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State Orders Big Fake Wetland

August 1, 2001 | By Patty Cantrell
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

As if to punctuate the point of a revealing internal audit, Department of Environmental Quality Director Russell Harding in June ordered the destruction of 17 acres of wetlands to allow construction of an airport in Huron County’s Caseville Township, near the tip of the Thumb. The top-down decision comes after the audit, by DEQ staff, disclosed that the agency’s administration has undercut wetland protection statewide with lax permitting and reliance on manmade replacement wetlands that don’t work.

Mr. Harding directed Saginaw Bay District staff to grant Bay Airport Land Corporation a permit despite:

• Objections of staff biologists, who report the massive wetland filling would also affect some of the 115 acres of additional regulated wetlands on the 220-acre parcel.

• Clear direction from DEQ administrative law judge Richard Patterson, who had ruled the airport was not in the public interest and would cause “unacceptable disruption” to aquatic resources.

The airport developers must create artificial wetlands to replace the naturally functioning wetlands as a condition of the permit. But that’s another problem, according to the DEQ audit and studies, such as a recent National Academy of Sciences investigation of artificial wetlands.

The Academy found that even the best manmade wetlands did not measure up to natural wetlands as flood buffers, pollution filters, or wildlife habitat. The Academy also found that construction of replacement wetlands is often delayed or never completed.

The internal audit found that the DEQ fails to follow up on its requirement that developers replace damaged wetlands with artificial wetlands.

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