Beach Grooming Bill – New Package for a Bad Idea

Our thanks goes to the Traverse City Record Eagle for its recent Editorial on what amounts to the latest shot across our conservation bow again from Senator Casperson.  This time, and pardon the pun, he’s dredged up an old bill but this time has repackaged it as “an effort to combat invasive species.” Right, Tom.

May 20, 2012

Editorial: State must assert control

This time, they say it’s all for the public good. Don’t believe it.

 The same folks who nearly 10 years ago fought the state because they wanted to bulldoze wetlands created as the Great Lakes receded are back at it, but this time they say they want to “groom” beaches to the water’s edge — without a state permit — to combat invasive plants, clean up mussel shells and keep E. coli outbreaks at bay.

What baloney.

It’s just a new argument by the same people who launched a full-court lobbying effort at the state and national level starting in 2003 to let them “groom” — which turned out to mean bulldoze — beaches that had become wetlands as the waters receded.

Ernie Krygier, who was president of the 3,000-member group Save Our Shoreline back in the day and still is, said Great Lakes property owners are now working with Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, to eliminate a required state permit for general beach grooming and maintenance.

Right now, landowners need a $50 Department of Environmental Quality permit and a second permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to maintain Great Lakes coastline in what is called a “public trust” zone between the water’s edge and the “ordinary high water mark.”

Krygier said the state permit is a redundant step that restricts landowners’ efforts to rid beaches of phragmites, invasive tall-growing vegetation that chokes out native wetland habitat. Why that’s a restriction isn’t clear, since federal law essentially says the same thing. The group also claims the state permit makes it more difficult to collect sharp zebra mussel shells and other dangerous or rotten debris.

Maybe SOS thinks they’ll have better luck pulling the wool over the eyes of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, or at least expect the Corps to simply not enforce the law. Given the Corps’ track record in Michigan on this and other issues — including during the last wetlands go-around — they might be right. Which is all the more reason for lawmakers to call SOS’ bluff.

There is another and more nefarious element to the effort, however. Casperson’s bill would replace the term “ordinary high water mark” in the statute with a more obscure “regulatory water mark.” Critics of the Casperson effort, like the Michigan United Conservation Clubs, say replacing that wording could jeopardize a 2005 Michigan Supreme Court case that established the public’s right to walk along the Great Lakes. The beach grooming law could jeopardize that legal precedent, the MUCC said; it would open the door to private landowners prohibiting access to Great Lakes beaches.

That stroll along the beach that untold numbers of Michigan and other Great Lakes residents hold so dear could be replaced by fences or other barriers put up by landowners.

The whole thing stinks. The Casperson bill is aimed at getting the state out of the wetlands protection business, thus making way for all kinds of abuses, and possibly cutting off access to the Great Lakes to people who don’t own lakeside property.

That runs counter to that most basic premise, that the lakes belong to the people and they have a right to at least walk the shoreline.

The 3,000 claimed members of SOS must not be allowed to dictate Great Lakes policy for their own ends.

Write, call or email your state House member or your state Senator and tell them to defend your right to walk your lakes.”

About Northern Michigan Conservation Network

The mission of the Northern Michigan Conservation Network is to "connect conservation-minded hunters, anglers, and outdoor enthusiasts to those issues affecting Michigan's forests, waters, and wildlife."

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