TRAVERSE CITY A little-known elected board in East Bay Township might uproot a proposed settlement between the state and the Cherry Tree Inn over its illegal bulldozing work in Lake Michigan.
The Cherry Tree Inn, as part of its negotiated penalty made public Monday, is required to remove invasive plant species from nearby Gens Park on East Bay near Four Mile Road. Early this summer East Bay Township told the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality it would "entertain" the proposal.
But on Aug. 6, the township's elected parks commission voted against it.
Under the proposal, the Cherry Tree Inn would pull invasive weeds by hand, then apply a herbicide to the remaining stumps.
Parks commission chairwoman Grace Macdonald said no one from the Cherry Tree Inn was present to answer questions at the Aug. 6 session and commissioners didn't believe they had enough information to approve the request.
"Some of the commissioners thought it was part of (Cherry Tree's) penalty," Macdonald said. "They thought the punishment needed to be more than that."
State and federal authorities investigated the inn and its owner, Omni Hospitality of Medina, Ohio, after a bulldozer drove as far as 122 feet into East Bay while working on the beach over Thanksgiving weekend last year.
Authorities determined that the bulldozer dredged and moved large quantities of Great Lakes bottomlands, a violation of state law.
The inn's owners are required to restore 0.8-acre of disturbed wetland, pay a $35,000 fine to the state's general fund, monitor the restoration for five years, and remove invasive plants from Gens Park, under the proposed consent agreement with the DEQ.
Estimated cost for the restoration and monitoring work was $67,500.
Cherry Tree Inn did not admit wrongdoing under the agreement.
Environmental groups also object to the proposed settlement.
"The fine is very much out of proportion with the damage done to the wetlands," said John Nelson, Baykeeper for Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay. "In my opinion, if you put a monetary amount on the amount of damage, it far exceeds the amount of the fine and cost of restoration."
Nelson acknowledged some positive aspects, including the fact that restoration was ordered, some mitigation will be required and Cherry Tree Inn was fined.
"I've seen this go on before and there weren't any penalties," Nelson said. "I just wish it could have been more."
The watershed center wanted DEQ to require the Cherry Tree Inn to conduct an additional environmental restoration project in Grand Traverse Bay and use the fine for local projects.
"We wish (the fine) would have come back to Grand Traverse Bay, but instead it's going into a black hole in Lansing," Nelson said.
DEQ spokesman David Pingel declined to comment on the watershed center's proposals, and also would not speak to what might happen to the agreement if the township doesn't change its mind.
"We're thankful that you've raised the issue but I don't know how this will transpire out," he said. "I don't know if (the Cherry Tree Inn's attorney) has exhausted that avenue, so we'll have to wait and see what happens."
Cherry Tree Inn attorney Joseph Quandt said he also was unaware the township rejected the weed removal project.
"I'm really baffled why they would reject this offer, as it would seem to be best for the environment and best for their property," Quandt said. "I'll have to follow up with them to see if there is a specific concern that we can address."
Macdonald said the parks commission has agreed to revisit the proposed project when it meets at 5 p.m. on Sept. 4 in the township hall.