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Saugatuck dunes group launches legal effort to stop marina project at Kalamazoo River

The Saugatuck Dunes Coastal Alliance has launched legal challenges to stop construction of a marina and home development along the Kalamazoo River in Saugatuck. (WWMT)

The Saugatuck Dunes Coastal Alliance announced Monday that it has launched legal challenges to stop construction of a marina and home development along the Kalamazoo River near Saugatuck, Michigan.

Called the Northshore of Saugatuck, or Padnos Marina, the project calls for a 1,600-foot-long boat basin and nearly 40 home sites. The project area is about 300 acres between the Saugatuck Dunes State Park and the Saugatuck Harbor Natural Area.

David Swan, president of the alliance, said the marina project will require the removal of thousands of tons of sand, which would damage the environment.

Carl Gabrielse, an attorney who represents the Northshore developer, said the alliance is misstating the facts and mis-interpreting the law. [Gabrielse's full statement is below.]

"Every state and local agency that has reviewed NorthShore’s proposed development objectively has concluded that NorthShore’s use of the property is proper," Gabrielse said in a written response to the announcement. "NorthShore will continue to defend its right to develop this property in accordance with applicable law."

So far, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality is giving the proposal a green light, but more approvals are needed.

Gabrielse said that would be one from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is awaiting the completion of a comprehensive archaeological survey. Once that is complete, Gabrielse said, "NorthShore is optimistic that the Army Corps will issue the requested permit. "

The alliance said that the project's plan to remove thousands of tons of sand is a violation of a state law banning sand dune mining—or the removal of sand for commercial purposes—within Michigan’s Critical Dune boundary. Michigan adopted that prohibition in 1998.

On Monday, the alliance, joined by the Gun Lake Tribe of the Pottawatomie and the Huron Band of the Potawatomie, said it has appealed the DEQ decision, based on that law.

"No one tasked with properly interpreting the applicable law—the MDEQ, the Michigan Attorney General, the township planning commission, and the township’s attorney—agrees with" Swan, Gabrielse said. "Digging one hole and filling in another, all on the same property, does not constitute sand mining."

The alliance also is suing the property's owner, Jeff Padnos, for knowingly breaking zoning laws. In a written statement on the efforts, alliance leaders said the zoning violation claim is based on a local ordinance, Sec. 40-910. (h), that states: “In no event shall a canal or channel be excavated for the purpose of increasing the water frontage required by this section.”

Padnos has sued the alliance, claiming the organization had no right to appeal the DEQ decision and seeking $10,000 in damages.

Swan dismissed Padnos claims.

“We are an alliance of civic organizations, primarily all-volunteer organizations, working to protect our local laws, laws that many of us helped craft,” Swan said. “Jeff Padnos sued us as a way to silence our voices; to intimidate us.”

The Coastal Alliance also announced that it had created a fund-raising campaign through Go-Fund-Me to help finance efforts to enforce local and state laws prohibiting the proposed marina.

In 2011, the National Trust for Historic Preservation recognized the Saugatuck Dunes as One of America’s 11 most endangered places. The alliance said the area earned that designation because of the proposed marina development at the river mouth.

Written statement from Carl Gabrielse responding to the Monday announcement by the Saugatuck Dunes Coastal Alliance:

All,
We have been asked by many of you for a response to the SDCA's press conference this morning.
The headline for this story should be “Opponents Still Opposed.” There is nothing new here. David Swan has made these same claims to the Planning Commission, the Zoning Board of Appeals, the MDEQ, and the Circuit Court, all of whom have summarily rejected them. But, after hearing some of the claims made by Mr. Swan at the press conference this morning, there are a few things that should be corrected.
Regarding Mr. Swan’s claim that the construction of this boat basin violates the Township ordinance:
Mr. Swan is pushing for a very creative and self-serving interpretation of the Township ordinance. The Township’s attorney, an outside land use specialist hired specifically by the Township to review NorthShore’s plans, and the planning commission have each reviewed this issue and all have concluded that the proposed boat basin fully complies with the Township ordinance.
Regarding Mr. Swan’s claim that the construction of the boat basin violates state law provisions regarding sand mining:
Mr. Swan has been actively lobbying for this interpretation, but no one tasked with properly interpreting the applicable law—the MDEQ, the Michigan Attorney General, the Township planning commission, and the Township’s attorney—agrees with him. Digging one hole and filling in another, all on the same property, does not constitute sand mining.
Regarding Mr. Swan’s claim that construction of the boat basin will lower the groundwater level by 6 inches:
Mr. Swan’s statement is simply not true. The boat basin proposed by NorthShore is designed with a clay liner at its bottom to ensure that the groundwater level of the surrounding area remains unaffected. This is the design plan that the MDEQ has approved.
NorthShore retained one of the leading hydrologists in the state to assist in designing the boat basin design. NorthShore’s hydrologist and the MDEQ’s inhouse hydrologist both agree that the boat basin, as designed, will have no affect on the groundwater level of the surrounding area.
Regarding Mr. Swan’s claim that using a mechanical circulation system will cause harm to the sturgeon population:
Mr. Swan once again misstates the facts. The boat basin will employ an innovative passive circulation system that uses the natural flow of the river to circulate the water. This design has been applauded by the MDEQ and others. It will not use a mechanical circulation system as stated by Mr. Swan. Moreover, the entire interior perimeter of the boat basin will contain rip-rap toe-stone which is an excellent habitat for sturgeon.
Mr. Swan appears more interested in his fundraising efforts than in accurately describing the facts and applicable law. While it is unfortunate that Mr. Swan has stooped to misstating the facts and misinterpreting the law in an effort to bolster opposition to this project, it is not surprising because every state and local agency that has reviewed NorthShore’s proposed development objectively has concluded that NorthShore’s use of the property is proper. The only permit that NorthShore has not yet received is from the Army Corps, which is waiting on the completion of a comprehensive archaeological survey. Once that survey is completed, NorthShore is optimistic that the Army Corps will issue the requested permit.
NorthShore will continue to defend its right to develop this property in accordance with applicable law.
Thanks,
Carl


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