The Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council, a nonprofit organization dedicated to restoring, protecting, and wisely managing water resources, has been following the project since the early 1990s. Although the Watershed Council has a policy of promoting the use and enjoyment of Michigans waters, it is essential that boating and recreation facilities are constructed and managed in a way that protects the resources that make Northern Michigan so spectacular.
Ten years after a proposed expansion of the Township Park was denied a permit by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Township has applied for state and federal permits to create a port and relocate the boat launch, expand parking, dredge public trust bottomlands, erect a sheet pile bulkhead and pier, fill coastal wetlands, and alter the configuration of the beach.
The environmental impacts of the proposed project will be significant. A total of 0.65 acres of wetlands are proposed to be filled. Great Lakes coastal wetlands are integral to the health of the Great Lakes ecosystem and are one of the primary focal points of restoration efforts. Approximately 16,000 cubic yards of Great Lakes bottomlands will be excavated from a 1.55 acre area. On the western side of the project, a proposed pier extends 288 feet waterward of the ordinary high water mark (OHWM) and is approximately 62 feet wide, with a terminus diameter of 100 feet. The proposed eastern pier extends 150 feet waterward of the OHWM and is approximately 75 feet wide. In total, the two structures will occupy a 0.81 acre footprint on public trust bottomlands.
To help put these numbers in perspective, the total dredging equals 16,600 cubic yards of material from public trust resources - an amount equal to digging a nine-foot deep hole the size of a football field. The total fill discharge equals 10,395 cubic yards of material dumped on public trust bottomlands - this would cover nearly six football fields in one foot of material.
The project is expected to impact endangered piping plover (Charadrius melodus) habitat. The plovers nest in close proximity to the project area and rely on this stretch of beach with its coastal wetlands for foraging. As designed, the proposal will form a barrier which will be difficult or impossible for not-yet fledged plovers to traverse. Furthermore, direct impacts to state (Lake Huron tansy (Tanacetum huronense)) and federally (Pitchers thistle (Cirsium pitcheri)) threatened plant species are proposed. These plants exist only in the Great Lakes Basin, and efforts to relocate them out of the project area (as proposed) may not be effective.
In addition, the potential adverse impacts to fisheries habitat and the natural patterns of sand drift along that part of the Lake Michigan shore have yet to be determined. Maintenance dredging is expected to be a routine activity. This dredging, along with the physical changes due to the fill associated with construction of the piers, will continually alter the beach configuration and sand drift in the area.
The Watershed Council advocates that all alternatives are thoroughly evaluated, and recommends a solution that results in a reliable, flexible boat launch to accommodate extreme high and low water conditions. This solution should avoid dramatic changes to the natural shoreline, reduce dredging of public trust bottomlands, eliminate filling of increasingly rare coastal wetlands, limit on-shore modifications, and retain the current swimming beach configuration.
The Great Lakes comprise one of the most magnificent ecosystems on the planet. It is ironic that the Township is contemplating spending millions in taxpayer dollars to destroy sensitive wetlands and important habitats for threatened and endangered species while our elected officials in Washington are contemplating spending billions of dollars on efforts to protect and restore the Great Lakes.
The Corps of Engineers has released a public notice for the proposal, and is currently soliciting comments from citizens until March 27.
Do not miss your opportunity to be a voice for one of our most valuable resources, Lake Michigan. The comments can be mailed to the Corps and must reference file number 90-056-078-2/04-24-45.