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Developer Runs Humbug Red Light

Detroit River wetland a test case

December 1, 1999 | By Patty Cantrell
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

The fate of Humbug Marsh and Island, a rare and ecologically rich stretch of native shoreline on the Detroit River south of Grosse Ile, was still hanging by an administrative thread in January.

Michigan holds especially sensitive parts of the 200-acre marsh in a permanent "conservation easement," which legally binds the landowner to keep the areas in their natural state forever. On Dec. 2 the Department of Environmental Quality denied the request of a real estate developer, Made in Detroit Inc., to use some of the protected property for a bridge between the mainland and island. It also denied the company a wetland permit for building luxury homes and a golf course on the property, which includes the marsh, because the application was based on access to the easement.

But Made in Detroit did not back off its plans for building a bridge to the island. It proposed instead to build a bridge over or around the marsh's shoreline and upland buffer, which the easement protects. And rather than submit a new wetland permit application and wait for approval, the company stepped up the preparatory bulldozing it had started in November.

On Dec. 12 about 70 local residents protested in nearby Trenton against the company's apparent disregard for the law and the environment, as well as the DEQ's lack of action to make sure the bulldozing did not damage the sensitive easement areas. The next week, private pilots sympathetic to the Humbug cause flew over the marsh and photographed brush clearing up to the water's edge in the protected lands. Citizens notified the Michigan Attorney General's office, which along with the DEQ requested, but did not receive, a temporary restraining order from a local court. A preliminary injunction hearing was to take place in January. At press time, however, no further information was available. Made in Detroit said they would stop bulldozing in the meantime.

Letter of the Law
Made in Detroit spokeswoman Tina Bassett told the Institute that by working around the conservation easement areas her company should solve all environmental concerns. She also said that a housing and golf development built up to the easement's edges can only improve the marsh. "We are the environmentalists. We are restoring it and protecting it," she said.

DEQ Director Russell Harding did little to counter Made in Detroit's stance when he told the Southern Wayne County Chamber of Commerce last September, "If this was simply a decision as it relates to wetland regulations, this would not be a difficult decision. We believe the company has come in with a plan that is very doable. It's the kind of thing we permit throughout the state."

Humbug Marsh advocates say the question of how a revised plan to build over, around, and up to the easement would affect the protected conservation areas should be part of a new permit application review, complete with a public hearing and comment period. They have asked the DEQ to hold a new hearing once it receives its next application from Made in Detroit.

Heart of the Law
It is clear to friends of the marsh and scientists alike that houses, roads, driveways, and fertilized lawns will kill off this last great wetland on the Detroit side of Lake Erie. Independent researchers and federal environmental agencies vouch for the Humbug Marsh as a critical link in the Great Lakes ecosystem. It supports spawning grounds for dozens of fish species, is a rest area for migratory birds, and gives many people sanctuary.

The DEQ received nearly 7,000 pro-marsh letters when reviewing Made in Detroit's first application. And more than 800 area residents turned out for a public hearing in September to impress on state officials that Humbug Marsh is truly an oasis amid the sprawl of southeastern Michigan.

Speaker after speaker, whether wearing a suit or a camouflage cap, explained that Humbug must be kept alive for future generations. "Where else around here can I take my children to really see nature?" said one woman when asked why she came to the meeting. "It's important."

Take Action
For up-to-date information on the Humbug Marsh, go to the Michigan United Conservation Club's Web page at <www.mucc.org>. To help with the ongoing work, and possible legal action to protect the marsh, contact: Friends of the Detroit River Marsh Defense Fund – 17462 Reed, Melvindale, MI 48122/Tel. 313-381-2835.

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