, rear young or REST on your property, you may have an Environmental Area. If some sea gull decides to sit on your property YOU ARE IN BIG TROUBLE. What happens next? If you are in an Environmental Area you have to go to the DEQ to get a permit to "change the natural density and composition of plants by human activity such as mowing, cutting, clearing, spraying, burning, trimming, thinning and other means." THAT'S RIGHT, YOU MAY HAVE TO GET A PERMIT TO CUT YOUR GRASS. Don't consider cutting trees or "altering" your soil until you have permission from Big Brother. This is not a law passed by our legislative representatives, this a change in a REGULATION. For the full text of the regulation (Rule 96-173), contact Maureen Rudel at (517) 362-4747.

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