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June 3, 2012

Forum: Bill not in lakes' interest

"Maintenance" and "grooming" — these words connote benign, positive activities. Make no mistake, however, when used to describe activities on our shared Great Lakes shoreline it means mechanized removal of critical plants. Make way for the bulldozers and tractors. Remember the Cherry Tree Inn and the destruction of vital Great Lakes coastal marsh in an attempt to create a "sandy" beach?"

Senate Bill 1052, which would allow these activities on Michigan's Great Lakes shoreline without any state review, was approved by the Michigan Senate and is moving to the House.

No one advocates denying property owners reasonable use of their Great Lakes frontage. For three years, environmental groups, state and federal agencies and property groups, including Save our Shoreline worked to reach a compromise allowing some activities under a general permit at low cost and effort.

Senate Bill 1052 repeals the compromise which SOS has praised. SOS said in their January newsletter: "For the most part the (SOS) membership did not have any issues with the DEQ or the Army Corp of Engineers. This is great news "¦"

Over the past five years, the Department of Environmental Quality has denied only four general permits for beach grooming; this is hardly an onerous program.

The shoreline of the Great Lakes is a diverse, fragile ecosystem. Along Grand Traverse Bay, naturally sandy beaches are rare. Most of the shoreline is a mix of cobble, vegetated cobble, cobble sand mix and marshes. The narrow, protective strip of vegetation along the water's edge helps clean runoff before it gets to the lakes. And it becomes a fish nursery when water levels rise just a few inches; 90 percent of Great Lakes fish spend their first few years in near-shore areas.

Some legislators cite the need to control invasive phragmites as the rationale for removing DEQ oversight of the public interest in the shoreline. But the bill would allow the cutting and attempted removal of live, untreated phragmites. The very act of cutting phragmites roots increases spreading as each root segment can float for miles and sprout a new plant.

Proper treatment of phragmites uses limited and targeted approved herbicide under a DEQ permit. The Watershed Center has worked with several partners to control invasive phragmites with great success. Between 2010 and 2011, we reduced the amount of phragmites by 78 percent on Grand Traverse Bay in Grand Traverse County — down to 16 acres. This bill would jeopardize that work and investment.

The bill would allow removal of all plants, including native. The removal of native vegetation along the shoreline enhances the growth of invasives because it creates a place for them to take hold and spread.

Tell your state representative to vote "no" on Senate Bill 1052, that this legislation is not consistent with Michigan's tradition of preserving the Great Lakes for us and for future generations. Call your legislator at (517) 373-6339 (House) or (517) 373-2400 (Senate). And call Gov. Snyder at (517) 373-3400 and ask him to veto the bill if it passes.

About the authors: John Nelson is Grand Traverse Baykeeper for the Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay. Andy Knott is Executive Director of the Watershed Center.

About the forum: The forum is a periodic column of opinion written by Record-Eagle readers in their areas of interest or expertise. Submissions of 500 words or less may be made by e-mailing letters@record-eagle.com. Please include biographical information and a photo.

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