Traverse City Record-Eagle

December 22, 2013

Editorial: Sleeping Bear bill supporters worry about possible changes

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — A bill to protect Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore that has already passed the U.S. Senate should easily pass just on its merits. It represents years of conversation and compromise among local groups and local governments about designating 32,500 acres in the park as wilderness area.

An earlier wilderness designation effort nearly a decade ago ran afoul of local groups and county officials worried that changes would limit access to the park. In particular, locals objected that roads ends and secondary roads that had provided access for decades would be closed to the public.

The new bill should also get points for its wide bipartisan support, a rarity in Washington these days. The bill has virtually universal support locally and within Michigan’s Congressional delegation. H.R. 163, the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Conservation and Recreation Act, is sponsored by U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek, whose First District includes Sleeping Bear. It easily passed the Senate in June with strong support from Democratic Sens. Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow and is supported by nearly the entire Michigan delegation.

The Department of Interior offered strong support for previous versions of the bill. And Kerry Kelly, chairman of the board of the Friends of Sleeping Bear Dunes, said the nonprofit also supports the legislation. But some local advocates worry there may be another agenda they’re not aware of at work that could see the bill derailed or changed from the wording that constituent groups have worked so hard to fashion.

In a press release issued by the House Natural Resources Committee, Chairman Doc Hastings, R—Wash., praised the delegation’s efforts on behalf of the bill but, supporters said, “hinted” the legislation still needed work.

Hastings was quoted as saying it is his “specific intention to advance” the legislation and he believes “it’s possible to reach an appropriate resolution that accomplishes their goal.”

That wording — that it’s “possible to reach an appropriate resolution” — is what has local backers worried — and wondering. They say they don’t know what more there may be to talk about or what it would take to “reach an appropriate resolution.” They wonder what still needed to be resolved. If Hastings or others have concerns about the bill, the time to express them is now, so Benishek and local officials can digest any possible changes and work through them. This bill is a product of a lot of compromise and addresses local concerns about preserving the park and so—called “wilderness” areas which, in the case of Sleeping Bear, means balancing local demands for access with the desire for areas where visitors can get away from cars and experience the quiet side of the park.

A committee hearing during the last lap isn’t the time to consider substantive changes, and supporters would like to know now, rather than later, what Hastings’ concerns may be. That doesn’t seem to be much to ask.