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Bill would roll back wetlands protections


A proposed bill under consideration by a Michigan Senate committee would roll back protections for Michigan's wetlands. The bill would increase the minimum size of a regulated wetland from five to ten acres. As well, it modifies the definition of regulated streams and regulated lakes in the state of Michigan. 

Todd Losee is president of the Michigan Wetlands Association. He says according to his calculations, the bill would eliminate protections for about fifty percent of currently regulated wetlands.

In addition to providing habitat for wildlife, Losee says wetlands are critical for flood prevention. Wetlands store excess rainwater and runoff from paved areas like parking lots, and provide a buffer against flooding events in cities and neighborhoods.

"The loss of those areas could cause significant economic impact especially to our developed areas," says Losee.

Another unintended consequence of the bill could be a more complicated permitting process for developments that affect wetlands. Under current law, developers can apply for state and federal permits together, in a single process through the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. The new statute would require developers to apply for the two permits separately, according to Losee.

Reducing wetlands protections could also affect the established wetland mitigation banking system, Losee says. When developers do projects that affect wetlands, they are required to replace lost wetlands. Instead of building a new wetland themselves, they can purchase credit from companies that have already built wetlands.

Losee is also an employee of Niswander Environmental, a wetland mitigation company. "We have many millions of dollars put into developing these wetland mitigation banks. This deregulation significantly threatens the investment of my company and what we do," says Losee. 

The bill is sponsored by Senator Tom Casperson. It's on the agenda for a meeting of the Senate Natural Resources Committee this week. Casperson did not respond to a request for interview for this story.

Catherine Shaffer joined Michigan Radio in 2014. She works in the newsroom and specializes in stories related to the life sciences, health, and technology. Catherine earned a bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry from Michigan State University and a Master’s from University of Michigan. Prior to Michigan Radio, Catherine has worked as a freelance writer, mainly in focusing on biotechnology and the pharmaceutical industry, since 2001. She is also an award-winning fiction writer. When not at work, Catherine enjoys being in the outdoors and practicing yoga.
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