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Project Focus

March 1, 2000 | By Hans Voss
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

Mining the Dunes
Mining companies are stripping away 2.5 million tons of sand a year at 20 active sites along the west coast of Lake Michigan. In 1976, Michigan enacted the Sand Dune Protection and Management Act to regulate mining. Since then, according to a report by the Lake Michigan Federation, the area permitted for sand mining grew by nearly 50%, from 3,228 acres to 4,848 acres. Moreover, the DEQ's Geological Survey Division is failing to adequately oversee companies and enforce the law. In 1997 DEQ granted T echnisand a permit to expand a mine site in Berrien County, even though the expansion would occur in areas that merit protection as state critical dunes. A grassroots group, Preserve the Dunes, has organized to challenge the permit.

Contacts: Tanya Cabala, Lake Michigan Federation, 616-723-5116, e-mail: <lkmf@novagate.com>; Preserve the Dunes, 616-849-0402, e-mail: <sosdunes@daac.com>

Soil Erosion
As more of Michigan is cleared for development and more ground- stabilizing vegetation is stripped away, an increasing amount of exposed soil washes into nearby bodies of water. This mounting water quality threat is especially important as the pace and scale of coastal development climbs. A telling example occurred in 1998, when construction at the Arcadia Bluffs golf course in Manistee County caused tons of sand, clay, and mud to erode into Lake Michigan. Astate investigation identified more than a dozen separate events in which the lake's water was polluted by erosion from Arcadia Bluffs. Last April Attorney General Jennifer Granholm proposed a $425,000 fine against RVP Development, the Grand Rapids-based developer of the course. It was the largest fine in Michigan ever proposed for water pollution caused by erosion.

CONTACT:Gary L. Finkbeiner, Assistant Attorney General, 517-373-7540.

The loss of shoreline habitat from coastal development is threatening an array of rare plants and animals. According to the Nature Conservancy's ranking system, 28 shoreline- dependent Great Lakes species are at risk, including the piping plover, Pitcher 's thistle, Houghton' s goldenrod, and the Lake Huron locust. This is important, even to people who never have heard of these creatures, because the ability of an ecosystem to support wildlife is the best measure of its overall health. So, for example, as the region has lost or damaged piping plover habitat, the population has decreased. The Great Lakes once were home to nearly 800 nesting pairs; today less than 35 remain. The current scarcity of these shoreline birds reflects the elevated pressure on the shoreline.

CONTACT:Mark Hodgkins, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 517-351-6289, e- mail: <Mark_Hodgkins@fws.gov>.

Coastal Drilling
In the summer of 1997 the state Department of Natural Resources issued leases to Newstar Energy for nearly 200 acres of state-owned Lake Michigan bottomlands. The company was seeking to drill onshore wells to tap energy reserves that are 5,000 feet deep and up to 2,000 feet offshore. This prompted a public controversy that caused the state to institute an indefinite moratorium on new leases. Despite this pause, top state regulators have announced that they want to see the coast opened up for more wells. Although drilling under the Great Lakes has occurred in the past -- there are 13 existing wells -- the increased interest from energy companies raises the possibility of new development that could bring hundreds of wells, miles of roads and pipelines, and noisy processing stations to the coast.

CONTACT:Arlin Wasserman at the Institute, 231- 271-3683, e-mail: <arlin@mlui.org>.

Residential Development
As more and more people flock to northern Michigan, attracted by the beauty of its natural environment, many are landing on an increasingly crowded coast. New homes for people seeking privacy and views are going up on fragile sand dunes, sensitive shoreline areas prone to erosion, and shrinking coastal habitat. According to Department of Environmental Quality records, between January 1990 and September 1999 in Leelanau County alone there were 242 applications for construction in designated critical sand dunes, and 84% of the building permits were issued. The pace of development in Leelanau represents a statewide shift from urban to rural, and an increasing growth in northern Michigan's coastal counties.

CONTACT :Anne Stanton at the Institute, 231-882- 4723, e-mail: <anne@mlui.org>.
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