The Johnson Nature Center in Bloomfield Township has wetlands and wildlife.

The Johnson Nature Center in Bloomfield Township has wetlands and wildlife.

Photo by Donna Agusti

Proposed wetlands bill would cause environmental ‘degradation,’ groups warn

By: Sherri Kolade, Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published December 10, 2018


METRO DETROIT — A bill recently introduced to the Michigan Senate Natural Resources Committee is causing concern about potential threats to local wetlands, lakes and streams.

Opponents say Senate Bill 1211 would remove necessary protections from half a million acres of wetlands and thousands of inland lakes, according to a press release from the nonprofit Michigan Environmental Council.

According to the nonprofit advocacy organization Michigan Audubon, the bill is said to deregulate a large number of smaller Michigan wetlands, streams and inland lakes to better support personal property rights. Senate Bill 1211 would amend a statute of the 1994 Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, which was created to protect wetlands and preserve their natural impacts.

According to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, the bill takes away regulation from 70,000 wetlands and more than a third of Michigan inland lakes, which would allow for them to be filled, dredged and constructed on without a permit.

On Nov. 28, the Senate Natural Resources Committee heard testimony on SB 1211, which was introduced by Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba.

The Michigan Environmental Council, along other environmental organizations and entities, is opposed to this bill.

Michigan’s wetlands, inland lakes and streams are regulated by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, and presently, Michigan is one of two states with delegated authority from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to administer the Clean Water Act, according to a press release from the Michigan Environmental Council.

Tom Zimnicki, the agriculture policy director for the Michigan Environmental Council, said the bill has “huge implications.”

“Not only on wetlands across Michigan, but inland lakes and streams,” he said, adding that local lakes in the Bloomfield area could be impacted, but it is not certain how.

“It is unclear on how some of the lakes in the area would be regulated in the future,” he said. “That would potentially open up opportunities for neighbors on lakefront properties to impact or alter a lake differently than what they can do right now. It is really unclear with just what all of the impacts are going to be on the lakes.”

Wetlands give shoreline protection, temporary flood storage, the removal of extra nutrients and sediments from ground and surface water, and they help maintain a level of biological diversity, according to the press release.

“If this bill were to go into effect, close to 70,000 wetlands and over 4,000 inland lakes will be deregulated in Michigan,” Zimnicki said in the press release. “Fundamentally, this bill diminishes the ability for the state to protect the endangered and threatened species that live in these areas, strips regulatory protections away from wetlands and smaller water bodies that are essential for outdoor recreation, and weakens the ability to manage stormwater events and deal with local flooding.”

Zimnicki added that people should contact their representatives and let their voices be heard.

“There is nothing about this bill that is a positive … for the environment at all,” he said, adding that the next step for the bill is a House committee.

“The committee has to approve it; if the committee votes to approve it, then it goes to the full House for a vote,” he said.

West Bloomfield Township Supervisor Steve Kaplan said in an email statement that West Bloomfield Township leaders are “dismayed” by “the outrageous, inexcusable attempt by the state Senate to override or nullify the power of townships to regulate woodlands and wetlands areas.”

He said that West Bloomfield has been a leader in the state in protecting wetlands and woodlands from disturbances, eradication and encroachment.

“Many residents move to, and elect to remain in, West Bloomfield because of our 28 lakes, hundreds of ponds, other wetland areas and clusters of trees,” he said. The bill would slash local property values and diminish residents’ and visitors’ access to nature, he said.

“Our residents have enthusiastically supported the township’s environmental protection ordinances for more than 40 years. West Bloomfield is proud to be a trailblazer in ensuring that our woodlands, wetlands, inlet lakes and natural habitat will flourish for many generations,” Kaplan said. “Senate Bill 1211 and related proposed legislation should be rejected by our lame duck Legislature.”

Marie McCormick is with the Friends of the Rouge, which is a nonprofit organization aimed at raising awareness of the Rouge River watershed in southeast Michigan.

As a nonprofit, McCormick said, the organization wants to educate rather than influence those concerned about the watershed’s health. But she does have some general thoughts on how SB 1211 might impact the state’s environment.

“According to the (Michigan Department of Environmental Quality), this bill would strip away regulation of 70,000 wetlands and a third of Michigan’s inland lakes,” McCormick explained. “And it should be noted that over 85 percent of the wetlands in the Rouge watershed are gone.”

Why is that a big deal? McCormick likened wetlands to the “kidneys” of the environment.

“If you were to remove your kidneys, essentially, you would die because you can’t process toxins in your body,” she said. “Allowing wetlands to be filled, dredged and stripped away would cause long-term environmental degradation.”

Earlier this year, Bloomfield Hills Schools officials worked to develop a consent agreement that would encourage the owner of a plot near the district-owned E.L. Johnson Nature Center to leave the property in exchange for a larger one nearby.

The motivation was to keep land adjacent to the nature center’s wetlands from being developed, possibly impacting the ecosystem there. Naturally, the nature center’s manager, Dan Badgley, feels strongly about SB 1211.

“The proposed legislation would further degrade wetland habitats,” Badgley said in an email. “Michigan has historically lost approximately half of the wetlands that were present when settlement began. The loss of even small wetlands negatively impacts many species, both wildlife and rare plants. Instead of being a leader in ecological health, we take a step backwards if this legislation is passed.”

Keego Harbor Parks and Recreation Commissioner Leslie Clark said that the bill is “really a bad idea.”

“I don’t understand what they think that bill will accomplish,” she said, adding that she plans to write to her representatives about it. “Everybody should be contacting their local representatives and state legislators on this bill.”

She said the wetlands are important because they provide environmental services closely related to handling stormwater.

“We all know stormwater is a really rapidly emerging problem in this area,” she said. “So moving them from protection … is only going to exacerbate the stormwater problem we have.”

Casperson was not available for comment by press time.

Sen. Marty Knollenberg, R-Troy, did not respond to requests for comment by press time.