Harbor Shores

Written by Nexcerpt on April 20th, 2011 in Patterns & News.
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Watching the Benton Harbor takeover escalate recently — in particular, the devious private agendas of Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, Michigan Representative Fred Upton, and their cronies — I was reminded of the relentless misrepresentations in early development proposals for the Jack Nicklaus “Signature” golf course at Harbor Shores.

Below are my comments on Harbor Shores’ first wetland permit request, as I submitted back in 2005. Unfortunately, all the worst has come to pass.


Disrespect for the environment by Harbor Shores, Cornerstone Alliance, and its Whirlpool backers, has only escalated with time. They persist in their relentless drive to exploit natural, social, and political systems at all costs — to say, do, take, or destroy whatever they want to say, do, take or destroy — regardless of the law or the truth. I have been astonished at their lack of integrity; it was difficult and painful to discover how dishonest they could be.

Apropos of that lesson, I was also still married when I wrote these comments in 2005. I’m not sure which education in human nature saddened me more: getting to know Harbor Shores, or getting to know divorce attorneys ;-)

This document is very long, consistent with the number of inappropriate goals and the range of inaccurate claims Harbor Shores began making in its earliest documents. To help you along, I’ve highlighted the most extreme examples of Harbor Shores’ endless insensitivity, egregious overreach, and embarrassing underperformance.

 

November 10, 2005

Ben Zimont / Larry Poynter
MDEQ LWMD
7953 Adobe Road
Kalamazoo MI 49009

Re: MDEQ files 05-11-0110-P and 05-11-0083P

Folks:

My comments address all requests for Harbor Shores, as most public comments have done implicitly. I wish I had more time to address more issues, to make this document shorter, and to articulate my recommendations more fully. I will be glad to expand on any of these concepts, if asked.

I live thirty miles east of the confluence of the Paw Paw and St. Joe rivers, and rarely have reason to visit the Harbor Shores project area. However, I own considerable frontage on the East Branch of the Paw Paw River, and routinely review wetland permit requests throughout the basin, as I have for twenty years. I am an active member of the Paw Paw River Watershed Steering Committee, and involved with other habitat conservation and water quality issues throughout the region.

In the 1990’s I served on, and for some time chaired, the Van Buren County Planning Commission (at that time also Overall Economic Development Committee). My wife and I were among co-founders of the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy, where I also served as President. Having worked individually with developers in several counties, and consulted with municipal planning bodies in several townships, I’m familiar with the concepts, calculations, and compromises made during land and resource development projects.

I learned of the scope of the Harbor Shores project one month ago, when several landowners within the project area contacted me for help in assessing the project’s impacts. I have personally viewed or walked many areas proposed for dredge and fill, to observe flora, fauna, and local conditions.

Clearly there are broad opportunities within the project area for development and redevelopment. The scale of Harbor Shores’ proposal is immense, and its stated objectives are praiseworthy. However, the proposed plan is not correspondingly impressive.

Some of my comments may appear harsh. Such comments appear in the hope that they may:

• awaken media or citizen activists to the inappropriateness of certain aspects of this proposal
• embolden MDEQ personnel to press the furthest limits of their authority in modifing the proposal
• encourage consultants to assert natural resource values more forcefully with future clients
startle Whirlpool management and partnering public officials into understanding that they must never again present a proposal which so ignores the abiding public interest in conservation of our natural resources.

All parties must push back to higher management, and to decisionmakers, to improve the proposal.

PUBLIC INTEREST

Members of the public made heartfelt comments at the November 1, 2005 public hearing. Several speakers addressed fears for the integrity of the Paw Paw River and its wildlife communities. Other comments might have seemed not directly relevant to wetland or resource values. However, many of those comments nonetheless reflected this project’s profound failure to address legitimate public interests. On that statutory basis alone, the application might well be rejected.

I share many concerns regarding failure in the public interest, independent of resource values. It appears that the applicants have misapplied PA 425 to manipulate census statistics to qualify the project for certain funding or tax treatment. Also, the applicants have engaged elected officials in Lansing to pressure State agencies to permit this project, even if it fails to meet policy standards.

Several professionals from public agencies have expressed to me personally their frustration at being unable to speak to the inappropriateness of resource impacts to the Paw Paw River. They clearly comprehend that such freedom has been denied them. Some are precluded from speaking by an ongoing relationship with project sponsors. Others must maintain a smile and an official line, best summarized as, “We never say anything bad about economic development.”

Of the 89 miles of the Paw Paw River, this project envelops both banks for nearly two miles — two percent of the entire river. Imagine the degree of outcry if Berrien County (over one million acres) slated a project to envelop two percent of its land — that is, 20,000 acres — or most of a full township? By comparison, how much formal comment was made regarding this project? Many of the best-qualified citizens of Michigan have been prohibited from speaking about the project’s weaknesses.

My wife and I are the very people Michigan claims it wants to attract for economic development — dedicated technology entrepreneurs who donate time and financial resources to better our community. We work every day with the tech geeks and the creatives who can bring Michigan’s economy back online. Those people are the future, and they expect a future as rational and vibrant as the technologies they create. They don’t want a golf course — they want a world of natural wonder. They don’t want political games — they want rules to be enforced. They don’t want wetlands destroyed because Lansing made a phone call — they want decisions made by professionals, based in science, and derived from rational analysis of the merits of a proposal. True public interest is not in the eye of the applicants — it is in the eye of the public.

In coming years, our society will begin to understand what we have done to wetlands, and the cost we have paid as a result. The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina has raised this awareness for some, but not for all. We watched asbestos kill us early in the 20th century, and lied about our awareness, for profit and political expediency. We watched cigarettes kill us in the latter 20th century, and lied about our awareness, for profit and political expediency. Wetlands will become another horrifying example as — over the next few decades — we move from our current state of denial, to informed resolve, and then to criminal and civil trials for recompense. The scale of compensation for wetland losses will dwarf financial settlements made to offset our previous industrial misdeeds. Now would be a good time to stop the destruction.

NEED

Clearly, the project is not primarily dependent upon being located in the wetland — since the proposal in fact eliminates wetland in order to construct the project.

A feasible and prudent alternative certainly must exist when over 500 acres will come under the developers’ control — including twenty or more acres proposed for mitigation. Various parties have the capacity to use either eminent domain, given their political authority, or outright market purchase of land, given their budget of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Since 1990, more new golf courses were constructed in Michigan than in any other state. Michigan ranks third, after Florida and California, in the number of courses — although at one course per 68 square miles, we have nearly three times as many per square mile as California. Among cities, Jackson, Michigan is second only to Sarasota, Florida in golf courses per capita. However, only twelve percent of Americans ever will play golf (perhaps an optimistic figure, coming from the National Golf Foundation).

Throughout the proposal’s Alternatives Discussion, the word “need” seems a cruel joke. This quote from Page 9 is astonishing in its absurdity:

There is a need from both the public and private standpoint to have the opportunity to play golf at a Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course.

There has never been, nor will there ever be, a “need” for any golf course. Even if there were, there has never been, nor will there ever be, a “need” for a Jack Nicklaus golf course. Even if there were, there has never been, nor will there ever be, a “need” for a “Signature” golf course. Not from a private standpoint; not from a public standpoint.

Nicklaus is a firm for hire. Had they been instructed to design a course with no wetland impacts, they could have drawn that plan — presuming Nicklaus is a competent design firm. If they are not competent, or wish not to respect the resource, dozens of other design firms seek our business.

The notion that “need” exists for any wetland or river impact for this project is ludicrous. Repeated assertions in the documentation that impacts are “unavoidable” are demonstrably false. In fact, the document reveals that the design team approached the task with the explicit intent to encroach on water bodies, crowd riverbanks, modify water access and views — in short, to impact the resource.

One alternative is not discussed in the proposal: begin with the understanding that the Paw Paw River and associated wetlands are valuable and inviolate. Approach the project with the clear, educated understanding that — especially with over 500 acres available, and a budget on the order of half a billion dollars — wetland impacts are nearly always avoidable.

ALTERNATIVES

I have been advised and I believe that technical staff made efforts to impress upon project leaders the unacceptability of wetland and resource impacts. Further, I believe that those who produced the Alternatives Discussion made efforts to put a good face on an unfortunate set of facts imposed upon them by project leaders. Finally, I believe that those project leaders could not care less what technical staff know, since a “Jack Nicklaus Signature Course” looks great on the résumé, and may earn an invitation to dinner and drinks with the CEO.

The Alternatives Discussion might better be named, “Rationalization After the Fact.” One may be forgiven for presuming that the final decision on the project’s centerpiece was made before planning began, among Whirlpool executives, teeing off at a private club located, inconveniently, elsewhere.

The Discussion indicates that before evaluating what land area a golf course would require, the project boundaries were determined. Here, and throughout the proposal, a total of 500 acres is cited, including 100 acres of wetland. It remains unclear how an 18-hole golf course — or perhaps even 27 or 36 holes — can not be fit onto 400 acres of available upland. If 18 holes can’t fit, then the original project boundaries were too small, and must be expanded.

What if the original project boundaries had encompassed only 20 dry acres? Would we now be evaluating a massive six-story structure, with three holes per story and a putting green on top? Of course not. If the site is too small, then a “golf course at all costs” simply is not an option.

The Discussion cites forty years of local advocacy for “urban renewal” of this site. Urban elements of renewal will cause point and non-point impacts on the Paw Paw River. In fact, the proposal asserts specifically and repeatedly that development of those elements will be enabled by the presence of a golf course. Hence, the proposed fills and dredging are intended to lead to further impacts beyond the scope of the proposed permit. However, such impacts are not described or quantified.

The document does reveal — perhaps accidentally — the range of intended impacts not acknowledged elsewhere in the proposal. They include, “mid-rise units, townhomes/detached units, single family homes, golf cottages, residential above retail, and continuing care retirement communities… commercial developments [including] restaurants, retail, and office space.

The “Consideration of Alternative Locations” is indeed bizarre. It repeatedly reveals an initial decision specifically to impact water resources without regard to alternatives or resource value. In effect, “We have no alternative, because we decided before considering alternatives that our criteria would allow no alternatives.” Truly, astonishingly, deeply bizarre.

The initial design is claimed to have contained 30 acres of wetland impact, though that design was not made part of the permit application. (The earliest submission, from spring of 2005, actually proposed only 8.9 acres of impact.) After Design B, it “was determined that alternatives were available to further reduce wetland and floodplain impact.” After Design C, it was “determined alternatives appeared available to minimize wetland and floodplain impacts.

It boggles the mind to imagine that there are now no alternatives! Why, for example, not correct the design of hole nine? Why not simply tee off to the southwest, clear the upland dumpsite for a dogleg, and complete the hole west along Klock Road? This would eliminate:

– two acres of wetland fill
– an extensive upland dump
– 150 lineal feet of submerged three-foot-diameter drainage pipe
– three acres of floodplain fill
– all future turf runoff to the main course of the Paw Paw River
– over five acres of mitigation (all of area C, for example)

Where is that alternative? Over 20 acres of mitigation are proposed. Can no golf hole occupy one of those areas, exploiting its current upland status?

The “Public Interest” arguments are conveniently silent on one issue. A marina which must stand idle for several months each year, and a golf course which must stand idle for at least as long, simply do not create a community. Neither do the second homes and vacation rentals such a setting implies.

It seems exceedingly unlikely that residents of the Benton Harbor area will be able to afford any dwelling in the project area. Until specific documentation exists as to how those homes will match the demographic and financial needs of the current residents, it is inappropriate — and irresponsible — to assert any service to the “public interest.”

RESOURCE VALUES

Typical urban wildlife appear prevalent here. During my brief mid-day visits to the site in October and November, some less trivially common species were Eastern Kingfisher, Blue Heron, and Wood Ducks, all feeding in the Paw Paw River and/or Oxbow Creek. Red fox are present at least near the center of the site. All these species appreciate or require a greater degree of privacy from human activity than do such common (often pest) species as White-tailed Deer or Canada geese, for example (also observed). The proposal claims that wildlife “viewing opportunities” will be enhanced by the project. Perhaps so for observing Mallards. However, the isolation required by less common species is a resource value which will vanish with the advent of golf course maintenance and use.

I must echo the documented concerns of USACE regarding indicator species records in the June 2005 wetland delineation. The number of species identified, and their relative values in the profile seem inconsistent from site to site and within sites.

For example, I made late fall observations from Klock Road, adjacent to the shallow ponding west of M-63, called Survey Area 4. With little leaf cover, I may have had different opportunities or a different focus than did the spring and summer delineation teams. However, it was easy with the unaided eye to observe species in some quantity which are not listed in any of the three submitted data forms.

Immediately at the shore, I collected heavily fruited, dried samples of what appears to be Whorled Loosestrife (Decodon verticillatus), a wetland obligate with a far higher coefficient of conservatism than any of the documented species. Its spikes are evident across the ponded area — including within photographs #2 and #3 in the Survey Area 4 foldout of the Wetland Delineation Report. Perhaps the fact that this is NWI wetland (as one data form indicates) means that flora here were not evaluated fully. However, the same data form lists extremely common species, and only one obligate wetland plant; the relatively high quality of this site can not be discerned from the reported data.

The northernmost portion of the project area contains a more profound and troubling example of how plant lists fail to do justice to a site. Wetland delineations for development purposes (consistent with the intent of those paying for it, and often ignoring the sensibilities of field personnel) typically fail to characterize the quality of native communities surveyed. Survey Area 15 is comprised of heavily wooded steep ravines, carrying a high quality sandy stream fed by upland springs and an impoundment at its head. (Area 15 lies east of the ironically named “Golf Road,” near where M-63 abuts.) The permit application calls for this entire community to be obliterated — utterly erased.

One data form for Survey Area 15 names Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) the sixteenth among sixteen species observed. However, this site holds contenders for Michigan State Record Spicebush (were such records being kept). Individual plants approach 20 feet in height, with some single stems over two inches DBH. The permit application indicates that these particular plants, even if 20 feet tall, would be completely covered with fill. There would be no more ravine; instead there would be a field. There would be no more stream; instead there would be fat buried pipe.

A site as rich and intact as this would be highly prized by any land conservation agency. Indeed, only a few public sites in southwest Michigan boast such high quality stabilized, forested dunes carrying living waters. Their aspect is reminiscent of the highest quality communities within the Kalamazoo Nature Center, and small refugia held by SWMLC, TNC, and a few Michigan State Parks.

To return to the weakness of mere species lists, trees of huge dimension here are merely “present.” Tulip poplar from 24 to 36 inches DBH with 60-foot unbranched boles stand near the base of the ravine. Beech of 10 to 16 inches DBH occur (virtually unmarked by graffiti), along with red and black oak up to and over 30 inches DBH. Lower along the streambed stand several mature hickories at the same scale. As indicated in section 5.15 of the report, state-threatened Trillium recurvatum also are present in that vicinity. “Present” — but valued no more or less than a dandelion in a sidewalk.

These may not qualify as “old growth” trees — but they certainly are older than homes in the vicinity, and likely correspond with soil stabilization associated with the earliest settlement. Of course, landowners could cut the trees with impunity. Landowners have chosen not to cut them because of their great beauty and value to the community, and their certain nesting use by prized migratory bird species. According to the plan, all these trees would be destroyed. They might be felled; the most mammoth might simply be buried dozens of feet under thousands of cubic yards of fill, then topped.

Few weeds exist here, but even weeds testify to the quality of the site. Very small, non-fruiting plants of a garden-escape Barberry (Berberis spp., facultative upland shrubs) are dotted across the heavily wooded upper reaches of the ravine. This species is well known as an alternate host for stem rust, a devastating risk to small grain crops. As such, it has been the target of eradication efforts reaching back as much as 300 years in the eastern United States. The plant was considered so dangerous that USDA and many state agricultural agencies, including Michigan’s, sought it out and destroyed it relentlessly at great expense for most of the twentieth century. It is non-native and undesirable. However, in hundreds of site reviews throughout southwest Michigan, I have observed it in only two other locations. In both cases, as here, virtually no other non-natives were present. In both cases, as here, small Barberry existed in a matrix of mature and extremely conservative plants. The other sites had no historical record of human use, and were so remote as to have been considered unreachable by USDA and MDA field workers. Barberry’s presence here verifies the remoteness and relative lack of disturbance of this site.

Field notes also indicate the presence of the Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina) on this site, as well as the adjacent Survey Area 14, to the west. Eastern Box Turtle habitat is a particular area of expertise for me; these sites are of exceptional quality. M-63 poses some risk to individual animals, as would any roadway, but is distant enough that few animals’ home ranges will intersect it. Instead, they will favor the sunnier slopes and mixed openings (including nesting sites) to the east. The relative quiet of these forested hills, and wetlands at their base is ideal habitat for this Species of Special Concern. This site is a perfect and irreplaceable refuge and food source for Eastern Box Turtles throughout the growing season.

In winter, these animals will retreat to higher elevations within the ravine, and burrow underground. Their renowned site loyalty guarantees that an adult Terrapene will overwinter at virtually the same spot year after year, for their entire lifetime, possibly exceeding one hundred years. This extreme philopatry also virtually guarantees that they will not exit the site during filling, grading, or other disturbance. They will either be crushed by heavy equipment, or buried alive. If they are entombed, they will be incapable of extracting themselves. They will simply starve — though that death will require many weeks or months.

The topography here does not permit escape for any animal. Typical shoreline dredging operations may permit escape, since water flow can aid in wildlife dispersal. This site, however, does not permit even the minimal straight-line escapes possible when low profile wetlands are filled from one side to the other. The woodland ravines are of very high quality, thus densely populated, and the terrain is physically constrained so as to preclude escape. Filling here will entomb hundreds of small mammals, thousands of reptiles and amphibians, and untold millions of invertebrates. Tree cutting before filling would create newly sunny areas that attract wildlife — where they would be destroyed. This single element of the project intends to eliminate hundreds of meters of healthy streambed, and acres of high quality water filtration functions.

Regardless of what may be permitted, regardless of what may be modified, this portion of the permit must be denied. Filling of wetlands within this streambed, and the gross, certain, and catastrophic destruction of flora and fauna such fills would enable on adjacent lands, must not be permitted.

CUMULATIVE IMPACT

Cumulative impacts here will include fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides. Chemical applications on golf courses are often more intensive or more frequent than on agricultural lands — although farms trigger more regulatory control and public concern. Golf course maintenance is as intense as most industrial land uses, and as dangerous as other occupations requiring pesticide exposure. In 1996, the American Journal of Industrial Medicine reported one of many studies on the health effects of this exposure. Golf course superintendents, specifically, had suffered twice as much brain cancer and non-Hodgkins lymphoma as the national average, and nearly twice as much intestinal cancer. Prostate cancer occurred three times more often than in the general population.

To avoid dollar spot or brown patch, among other diseases, regular fungicide applications may occur through the growing season (when most waterfowl are actively reproducing). Due to typical and lake effect snowfall, fungicides (such as the commonly used pentachloronitrobenzene) might be applied weekly from first frost until full snow cover, merely as a preventive to reduce spring turf damage from grey or pink snow mold. The likelihood of turfgrass winterkill in the Chicago region drives the need for reseeding and increased irrigation (and thus runoff volume and toxicity) for these same lands.

While damage from nutrient loading and pesticide runoff are common concerns, fungicide effects on native communities and species are less often considered. Some native forbs require fungal activity for seed germination (orchids are one example), and many flora and fauna have symbiotic fungal relationships, including reliance on fungi as food. Fungicide treatments adjacent to forested lands, or overspray or runoff into wetland areas, may create deficits impossible to address by any countermeasure or mitigation.

Golf courses require huge amounts of water. MDEQ figures from 2004 indicate that irrigated Michigan courses withdrew some 34 million gallons per day to irrigate 40,000 acres (850 gallons per day per acre). Among these, thirteen courses within Berrien County withdrew a total of 570,000 gallons per day to irrigate 720 acres (790 gallons per day per acre). About two thirds of this total came from surface water withdrawals.

According to the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, at least fifteen golf courses in Michigan have withdrawal rates exceeding 100,000 gallons per day. Shanty Creek Resort settled a pending lawsuit by agreeing, among other things, to limit irrigation water withdrawals from the Cedar River to 800 gallons per minute during course construction (reduced to 300 gallons per minute thereafter, and then only for use in snow-making). These volumes are immense.

Will irrigation extraction for this project be from groundwater or surface water? Where will extraction occur? How will well siting affect native wetlands, or proposed mitigation sites? Where will runoff return? How will that runoff influence water quality in the Paw Paw River, and in Lake Michigan?

Hundreds of other impacts of this proposal are not only “anticipated,” but also in some stage of planning. To restate from the Alternatives Discussion: “mid-rise units, townhomes/detached units, single family homes, golf cottages, residential above retail, and continuing care retirement communities… commercial developments [including] restaurants, retail, and office space.”

An MDEQ meeting summary from 18 Mar 2005 details further development plans for:

1,194 mixed income housing units, 194 commercial retail office spaces, a 175 room hotel and conference center, a continuing care facility, an IMAX theatre, an 18-hole golf course, a marina, an indoor water park, and over 100 acres of civic parks, wetland preserves and trails.

What will be the character of runoff from those facilities? Paved parking alone could total twenty or more acres just within the project area. Placement of several Residential Development (RD) areas on the plan suggests that wetland mitigation sites — which are required to be monitored for floristic and functional quality — may conveniently become detention basins after the monitoring phase expires.

The application is silent on the array of fast food, chain stores, and other facilities that will spring up outside the golf course to service those who service the golf course, but can’t afford its amenities. Does the applicant commit to no further wetland or river impacts from any of their own planned activities? Does the applicant commit to no further wetland or river impacts from projects pursuant to their planned activities? To the contrary, these other expansions are the intended effect of the project, and should be tallied among its impacts.

If these impacts are not under the applicant’s control, then they constitute a demonstrable threat consistent with local and regional land use trends. As such, the range of mitigation opportunities — such as off-site, out-of-kind, or in-lieu-fee arrangements — may be much broader and more flexible as described in USACE RGL 02-2 and associated memoranda. Since land conservation organizations are active throughout the watershed — and steering committees exist for both Paw Paw and St. Joe River watersheds — it would be easy to invite suggestions for a wide range of creative options.

On-site mitigation is an enticing concept, not yet mature. The lack of vigor in typical constructed wetlands may be improved by the diverse seed and plant mixtures proposed for mitigation here. However, even that bright spot is undermined by overall project scope. This proposal either extends or conflicts with at least three other wetland permits issued by MDEQ LWMD in the last five years. All of those proposals presumably represented the best solution possible a mere matter of months ago. However, all of those solutions now are to be compromised to varying degrees.

File 00-11-0047 (11 Oct 2000) explicitly identifies 2.5 acres of mitigation at the M-63 CSX crossing (Blossomland Bridge), some of which the current proposal appears (based on conflicting drawings from different stages) to require filling.

File 03-11-0073 (29 Apr 2003) explicitly maps and identifies wetlands 2 and 3 and portions of wetland 5, which are enclosed entirely within what the current proposal identifies as mitigation area H. Wetland 2 is cited as “an old meander of the Paw Paw River” with “direct hydrologic connection to Ox Creek and the Paw Paw River at the confluence of Ox Creek.” It is unclear whether the new proposal disturbs or enhances these very old wetlands.

File 03-11-0015P (21 May 2003) explicitly maps and identifies “UNDISTURBED WETLANDS,” which in the current proposal are to be excavated for new marinas! Would the previous permits have issued, were it known that two years later, the UNDISTURBED WETLANDS would be dredged away?

MODIFICATIONS

If permits are granted, some minimum standards must be met. MDEQ memos in the project file repeatedly declare that soil borings in the proposed marina vicinity exhibit little, if any, contamination. The parties must not overlook this opportunity!

The project file offers few specifics about dredged spoil placement. Some documents suggest spoils may be mixed with other fill on upland areas. That could be a tragic management decision, since many spoils will be rich with seed from uncommon species. The proposed marina basin (among other areas) seems to have been within the main course of the Paw Paw River a century ago. Spoils there will contain viable seed that has been patiently awaiting germination for many years.

A few years back in Cass County, a forb believed extirpated from Michigan began to grow in spoils from farmpond dredging. As proposal documents make clear, Swamp mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos, or the more revealing convention, Hibiscus palustris) is evident throughout wetlands in the project area. It seems very likely that uncommon species are present in these areas, and extremely likely that other viable seeds remain in the upper (though perhaps not topmost) strata of wetland soils.

Since aggressive common grasses dominate most of these areas, it is difficult to assess less common species without a spring visit (ideally, a spring burn and several seasons’ observation). The top inch of soil will be saturated with seeds of lower quality grasses. However, excavating for boats of significant draft will produce thousands of yards of deeper spoils containing hundreds of years of irreplaceable genetic knowledge. This seed bank must not be removed to upland areas, only to be covered with sand, or doused with herbicides in favor of a putting green.

The Mitigation plan is silent on these points, but any issued permit must address them specifically.

In areas where mitigation excavations reach soil profiles from historically filled wetlands, those ancient wetland soils and profiles must be left in place, undisturbed.

In areas where mitigation excavations do not reach native histosols, dredge spoils from elsewhere in this site must be included in the mitigation top dressing.

To do less is to compromise the integrity of the plant community all parties claim to wish to preserve.

On a related note, wetland characterizations should be documented for any dredged or filled areas. It is exceptionally unwise for the State of Michigan to create a terse precedent that 13.6 acres of wetland (plus six or more acres of floodplain) may be destroyed under one permit. The application asserts that “the majority” of these wetlands are badly degraded or historic fill. Such assessments must be quantified and qualified, so that future applicants (and inevitable legal proceedings over unrelated permit denials) will be prohibited from blindly asserting that “MDEQ gave a twenty-acre permit back in 2005.” Thorough documentation of a very small loss of quality wetland, affiliated with a more significant loss of severely degraded wetland, provides MDEQ at least some evidence of intent to protect wetland values. The current project documentation obscures these proportions.

Certain other considerations also seem imperative. Statutory authority may be less obvious, but the intent of various state and Federal policies (including even recent draft documents such as the National Wetlands Mitigation Action Plan co-authored by USACE, EPA, USFWS, NMFS, NRCS and FHWA) strongly support these measures.

Greater net benefit may accrue by mitigation offsite. Many high quality wetlands exist in the immediate area, and elsewhere throughout the Paw Paw River watershed. The Nature Conservancy, Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy, and Sarett Nature Center have maps of priority preservation targets, and active landowner contacts. Given the expense of mitigation (easily $20,000 to $100,000 per acre) the same dollars applied offsite could protect more of higher quality, at-risk wetlands. An array of policy documents — including USACE Banking Guidance, Recommendations by the National Research Council in 2001, Council on Environmental Quality (40 CFR 1508.20), and 1990 MOA on Determination of Mitigation between DOA and EPA — support this option.

An added benefit to the applicant would be up to thirty additional acres of potentially buildable land (now slated for mitigation). Since it is within the Harbor Shores project area, it is already served by public water and sewer, and planned and zoned for high density use.

If constructed, Harbor Shores should be a Fully Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary through Audubon International (oddly, not the Audubon Society), just as The Legend, a Nicklaus-designed course in Bellaire, Michigan has done. The course at Tournament Players Club in Dearborn — also Nicklaus-designed and Audubon-certified — was constructed largely on waste land near the Rouge River. Among over 2,100 certified courses in the United States, at least ten in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula have met these criteria, and as many as 80 other courses here are working toward it.

Though less prestigious, certification by the Michigan Turfgrass Environmental Stewardship Program would set minimum best practices for reducing harm to surface water, groundwater, and wildlife. Whether Audubon or Michigan, the requirement to participate, and remain certified, would constitute appropriate and practicable steps to minimize unavoidable adverse effects (40 CFR 230.10(d) et al).

MDNR Fisheries Division has registered its opposition to this permit (articulated clearly by several file memos). If, over those objections, permits are issued, the proposal should be modified to provide public access sites at least for canoe or small boat launch, and specifically for casual fishing access. Both Recreation Division and Fisheries should be brought to the table. Considering the vastness of the proposal and its budget, the applicants frankly should grant both Recreation and Fisheries carte blanche to select prime public access sites. Whether such sites are owned or managed by the State is open for debate. That such sites should be created — and that they should be sited specifically to serve the preferences of current residents — should not be negotiable.

Many people who live near the Paw Paw River do so in part to enjoy dropping a line from time to time, or paddling a mile after dinner. Locking up two full miles of the river near a coastal fishery — or placing public access points inside a marina filled with multi-million dollar boats and the resulting degree of scrutiny and discomfort for common folk — would be an unacceptable denial of access to the public at large.

The Harbor Shores proposal — if it eventually is permitted, and in whatever form it may be modified — must be exemplary in its inclusiveness and respect for public values. As of yet, it is not exemplary.

In conclusion, the current proposal fails many tests. If Michigan cares about its economic future, and about its natural resources, no permit should issue for any proposal as relatively insensitive to environmental and social outcomes as Harbor Shores. I hope this document indicates my willingness to dedicate resources to a better plan. I hope your response will, too.

Sincerely,

Gary Stock
Mattawan, Michigan 49071

PS: Moments ago, the following item was broadcast by Michigan Public Radio, WUOM, Ann Arbor (transcribed at http://glrc.org/transcript.php3?story_id=2817). [Ed: 2011-04-20 Ten Threats to Wetlands is still available]. The media report more stories like it every day; this requires our attention.

“…the greatest threat to the coastal wetlands is construction. We’ve been building homes, buildings and parking lots right over the top of some of the Great Lakes’ most critical wetlands.

Sam Washington is Executive Director of the Michigan United Conservation Clubs, the state’s largest hunting and fishing advocacy group. He says we need healthy wetlands if we want to keep fishing the Great Lakes.

If we didn’t have wetlands, if we didn’t have the ability to regenerate the bottom foods in the food cycle of these animals, we wouldn’t have the big fish that people go out in the Great Lakes to catch everyday. They just wouldn’t be there.

Washington says the way to fix the problem is easy… but it will require us to do something that comes really hard… “The best thing human beings can do for wetlands, even though we really believe we know how to fix everything, is just to leave ‘em alone.”

Sam Washington gets support from the biologists who tromp out into the wetlands. They say we’ve got to protect the whole food chain… so we should leave wetlands alone and just let nature do its job.

 

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