A state investigator found no wetlands on part of an Antrim County property where an environmental activist alleged a largescale fill took place.
Roxanne Merrick of the Department of Environmental Quality water resources division informed the property owners on June 5 that she determined a road and garage pad were constructed on dry land on the property, not in forested wetlands as some neighbors and environmentalists believed.
“There’s wetlands on their property, but not where the fill was placed and therefore it’s not a violation,” Merrick said. “And we will take no further action.”
The finding validates an assessment by Steven Voice, the environmental consultant hired by the property owners, Scott and Nancy Holt of Rockford, Mich.
Voice had determined the portion of the property where the drive and the garage pad were constructed is uplands and he said areas of the property that are wetlands were not disturbed.
“The DEQ came out and confirmed my determination -- it’s a sugar maple forest where Mr. and Mrs. Holt built their driveway and it’s not wetland,” Voice said. “The DEQ obviously made the right call.”
ENVIRONMENTAL LAWS UNDER ATTACK
The decision is also validation, in a way, for Heidi Shaffer, the Antrim County soil erosion officer responsible for Part 91 soil erosion permits, who issued a permit for the drive and had referenced Voice’s delineation to defend her position.
Shaffer was criticized for issuing the permit by Greg Reisig, chairman of the Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council.
“I think it’s important that people understand the limitations of our environmental laws,” Shaffer said. “If they have concerns, they need to work in Lansing to have them strengthened. There’s a lot of scary stuff right now going on in Lansing -- they’re cutting and chopping and undermining many of our environmental laws, and we ought to be focusing on that.”
Shaffer said the property owners in this case followed the rules. Voice said the Holts should not have been the subject of criticism over alleged environmental violations.
“The Holts, they did the right thing,” Shaffer said. “They hired a consultant. They did not just go in and willy-nilly do whatever they wanted.”
Reisig, who prompted the DEQ investigation, said he is not willing to accept the findings.
“I don’t agree with the opinion,” Reisig said. “I knew that it was borderline, but there was enough evidence there to indicate the presence of forested wetlands where the drive and pad were constructed.
He said he plans to investigate further and determine exactly how Merrick came to her conclusion.
Reisig said he believes Merrick’s finding is more evidence that there is a pattern at the DEQ to turn a blind eye to environmental violations. He said he believes there is lax enforcement and regulation at the DEQ under the Snyder administration.
“There’s a little bit of a pattern here,” Reisig said. “My feeling is just because the DEQ says they were uplands, that’s not the definitive word for me.”
Merrick said the determination was made scientifically through an examination of the vegetation, soils and hydrology based on a method described in a manual published by the US Army Corps of Engineers.
DEQ spokesman Brad Wurfel said a change in administration does not mean that DEQ staff has redefined what it sees as a wetland. He said the agency remains committed to the enforcement of environmental laws.
Merrick said she believes Reisig had valid concerns about the Holt property.
“It was a good complaint and worth investigating,” she said. “We appreciate the community’s interest in wetlands, as staff can not be everywhere at once.”
Neighbors Charles and Sherry Davis, a suburban Chicago couple who bought a second home near Intermediate Lake just north of Bellaire next to the Holts, were appalled by the construction of the road through the woods near their house this winter.
The case was profiled in the May 28 edition of the Express.
Charles Davis said he and other neighbors had been under the impression the neighboring property was wetlands, so they were shocked the road could be constructed.
The road is 20 feet wide and cuts roughly 540 feet into the woods to a garage pad.
Reisig and Davis enlisted environmental consultant Chris Grobbel to assess whether the construction filled a wetland.
Grobbel determined land on the lakeside of the road was wetlands and the land on the other side was probably wetlands, though he was not allowed on the property.
Grobbel based his findings on wetland survey maps, observation from a neighboring property, and by examining soil samples from the Davis property from near the drive and garage pad.
Reisig said he was especially concerned about the develpoment because the way the driveway is constructed -- it runs toward the lake and then parallel to the lake as if to accommodate several building sites located near the lake in what appears to be wetlands.