2012-07-26 / Local News

Pros, concerns on new beach groom law; permit may still be required

A new Michigan law allows people to groom their beaches without a state permit, but the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers wants landowners to know that a federal permit is still required.

The law has drawn praise from some shoreline owners, and criticism from ecologists.

The new state law allows property owners along the shoreline to mow, which will allow them to trim back the invasive phragmites plant, an aggressive species that has taken over beaches in many areas. Owners do not need a federal permit to mow.

But the Corps has jurisdiction over exposed bottomlands of the Great Lakes and still regulates leveling of sand and grooming of sand and vegetation located between the federal Ordinary High Water Mark and the water’s edge on the Great Lakes and their connected waters.

“There’s an overlapping jurisdiction,” said Tom Kelly, executive director of the Inland Seas Education Association, which acts as an education advocate for the lake, but does not get involved in the politics of issues. “Basically the state said, ‘We’re going to stay away from this and let the feds handle it.’ It’s very confusing to the average person.”

The Save Our Shoreline group has called the new state law a victory. The group has sought relaxed beach grooming rules for nearly 12 years. The law, which in most cases eliminates the need for a permit from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, went into effect on July 2.

But Andy Knott, executive director of the Watershed Center, Grand Traverse Bay, said there are still areas where a landowner will need a state permit groom shorelines.

“There’s still some confusion as to the state’s role,” Knott said, and people should talk to the DEQ before doing any work.

Dave Almeter, of Bingham Township, is a member of the S.O.S. group, which has put out a list of beach grooming “do’s” and “don’ts.” The list is available at www.saveourshoreline.org. The list, Almeter said, should clarify what is allowed.

“By the law, not what people want to read into the law,” Almeter said.

Knott is concerned that the new law could be detrimental to fish populations.

“Natural shorelines are really critical to fish and wildlife habitats,” he said. “Our concern is that more grooming will lead to the degradation of our Great Lakes fishery.”

Another concern is that mowing helps to spread invasive plant species, especially phragmites, by removing natural species of plants, Knott added.

— by Patti Brandt

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