White River Township seeks funding to purchase lakefront land at center of dune debate

One of MEC's most-read blog posts was a 2013 analysis that pointed out serious flaws in-and helped build the opposition needed to block-a controversial proposal to develop a road through a public dune preserve on the Lake Michigan coast.

If a new fundraising effort succeeds, the piece of private lakefront property at the center of that debate could soon be open for public enjoyment.

Public attention turned to the two-acre parcel when a developer proposed building a home on the property with an access road through the White River Township Barrier Dunes Sanctuary. The proposal represented the first test of a 2012 law that gutted key provisions of Michigan's Critical Dunes Act.

Thankfully, the Department of Environmental Quality rejected the proposal from Bro G Land Company, echoing MEC's arguments that what the proposal called a driveway was, by the state's definition, clearly a road-one that would have fundamentally changed the scenic character of a public sanctuary carefully preserved and managed by thoughtful leaders.

Following the permit denial, Bro G filed a lawsuit against the township seeking a judgment that it had the right to build the road. That suit ended last month in a settlement that gives White Lake Township 18 months to purchase the property for $900,000.

Local officials are expected to seek a large portion of the money from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund, which uses interest from royalties on the sale and lease of state-owned oil and gas rights to purchase and improve public recreational facilities.

The White River Township Board meets Tuesday evening at 7:30 to discuss a grant proposal to the trust fund board. Preserve the Dunes, an MEC member group, is urging the public to support the township's proposal by attending the meeting and by sending a letter of support to the township board or an email to board clerk Joy Ann Lehman at joylehman@frontier.com.

Of course, the township also encourages businesses, citizens and foundations to give generously to help support the land acquisition. It's a great opportunity to help protect the beautiful, ecologically rich and globally rare coastal sand dunes we are so lucky to have here in Michigan.

The 2012 dismantling of the Critical Dunes Act seriously eroded regulatory protections for Michigan's dunes. Without those safeguards, outright purchase of dunes or their development rights is probably the best means we Michiganders have left for protecting some of our state's best-known and most-loved landscapes.

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Photo of White River Township Barrier Dunes Sanctuary courtesy watershedwildlife.com.


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