Conservancy seeks funds for Bete Grise South
MARQUETTE -- The Nature Conservancy (TNC) could purchase about 1,000 acres at
Bete Grise South to preserve delicate
wetland habitat and Lake Superior shoreline if funding becomes available soon.
Bete Grise South, an area along the
eastern shore of the Keweenaw Peninsula, south of Lac La Belle and the Mendota
Lighthouse, includes a stretch of both shoreline and near shoreline wetland
communities identified by TNC, The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR)
and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) as the single most
important estuarine Great Lakes Marsh remaining in the Upper Great Lakes of the
"This striking dune and swale wetland system is deserving of long-term,
immediate protection," said Jeff Knoop, TNC director of land protection for
the western Upper Peninsula.
|This photo shows a view of the beach at Bete Grise
South on the eastern shore of the Keweenaw Peninsula. Along the beach is
a delicate wetland area considered a rare Great Lakes Marsh. The Nature
Conservancy would like to purchase about 1,000 acres of the wetland,
including 6000 ft. of lakefront, for
preservation and public access. (File photo by Michele Anderson)
Knoop said the conservancy is now trying to raise at least $100,000 as soon
as possible in order to hold the land for a written purchase agreement with
landowner International Paper/Lake Superior Land Co. (IP/LSLC). This amount
would be necessary as earnest money to hold the property until the conservancy
can raise enough money to purchase the property.
Knoop said TNC and IP/LSLC have verbally agreed on a price which is in the
range of fair market value, estimated at about $1.5 million.
The area of this potential purchase is proposed to include all the lands
south of the Mendota Canal in Section 34 T58N-R29W, all of Section 3, all of
Section 2, 120 acres of Section 10 and a large portion of Section 11 T57N-R29W).
This includes abut 6,000 ft. of Lake Superior frontage and all frontage still
owned by IP/LSLC on the south side of the Mendota Canal.
However, IP/LSLC has told TNC that the deal is contingent on IP/LSLC's
receiving a DEQ permit for a road and bridge to access a proposed residential
development -- a permit which they expect to receive on Feb. 14, 2003. The
company has been negotiating with the DEQ for more than two years in a contested
case following the DEQ's denial of their permit application in July 2000.
While the original application was for an access road through the wetland to
access the upland development site, the applicant's plans have since changed to
include a 140-ft. timber bridge over the wetland. TNC, of course, hopes to buy the land in
order to prevent the bridge and road from being built in the wetland.
Walt Arnold, IP/LSLC director of marketing and sales, said on Feb. 13, 2003,
that the company hopes TNC will be able to purchase the property, but in the
event the conservancy doesn't come up with the funds the permit will be needed.
"As soon as we have our permit for the road, we will be talking to TNC,"
Arnold said. "We need the permit to have the final appraisal, which sets
the value that we can negotiate with TNC."
He noted it is in TNC's best interest to lock up the deal with the earnest
deposit -- 10 percent of the purchase price -- a contract required to hold the
"We're hoping to get going on it soon," Arnold said. "As soon
as even the draft permit is issued, we can get moving on it."
Knoop said an obstacle is TNC's present financial situation of needing to pay
back loans and interest for their purchase of other Keweenaw properties and
their brokerage of the Keweenaw Tip Purchase by the State of Michigan (The
second half of this purchase is to be finalized in March 2003 but TNC must still
pay interest not reimbursed by the state.)
Gina Nicholas, Grant Township resident and member of the township's Land Use Planning Committee,
expressed strong support for The Nature Conservancy's effort to purchase the
property at Bete Grise South.
"We should do everything in our power to help The Nature Conservancy accomplish the purchase of
Bete Grise South as soon as IP is ready to
sell," Nicolas notes. "Bete Grise South
is the highest quality freshwater marsh/bog in the Great Lakes and one of Keweenaw's most beautiful and scenic beaches. Keeping
Bete Grise South intact will allow continued public access to this special spot and preserve a high quality natural habitat for a variety of species including sandhill cranes and bald eagles."
Anyone wishing to contribute to The Nature Conservancy's fund for purchasing Bete
Grise South may send donations to: The Nature Conservancy, Attention Jeff Knoop,
125 W. Washington St., Suite G, Marquette, MI 49855. Indicate that the
contribution is for Bete Grise South.
Contributions are tax-deductible.
Residents question bridge plan
Some Keweenaw residents have questioned IP/LSLC's plan for a bridge at Bete
Grise South since it was added to the original application during the contested
case negotiations without a public notice.
"How can they change the whole concept without applying for a new
permit?" asked Tom Collins, president of the South Shore Association (SSA),
a community association of more than 100 property owners on the South Shore
areas from Lac La Belle to Betsy.
Collins noted the SSA is going to support TNC's efforts to buy Bete
"We will be asking people to donate money to TNC for this potential
purchase," Collins said.
Grant Township resident Paul Campbell said he recently acquired a 1974 report
by Barton-Aschman Associates, Inc., planning and engineering consultants, which
includes maps showing different wetlands in the Bete
Grise area. The report was done for Universal Oil Products Co. when they owned
the land now owned by IP/LSLC.
"The information that I saw in that 1974 report included plans for
development of Bete Grise South, but the
scientific and environmental studies in the report suggest that the wetlands
'impose severe limitations on building,''' Campbell said.
Jim Mihelcic, a seasonal Keweenaw resident who has a Ph.D. in civil
engineering and 20 years of experience working as an environmental/civil
engineer, recently wrote to Kim Rice, field coordinator for the
DEQ Geological and Land Management Division in Lansing, who is expected to issue
the permit for the road and bridge. Mihelcic questions two important items in
IP/LSLC's revised plan for the access road and bridge: 1) the potential for
invasion by non-native species and 2) the environmental effects of the proposed
use of pentachlorophenol-treated wood for construction of the bridge.
In his letter, Mihelcic says the revised documents from the applicant (their
Revised Feasible and Prudent Alternatives Analysis dated July 11, 2002, and an
Addendum dated Oct. 11, 2002) for the permit application lack a convincing plan to prevent the introduction of exotic species
through the fill used for construction and the vehicular traffic
from construction of the road and development of the proposed residential site.
Mihelcic notes the proposed development "will surely introduce exotic species through the placement of large amounts of fill to the area. Neither document addresses where the fill will be obtained, how the contractor will ensure this fill does not contain exotic species, and what the volume of fill is required. It does appear that the amount of required fill is quite large as the proposed area of impact was estimated as 21,075 square feet."
Concerning the vehicular traffic, he writes, "I can not emphasize the importance that automobile and truck traffic have on introduction of nonnative
plants. For example, a recent research study completed at Michigan Tech shows that nonnative earthworms are radically changing the forest floor in the northern U.S., imperiling some rare native plants in the process. The earthworms are believed to come from vehicles. For example, egg cases are accidentally introduced from a chunk of mud stuck to a tire. The reason for the linkage of the introduction of the exotic species to vehicular traffic in the Michigan Tech study was because the sites with the most nonnative earthworms were located near roadways (for more information on this research, see
Mihelcic notes the National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service have also conducted
studies showing the disturbance of construction creates an environment favorable to exotic species, and vehicles contribute to the spread of invasive species by carrying seeds attached to their undercarriage and tires and depositing them miles away (especially along the sides of roads).
"As one example of a possible exotic species, purple loosestrife thrives on disturbed, moist soils, often invading after some type of construction
activity," Mihelcic says. "Eradicating an established stand is difficult because of an enormous number of seeds in the soil. For example, one adult plant can disperse 2 million seeds annually. The plant is also able to re-grow from roots and broken stems that fall to the ground or into the water."
IP/LSLC, in their July 11, 2002, Revised Alternatives Analysis, quote Richard
Wolinski of DEQ Land and Water Management Division (now called the Geological and Land Management Division)
as expressing concern about the presence of purple loosestrife in the Bete
Grise South area.
The document states, "Purple loosestrife is a wetland plant species and
could potentially become established in the wetland, not only by the method of
concern to the DEQ along the proposed road, but by introduction via wind-borne
seed transport, or by birds or mammals carrying the seed into the wetland on
their feathers, hair, or fur. Due to the fact that the proposed road is
'downstream' and downwind (prevailing westerly winds) from the poor fen, the
likelihood of introduction of purple loosestrife into the poor fen as a result
of the proposed road is further minimized."
Mihelcic notes non-native seeds are transported to a large degree not by wind
(which he notes is not always from the west) but by vehicular traffic.
Mihelcic also questions "how the introduction of penta-treated lumber
(for the bridge) will potentially impact plants and animals in the wetland, and how the leaching of some penta into the aquatic environment may (or may not) create an environment that benefits the growth non-native species that are introduced from construction and vehicle traffic."
He cites two scientific studies that show Pentachlorophenol has been shown to exist in soils for up to
five years and is a concern to aquatic environments.
Mihelcic concludes that the new documents supplied by IP/LSLC as part of the
contested case negotiations have insufficient detail for the DEQ to make a
sound, scientific judgment on the permit application.
U.S. Army Corps to re-evaluate project
Should the DEQ issue a permit for the access road and bridge, the United
States Army Corps, who also denied the original permit application (a denial
"without prejudice" required by law because of the state's permit
denial), would have to decide whether to issue a permit, based on Section 404 of
the Clean Water Act, which regulates the discharge of dredge or fill material
into the waters of the United States, including wetlands.
Rich Gutleber, regulatory field officer for the U.S. Army Corps in Marquette,
said the Corps would re-evaluate the project once they have seen the DEQ
decision. The Corps' decision depends, he said, on what changes have been made
to the original plans and what impacts these changes will have.
As for the bridge, Gutleber said things that don't require fill won't need a
permit, but he would look at footings of the bridge, shading effect, changes in
vegetation, and run-off.
"We would focus on those (secondary) impacts that would be attributable
to the issuing of a permit," he said.
Gutleber noted the Army Corps would not automatically issue a permit just because
the DEQ issued it. The Corps will study the overall project according to what is
under federal jurisdiction under Section 404. The Corps could, he said, add additional conditions to cover areas over
which they have jurisdiction even though the state does not.
"It's not a rubber stamp," he said.
Gutleber said he had not yet seen the new plan for the bridge project.
In the July 2000 denial of the permit application, the DEQ had written to IP/LSLC that the proposed project would have "significant adverse impact on the natural resources associated with the wetland."
The denial was based on criteria of Part 17, Environmental Protection, and Part
303, Wetlands Protection, of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection
Act, 1994 PA 451, as amended (NREPA).**
At that time the DEQ had also supported its denial of the permit on the premise that "a feasible and prudent alternative exists."
Intervenors oppose revised plans for bridge and road
Timothy Bureau, president of Resource Management Group, Inc., Environmental Planners and Consultants of Grand Haven, Mich.-- who is a third party, or intervenor, in the contested case along with Mendota Lighthouse owner Gary Kohs -- has written several letters
to the DEQ objecting to IP/LSLC's Revised Feasible and Prudent Alternatives Analysis
of July 11, 2002, and the Addendum of Oct. 11, 2002.
Bureau, who spoke at public hearings on July 14, 1999, and May 1, 2000, with
extensive comments on the reasons for denying the permit, has also criticized
IP/LSLC's revised plans for several reasons, including these:
- The plans include dredging that has not been public noticed.
- The DEQ has not addressed, or required the applicant to address, the
State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) concerns about protection of the
historical property in the area, namely the Mendota Lighthouse.
- The DEQ correspondence since the public hearings does not address the
presence of wildlife -- nesting eagles, nesting loons, and wolf movement
through the site (plus unconfirmed reports of the piping plover using the
- The submittal addresses neither the potential for storm damage and
wave-driven damage to the road nor the damming effect the road will cause
during Lake Superior storm surges or during spring runoff and the resultant
impacts to the vegetative community.
- The impact of the construction of 24 homesites mentioned in the new plans
should be considered under Rule 2a (2) of Part 303.
- There is no assessment or demonstration of need, either public or private,
for the project, and no adequate or meaningful assessment of alternative
locations to that proposed.
Kohs, Mendota Lighthouse owner, and intervenor in the case with Bureau,
expressed in a Feb. 13, 2003, email to Keweenaw Now his continued strong
objection to the permit application.
"The DEQ has sold out and we'll show this in the contested case hearing and circuit
court if necessary," Kohs writes. "They have ignored a required public hearing on the new submissions because they
can't take the heat."
Kohs added he supports TNC's efforts to purchase the property, which is
adjacent to the Mendota Lighthouse.
"We support The Nature Conservancy's efforts to purchase Bete
Grise South, but doubt they will ever see a purchase agreement with or without a permit," Kohs
*In a July 29, 2002, Briefing Addendum on Bete
Grise South to IP/Lake Superior Land Co., the DEQ states: "The wetland
that would be impacted by the proposed development is a poor fen type of
coastal wetland. Lake Superior wetlands are distinctly different from the
wetlands of the other Great Lakes due to climactic and chemical
differences, and this type of coastal wetland is unique to Lake Superior.
This wetland is one of two of the highest quality Lake Superior wetlands
ranked by the Michigan Natural Features Inventory, and is the best example
of this type of wetland known from Michigan due to its size, diversity,
and hydrological intactness."
**Three state statutes under Public Act 451, the 1994 Natural Resources and Environmental Protection
Act, govern the issuance of this permit:
Part 301, Inland Lakes and
Streams, which requires a permit for certain activities impacting wetlands, including dredging or filling bottomland; constructing a structure on bottomland; and structurally interfering with the natural flow of an inland lake or stream. ("Bottomland" means the land area of an inland lake or stream that lies below the ordinary high-water mark and that may or may not be covered by water.)
Part 303, Wetlands
Protection, which requires a permit for depositing or permitting the placing of fill material in a wetland; dredging, removing or permitting the removal of soil or minerals from a wetland; constructing, operating or maintaining any use or development in a wetland; and draining surface water from a wetland.
In addition, section 30311
of this statute states: "A permit (for one of the activities listed above) shall not be approved unless the department determines that the issuance of a permit is in the public interest, that the permit is necessary to realize the benefits derived from the activity, and that the activity is otherwise lawful."
17, the Michigan Environmental Protection Act, or MEPA, which supplements the first two statutes by stating that alleged pollution of natural resources shall not be permitted if there is a feasible and prudent alternative consistent with the reasonable requirements of the public health, safety and welfare.
The proposed project also requires a federal permit from the United States Army Corps of Engineers under
Section 404 of the Clean Water
Act, which covers putting fill in wetlands adjacent to navigable waters of the United States. The wetland to be impacted by the proposed project is adjacent to Lake Superior.
Note: Residents concerned about the DEQ enforcement and DNR
funding for public land acquisition should note that budget discussions
began in the Appropriations DNR/DEQ Sub-Committee on Tuesday, Feb. 11,
2003. Rep. Rich Brown (D-Bessemer), Democratic Vice-Chair and senior
member of the committee, reports they are looking into which programs will
need to be scaled back in order to balance the state budget. Rep. Brown
can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
or by phone at 517-373-0850. Residents may also write to Mr. Brown at P.O.
Box 30014, Lansing, MI 48909.
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