It sounds like a joke without a punchline.
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality approved a request from Traverse City to groom an 80-foot stretch of west-end beach but denied a request to remove wooden posts in the water that are part of an old breakwall.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied the grooming request but approved removing the wooden posts.
So now the city can’t do either one, even though it has permission — sort of — to do both.
Perhaps the most puzzling thing about the split decision, besides the fact that two regulatory agencies with ostensibly the same goal could come to opposing conclusions, is that by approving the beach grooming request the DEQ’s essentially reversed a long-standing anti-grooming policy.
The DEQ stood its ground in the mid-2000s when it denied repeated requests from beachfront motel owners on East Bay to chop down the vegetation that had grown up when the Great Lakes receded to record lows.
Now, it has approved a similar request on West Bay, though it must be said that the request was for a relatively measly 80 feet of beach — barely enough for a good-sized picnic and a lot less than the 200 feet the city first asked for.
The city has history on its side, though not recent history. Photos from the 1930s show the spot was a popular swimming beach with a marina. But the huge concrete slabs that line the beach now were added when Grandview Parkway was built in the 1950s. In the 1980s, water levels rose to near the Parkway and the city stopped grooming the beach.
The split DEQ/Army Corps decisions shouldn’t derail other projects planned for the site. The city wants to extend a trail from West End Beach to the Slabtown beach area, build a universal access ramp down to the beach and stabilize and upgrade storm sewer outlets while removing the concrete. The project would include pedestrian crossings on the Parkway.
Those efforts still make sense and would open the beach for walkers and picnics; the city should go ahead and get them done and make the space more useful than it is now.
And who is to say that with a few more modifications similar requests might get a different response. Obviously, someone at the Army Corps thinks removing the old wooden marina posts is OK, and someone at the DEQ thinks it would be OK to groom 80 feet of beach. Just as obviously, minds can — and do — change.
Do the work that can be done, upgrade the area for walkers and picnics, and enjoy the bay.