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Ecological Values

An ounce of prevention

August 1, 1999 | By Keith Schneider
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

The soil, vegetation, and forests that blanket Lake Michigan's dunes hold the sandy bluffs in place, and filter surface water before it runs into the lake. Such free services provided by nature are known as "ecological values."

By stripping the forest from the bluff's summit to provide a wide-open view at the Arcadia Bluffs golf course, RVP Development Chairman Richard Postma set in motion a damaging chain of events that not only cost him dearly for earthwork, legal expenses, and penalties, but also undermined the water quality and fisheries in the adjacent area of Lake Michigan.

• According to Scott McEwen, water resource program director at the Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council in Conway, the drifting plumes of eroded soil traveled up to three miles north of the golf course. Nurseries for perch and other fish were smothered, and it is likely they will take years to recover.
• In addition, said Mr. McEwen, eroding sand and mud releases large quantities of phosphorous that was bound up in soil. Phosphorous is a nutrient that encourages rapid growth of algae. As the algae blooms die, the decay robs the water and fish of oxygen.
• State officials estimate that Mr. Postma has spent at least $1.3 million to design and install successively more elaborate erosion control systems involving pipes, rocks, and drainage culverts, although the latest has yet to be tested by a fierce Lake Michigan storm.
Mr. McEwen noted that a free and proven erosion control system, a standing mature forest, was available to Mr. Postma from the start. Landscape architects and engineers, moreover, say that re-planting a forest and vegetation along the bluff's edge would cost less than the network RVP is building, and would be the most effective solution. For Arcadia Bluffs, a view framed by trees was, and still is, the best idea.

CONTACT:Scott McEwen, Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council, 231-347-1181. ~K.S.

Plan for Prosperity

Acme Township northeast of fast-growing Traverse City now has a progressive new conservation-based master plan that is among the best in the state. Drafted by the township planning commission with the participation of local residents and approved last May by the township board, theplan calls formanaging growth by protecting the environment, preserving farmland, and developing a new walkable village center.

"We tried to look ahead to visualize what this township would be in 10 or 15 years if nothing was done to change how we were growing," said Mark Ritter, supervisor of the 4,500-resident township since 1992. "Enough people came to the same conclusion — that we were heading for sprawl and congestion and a lower quality of life — that we were able to reach consensus on what to do."

Flexibility and Foresight
Produced with the assistance of Don Hamilton, an accomplished conservation planner from Leelanau County, Acme's plan goes farther than any other in northern Michigan to tamesprawl by better managingthelocation ofnewhomes andbusinesses. It calls for:

• Scrapping the old agricultural zoning rule that allowed houses to be built on five-acre parcels. In its place, Acme will have zones that are flexible enough to provide farmers with the opportunity to sell their land for new development while preserving the region's scenic character and keeping land available for farming.

How does this work? In the largest zone, a minimum of 20 acres is required for each house. However a developer may cluster houses on 2.5-acre lots as long as 70% of a parcel is permanently preserved as open space under a conservation easement. This means, for example, that a 100-acre parcel may have as many as 12 houses when 70 acres are preserved.

• Establishing anewvillagecenter, muchofiton landthat oncewasanolddrive-in theater near the intersection of US-31 and M-72. The village will be built using traditional town design principles, including sidewalks, parks, and a street grid so residents may conveniently walk from neighborhoods to the business district.

• Preventing construction indesignatedcorridors to provide for new transportation options, such as light rail and busways.
"The next step is to put the zoning regulations into place that make our goal a reality," said Mr. Ritter. "We'll be doing that over the next 12 months."

CONTACTS:Mark Ritter, Acme Township Supervisor, P.O. Box 434, Acme, MI 49610-0434, Tel. 231-938-1350, Web site <www.acmetownship.org>;Don Hamilton, P.O. Box 238, Cedar, MI 49621, Tel. 231-941-2424.

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