Election Day loser: Gov. Snyder weakens landmark sand dune protections
No matter how your favored candidates did in yesterday's primary, we all lost at the end of the day when Governor Snyder signed legislation that cripples protections for Michigan's most fragile sand dunes.
These important safeguards have been in place since the 1980s, when the Critical Dunes Act was created in bipartisan fashion by political leaders who understood the value of these globally rare and ecologically rich natural treasures. Since then, coastal landowners have built in a responsible way that takes into account sensitive ecosystems and the stunning scenery that makes Michigan's dunes a huge tourist draw.
As we wrote back in May, these changes to the Critical Dunes Act make it much easier for developers to harm the dunes with slapdash construction of new driveways and structures. The new law also makes it harder for citizens and local governments to have a say in protecting dunes in their community. And it turns the burden of proof on its head, forcing the state to demonstrate that a project would harm the dunes, rather than requiring developers to prove that new construction wouldn't cause damage.
In its press release announcing the signing (who could write that headline with a straight face?), the governor's office said the new law will protect Michigan from "dozens of multimillion dollar lawsuits." In reality, those suits could have been avoided with only minor changes to the law. Instead, the Michigan Association of Realtors and the Homebuilders Association used these legal concerns as an excuse to make wholesale changes to the law, very few of which have anything to do with preventing lawsuits.
Most frustratingly, these lobbyists even claimed that the legislation they wrote was the effort of a critical dunes work group on which MEC and dozens of other organizations served for more than five years. In fact, they wrote it behind closed doors with no public input, and quickly rammed it through the Legislature.
You can bet that MEC and our partners aren't throwing in the towel. This new law is flawed, but we're going to make sure it's enforced as strictly as possible. And we'll keep looking for new ways to protect the dunes.
Meanwhile, November's just around the corner. It's a great time to let your local legislators and candidates know where you stand when it comes to Michigan's most important natural assets.