Mowing, Yes. Dredging, No.
Following changes in state law this year, it appears that waterfront landowners remain confused about what type of beach grooming is allowed under the legislation.
"What I've found is that people find it confusing," said Michigan Department of Environmental Quality District Representative Robyn Schmidt of the agency's Cadillac office. "Mowing is exempted, that's the easy part. But people are confused about the grooming of sand."
Under the law, shoreline owners along the Great Lakes can do some maintenance of their beaches without first applying for a permit from the DEQ. The law does not apply to inland lakes.
Schmidt, who serves Grand Traverse and Leelanau counties, noted that shortly after Gov. Rick Snyder signed Public Act 247 into law this summer, there was an increase in the number of beach grooming complaints.
Since most grooming takes place in the summer months, complaints have since slowed. Schmidt expects that when the summer grooming season comes, so will complaints.
For more than a decade, the DEQ maintained that under two state laws – the Wetland Protection Act and the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act – a permit was required before any beach maintenance could be done using machines like plows and tractors on a Great Lakes beach.
The new law clarifies that the MDEQ cannot require permits under those two laws for certain beach maintenance activities performed between the water's edge and the "ordinary high water mark", which isn't a mark at all, but an elevation above sea level defined by statute. The ordinary high water mark is different for each of the Great Lakes. Lake Michigan's is 579.8 feet.
For most Great Lakes beaches, the new legislation allows mowing and removal of vegetation, along with the leveling of sand, and removal of debris. It also allows for the grooming of the soil, as long as that soil is composed of sand, rock or pebbles.
"It has been 12 long years, but finally we have an important piece of the relief we have been asking for," said Ernie Krygier, president of Save Our Shoreline, a group of some 3,000 waterfront property owners based in Bay City and devoted to protecting riparian rights. "Under this bill, we expect to see a significant reduction in phragmites [wetland grasses], better beaches and more tourism money flowing into Michigan."
Property owners must still apply for required DEQ permits for more intensive beach grooming and that's where some confusion arises.
"We've even had cases where property owners were bringing in sand to their beaches," said Schmidt. "That was never intended."
While the law removes the need for state permits, a permit for many activities is still required by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The exception is mowing, which the Corps does not regulate. As a result, shoreline owners may mow immediately without the need for any type of permit.
Nonetheless, beach property owners should remain cautious about disturbing soil and sand. If they have any questions about beach grooming, property owners can go to Michigan.gov/deq.
For more information about mowing and other vegetation control methods, property owners can visit SaveOurShoreline.org.
Grand Traverse and Leelanau residents could also call Schmidt at (231) 775-3960, while Antrim County residents can call the DEQ office in Gaylord at (989) 731-4920.