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As shorelines erode, lawmakers consider allowing barriers without a permit

lake michigan coastline
Dustin Dwyer
Michigan Radio

While waves and record high water levels pound away atshoreline properties, state lawmakers are trying to pound away on new laws to protect property.

One bill debated Tuesday in the House would allow property owners to build temporary shoreline barriers to protect against erosion, even without a permit.

That bill, SB 714, already passed in the Michigan Senate.

The exemption from permitting would only apply during times when the Great Lakes, or Lake St. Clair are at high water levels.

“So this implementation is not going to be cutting the red tape forever,” said Amber Vrooman, a legislative assistant for state Senator Roger Victory (R-Hudsonville), who testified on Tuesday. “It would have only been implemented 22 months in the last 100 years. So it’s very very extreme situations.”

The bill would require property owners to use a licensed contractor for the work, and apply for the permit later on. If the permit is denied, the property owner would be forced to remove the barrier.

Supporters say the legislation is needed to cope with the rapidly eroding shoreline.

One homeowner who testified Tuesday said her property has lost 300 feet of dune in recent years.

“On November 27 2019 our home was not in danger,” said Pam Stille. “By 8 a.m. on November 28, our home was seriously compromised. That’s how quickly things change along the lakeshore.”

The House Committee on Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation didn’t vote on the bill Tuesday. Committee Chairman Rep. Gary Howell (R-North Branch) said there will be more testimony at its next meeting. That includes testimony from some environmental groups who oppose SB 714. The Michigan League For Conservation Voters has come out against the bill.

The committee did vote on a separate piece of legislation that also seeks to address the problem of high water levels. HB 5463 would allow local governments to request temporary restrictions on boats and other vessels during periods of high water.

The committee on Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation voted unanimously to move that bill forward.

Earlier this month, the committee approved HB 5401, which would allow local governments to impose temporary boating speed limits to limit wake when water levels are high.

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Dustin Dwyer reports enterprise and long-form stories from Michigan Public’s West Michigan bureau. He was a fellow in the class of 2018 at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. He’s been with Michigan Public since 2004, when he started as an intern in the newsroom.
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