LANSING, MI — Legislation that would simplify seawall permitting during high water periods on the Great Lakes and codify the state’s authority to regulate structures at the beach has drawn some intraparty fire from Republicans who are upset the bill no longer allow property owners to install erosion protections without getting a permit.
Senate Bill 61 is sponsored by Sen. Roger Victory, R-Hudsonville. It’s backed by state regulators under Democrat Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who called the Republican legislation a “compromise” they support out of a desire to clear up jurisdictional confusion around the state’s authority to manage shoreline protection structures like boulder revetments.
That dynamic drew criticism from Sen. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, during an environmental quality committee hearing on Tuesday, Feb. 23, which dove into the state’s role in permitting structures above the statutory high water mark.
McBroom called the initial version of the bill, which cleared the Senate without Democrat support last January before undergoing significant change, “better policy” and suggested the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) is only interested in reclaiming authority lost after it was challenged by property rights advocates.
The new version drops the allowance for no-permit construction in favor of a shortened application and faster processing time once any Great Lake (besides Lake Ontario) rises one foot above the statutory ordinary high water mark.
In Michigan, that mark is an invisible line at the beach written into state law as an elevation measurement above sea level.
“I just don’t understand this program. I understood the original bill introduced by the (senator) last year,” McBroom said. “I don’t understand why we’re giving up on what’s better policy for one that the department clearly wants this additional power and is upset they’ve lost it.”
The committee did not vote on the bill Tuesday, which chair Sen. Rick Outman, R-Six Lakes, said “probably needs a little more work” before getting advanced.
Victory’s legislation was reintroduced this year after it cleared the House natural resources committee but failed to pass the chamber before session ended in December.
Democrats, EGLE and environmental groups came out strongly against the initial version, which would have allowed beachfront homeowners to build a temporary erosion protection structures and then apply for a permit after-the-fact.
The original legislation was born of constituent calls in 2019 from homeowners worried about a lag in processing time for seawall permit applications submitted to EGLE, said Amber Vrooman, a legislative assistant for Victory.
Vrooman said the bill would streamline and automate a permitting process to ensure property owners wouldn’t deal with an application bottleneck in future high water cycles.
The legislation was revised during negotiations with EGLE last year in an effort to develop…