Calamities Show, Soil Sedimentation Law Needs a Major Overhaul
Arcadia Bluffs, Shanty Creek emerge as important violators
December 1, 1999 | By Keith Schneider
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service
Two environmental calamities in 1998 at new golf courses under construction in Manistee and Antrim counties vividly demonstrate the ineffectiveness of the state's erosion control law.
• In Manistee County, workers at the Arcadia Bluffs Golf Course have spent months trying to repair a gully in a 160-foot sand dune that has grown to mammoth scale after heavy rains in April and September, and a windstorm in November. During each storm thousands of tons of sandy soil and clay rushed off the raw fairways and greens, sheared off the steep slope through the gully, and funneled into Lake Michigan. State environmental officials say it's the worst erosion site on the Michigan side of the lake.
"You have to be down on the beach and look up there at the gully," said Matt Johnstone, an enforcement officer for the Department of Environmental Quality. "It's beyond imagination how much has washed out."
• In Antrim County, a rainstorm in August washed hundreds of tons of soil laced with turf chemicals from Shanty Creek Resort's new golf course into the Cedar River. The course's inadequate storm water management system failed, seriously damaging one of Michigan's wildest and cleanest trout streams.
DEQ investigators, using the stiffer sanctions available under the state water quality law, have recommended that charges and large fines be brought against RVP Development, the builders of the Arcadia Bluffs Golf Course, and against Shanty Creek. In January, the case was referred to the Attorney General for prosecution.
Local soil erosion control officers say the law no longer is adequate to either act as a deterrent to irresponsible development or to regulate erosion from new golf courses, subdivisions, shopping malls, and other projects that rip top soil and lay bare hundreds of acres at a time.
With its sandy and highly erodible soils, northern Michigan is particularly vulnerable to widespread harm to lakes, rivers, and streams from construction that is occurring at a new and much larger scale in the region.
"We're really limited in what the law requires and what we can do," said Mary Pitcher, the Manistee County soil erosion control officer. "There are no provisions to prevent trees from being cut on eroding bluffs. There are no requirements for setbacks or buffers to protect sensitive areas. The fines are too small."
After the flood in Antrim County, for example, biologists found the Cedar River's banks had suffered extensive damage. In some sections of the river, the flood also had dug out new holes and deposited large stones and gravel. And just below the area where most of the mud from the golf course first hit, a new channel was carved into the river.
Michael Stifler, a district supervisor for the Department of Environmental Quality in Cadillac, said Shanty Creek violated water quality laws by not having a certified operator manage the erosion control program. Friends of the Cedar River, a citizens organization, filed a lawsuit, the second in less than a year, to prevent additional harm to the river. In late December the group won financial compensation from Shanty Creek to repair the damage and pay for legal and technical fees.
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