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DEQ, Developers Muddy Lake Leelanau Narrows Plan

Blunder over 80-slip marina blocks public participation

May 11, 2001 | By Johanna Miller
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

Alarmed at the prospect of an 80-slip marina in the Lake Leelanau Narrows, local residents have spent the last several months organizing to challenge the proposal. On the morning of April 19, citizens thought their efforts, including a packed public meeting at the Lake Leelanau Fire Hall, were successful. They woke up, just days before a Department of Environmental Quality hearing on the issue, to a surprising headline on the front-page of the Leelanau Enterprise: "Marina Out, Homes In." Sighs of relief rippled across the county. The public’s voice had been heard. The marina issue was apparently moot.

Or maybe not… At the April 23 hearing, which fewer people attended because of the apparent good news, DEQ officials declared that the marina proposal was still on the table. They also said public statements that agency officials and the developers had made about a change in plans were wrong.

Is this a classic game of "bait and switch" or simply a communications mishap? It’s difficult to say. Regardless, the DEQ must safeguard the integrity of the public comment process and right the wrong in this confusing blunder. The agency should hold another public hearing to give residents a genuine opportunity to speak their minds about the marina proposal. Government agencies must protect the public trust, which involves informing the public and considering the concerns of residents when processing permits.

The DEQ now, however, is moving forward on the permit as if the headline was simply a figment of peoples’ imaginations. It is possible that the agency will deny the permit even without a full and fair public hearing. But giving citizens an opportunity to speak is an important step that the DEQ should not skip.

The public’s concern in this case is significant and well-reasoned. Local residents and groups, such as the Michigan Land Use Institute and the Lake Leelanau Lake Association, believe the marina would have a jarring effect on the beautiful and ecologically fragile area of the Narrows. Motorboat traffic in North Lake Leelanau already exceeds the lake’s carrying capacity. A large new marina would stress not only important natural resources but also local emergency services.

The agency also must consider Leland Township’s zoning ordinance, which clearly states the township’s commitment to preserving its "expanses of open spaces and natural resources, including woodlands, wetlands, hillsides, fields, and farmland … which residents wish to protect for future generations."

People care about this significant development proposal for more than emotional reasons. The proposed marina could seriously damage water quality and fish habitat. This alone should convince the DEQ to deny this permit.

When the DEQ and the developers first say the marina proposal is off the table, and then, oops, it’s on again, they tell citizens not to bother. But the fact is the state created its environmental laws to protect the public’s natural resources and give citizens a voice. It is still important for DEQ to hold a hearing on the marina proposal — a hearing where people know which proposal is on the table and which is not.

Johanna Miller is the policy specialist at the Michigan Land Use Institute. The Institute is a nonprofit environmental research and advocacy organization in Benzonia that works to build support for policy that protects the environment, improves the economy, and enhances quality of life.

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