HARBERT — The Chikaming Township Board unanimously approved a Shoreline Armoring Ordinance during a Feb. 25 special meeting that prohibits “hard armoring” along the Lake Michigan shoreline in the township while establishing a permitting process for “softer” protective measures against erosion such as sand bags and geotubes.
The 5-0 vote followed board discussion, which was preceded by a hour-plus public comment period that included comments by more than 40 people and lasted over an hour.
Township Supervisor David Bunte said the largest issue based on comments by the public made on Feb. 25 (and during a Feb. 4 meeting focused on the first draft) was the definition of “imminent” in a portion of the draft ordinance that read: The Property Owner (or their designated representative) establishes that one or more primary shoreland structures are in imminent danger of damage from shoreline erosion.
Several board members suggested removing the word “imminent” from that portion of the ordinance, with trustee Liz Rettig noting “If someone’s coming to us and they feel that property is in danger, trust me they know it is imminent.”
Township Board member Rich Sullivan said the main thing they are trying to accomplish with the ordinance is banning hard armor, adding that concerns about the type of sand that can be used in soft armoring needs EGLE permission to use sand from the lake.
He also noted that the township had no say in boulders being “dumped like it was a public dump ground” north of Pier Street Beach in a non-critical dune area after EGLE gave approval.
“We went on record as opposing that. EGLE didn’t manage it, EGLE did not look to see what was going on. They just allowed that to happen and issued a permit.”
Bunte said in addition to banning hard armoring, additional verbiage pertaining to protective options such as sand bags and geotubes allows the township to manage them as temporary and ensure they are being managed properly (“All the things EGLE is not doing and will not do”).
Bunte said the imminent danger language is a point of contention for a lot of people, and if that wording thwarts the opportunity for lakefront homeowners to pre-emptively put in sand bags (which he said he does not believe the township would deny) taking the “imminent” portion out of the ordinance it would satisfy a lot of those concerns.
It also was suggested that as they have done with the Zoning Ordinance, township officials can go back and make changes to this document as needed.
Rettig said she feels it also is important to look at accessory structures and protecting land in general at a later date.
Sullivan agreed on the value of providing the opportunity to protect detached structures such as guest houses, storage sheds, garages, gazebos or pole barns (as long as they are permitted).
“People need to know that they can contact us and we will quickly say yes, because if you feel that it’s in danger regardless of the word imminent, get your sand, get your contractors together,” he said.
Bunte noted that the first draft of the ordinance protected primary structures, the second draft included attached structures, and asked if the board also wants to include detached ones.
The answer was yes.
That change led to having the word “not” removed from a portion of Section 2 of the draft ordinance under definitions – item 4 (which deals with “primary shoreland structure”) so it reads: “Unattached accessory structures such as a guest house, storage sheds, detached garage, detached gazebo, or pole barn are included as primary shoreland structures.”
The other change in the revised draft ordinance (removing the word imminent in front of the word danger) was made in Section 3, Item 2A so it would read: “The Property Owner (or their designated representative) establishes that one or more primary shoreland structures are in danger of damage from shoreline erosion.”
The draft ordinance was then adopted unanimously with those two changes.
Bunte said the township has a 30-day publication requirement before the ordinance is effective, and he proposed a moratorium be placed on the issuance of any type of shoreline armoring permits in the interim.
A motion to that effect was passed unanimously.
The following is the wording of Section 3 of the ordinance (the full draft ordinance can be viewed at www.chikamingtownship.org):
(1) It shall be unlawful to in any way commence installation of, actually install, or place shoreline armoring upon or within the ground anywhere within Chikaming Township.
(2) A permit must be obtained for installation or placement of sandbags or geotubes on property in Chikaming Township. If any other local, state, and federal permits are required, in addition to a permit from the Township Supervisor or his or her designee, the property owner or application must obtain such permits prior to placement of sandbags or geotubes. The Township Supervisor or his or her designee shall issue a permit allowing the installation or placement of sandbags or geotubes, to minimize the risk of erosion and damage to property including shoreland structures, subject to all of the following:
(a) The Property Owner (or their designated representative) establishes that one or more primary shoreland structures are in danger of damage from shoreline erosion;
(b) The Property Owner establishes that placement of sandbags or geotubes would be capable of slowing erosional or flooding processes;
(c) The sand contained within the sandbags or geotubes is of sufficient quality that it can be released to the ground without presenting a public health or safety risk or causing ecological harm. The sand used in the sandbags shall be sand that reasonably matches quality, size, and texture as the existing sand such that it supplements the existing sand on the beach; and
(d) The Property Owner, its successors and assigns, shall hold the Township of Chikaming harmless from any and all claims for damages to persons or property arising out of the installation, existence and maintenance of sandbags or geotubes, which the Township shall or may become legally obligated to pay. However, this provision shall not apply to claims, losses and expenses arising out of the adjudicated negligence of the Township or claims related to the lawfulness, validity, or constitutionality of this ordinance brought by the Property Owner against the Township.
(3) A permit for sandbags or geotubes shall be valid for a period of one year from the date of issuance. The permit will automatically renew each year for a total of five years unless the Township determines that
(a) Water levels have receded significantly enough that the primary shoreline structure is no longer in danger and the sandbags or geotubes may be removed without damage to the primary shoreline structure; or
(b) The Township determines that the sandbags or geotubes have been damaged so that they are no longer preventing erosion or are otherwise determined to be a nuisance, dangerous, or hazardous condition.
The Township may, in its discretion, monitor the sandbags or geotubes to assess their integrity and any damage. If the Township determines that the permit should not automatically renew for another year and the sandbags or geotubes should be removed, it shall provide the permittee with at least 60 days to release the sand and remove the sandbags or geotubes at the property owner’s expense. Upon expiration of the permit, the Property Owner shall release the sand and remove the sandbags or geotubes at the Property Owner’s expense.
(4) If the sandbags or geotubes cause substantial damage to the shoreline or bluff, the property owner or applicant shall be responsible for removing the sandbags and/or geotubes, restoring any damage they caused to the shoreline or bluff, and paying the cost of said removal and restoration.
(5) The property owner or applicant must obtain all necessary local, state, and federal permits in addition to a permit from the Township Supervisor or his or her designee prior to placement of sandbags or geotubes.
The Public Comment portion of the meeting included the following:
John Trinta said “If we need such an ordinance I would hope we reach an outcome that is balanced and protects all the township’s citizens, properties and rights.” Trinta said he supports the use of sand bags and geotubes for protection, but would like to seek them allowed earlier in the process since shoreline can erode quickly.
Rich Ham noted problematic elements of the sandbags and geotubes section, “and the imminent danger standard was number-one on my list.” He said it usually takes three to four weeks of lead time to install sand bags and geotubes, with contractors likely to be backed up more than normal when a lake level crisis is going on. “Why must owners be on the verge of catastrophe before being allowed even to install temporary and minimal protective measures?” He later asked “what happens when sand bags aren’t enough?” “I don’t want boulders on my property. I don’t think anybody ever does … And yet the board seems to be saying when sand bags aren’t enough your home must fail.”
John Immel of the Wildwood Homeowners Association said “I again want to say how strongly we embrace and support the revised Chikaming Township revised ordinance being discussed here tonight,” calling it a model for Lake Charter Township and other lakefront communities.
John Hollenbeck said he was seeking more clarity about what imminent means and who gets to declare what it means – and where a soft solution can be applied. “I would like to declare that my home right now is in imminent decline, and if somebody were to come here and say ’No, not right now – but at this point right here.” He also asked if stairs count as a substructure.
Dan Coffey said revetments are not solid armor, “they are solid surfaces with many holes and slits designed to slow and absorb the force of the water, not to push it back.” Adding “they are the best way to protect property without causing scouring or pushing water far out into the lake.” Coffey said $6.41 million of the $8.11 million spent on the River Valley Schools comes from Chikaming Township, adding that he thinks the “cost to schools of lost taxes is going to be a million dollars.” Coffey said EGLE and the Corps of Engineers already regulate the lakefront with experienced experts, noting that the township “will not add any expertise or needed regulation to what already exists (and later adding that Chikaming’s leaders are “good people”).
Ellen Reagan of the Lakefront Preservation Group voiced support for the latest draft of the ordinance. “The Township Board is to be applauded for its leadership in taking the steps necessary to preserve its beaches for future generations.”
John Donnelly said he believes it’s vital for the main part of this ordinance regarding hard armoring and revetments to be enacted as soon as possible. He also criticized the restrictions on sand bags in the draft ordinances, calling on having the imminent danger language removed. Donnelly also asked to have secondary structures not attached to the main home be afforded more protection.
Susan Eblen said her family’s 98th summer on the lake is coming up, adding that they have watched lake rise and fall and always have walked the beach. She asked the board to please pass the ordinance.
Dee Glavin said she “applauds the trustees for their hard work” and feels that the body of the ordinance is very important to put in place because of the hard armoring issues.
Jim Morrisette said “Right now just north of Cherry Beach there are these huge boulders and revetments that have put in so far into the lake that you can’t walk around them,” adding that he supports the ordinance.
Leslie Scott (who voiced support for the ordinance) said she has been visiting beaches her entire life, has children ages 6 and 1, and wants them to be able to do the same.
Sally Bogert took issue with the view that not allowing revetments would lead to lowered tax revenues for the local schools, stating “our sandy beaches are the jewel of that which attracts residents and tourists alike.” “If our beaches are destroyed by hard armoring as the science warns, then all homeowners in the township are affected as well as many businesses that rely on tourism. If we lose beaches and we see a reduction in tourism, then everyone’s property values are affected, not just the lakefront property owners, and that would have a greater negative impact on our economy and our schools.” Bogert also said EGLE has made it abundantly clear that neither seawalls or revetments are good for the beaches.
William Burnette said he has witnessed first-hand the “destruction and just trashing of our beaches and dunes that revetments have wrought” and expressed strong support for the ordinance.
Jim Parsons said he would like to see “substantial independent structures” be protected, adding he feels it’s much more important “to promptly proceed with the strict prohibition against the destructive and highly disruptive hard armoring that we have seen constructed, particularly in the last year.”
Deborah Hall Kayler said she has witnessed the devastating impact of hard armoring on the shoreline and supports the ordinance as it has been amended.
Arthur Anderson asked the Township Board to pass the ordinance as it written “tonight.” “It’s flawed but it can be fixed in the future … an ordinance is never going to be perfect.”
Kit Nicholson said members of the New Circle Association in Lakeside are collectively “very troubled and concerned about how our beach access, the enjoyment of our beach, and the ability to enjoy walking along the Chikaming shoreline has been negatively impacted by the hard armoring of the shoreline, particularly in our case to the northeast.”
Torrey Foster, representing the Highland Shores Homeowners Association in Sawyer, said the vast majority of members are in favor of preventing hard armoring. He asked to have temporary measures aligned more toward additional flexibility related to definition of imminent and clarity around the second structures clause so soft structures aren’t unduly limited.
Gene Schoon said he supports the ordinance, which he said shows careful consideration of public and private interests.
Amy Mader said she had just four days to look over the revision, adding that it was troublesome to her that the draft ordinance seemed like kind of a rush. Made also said the imminency issue objected to “by this board at its last meeting” has not been fixed in the new draft. She urged the board not to pass an “incorrect ordinance” that has “glaring errors.”
Doug Greef said scientists not paid by the armoring industry “are very clear – armoring the beaches is very bad.” He also said geotubes need to be temporary and said he supports the passage of the draft ordinance.
Gary Wood said he supports the ordinance while recognizing it’s imperfect and “we will need to probably make some changes as we go along, just like we have with the zoning ordinance.”
Julie Glavin of Harbert thanked the board “for all their work, and for fighting the good fight to keep our lakeshore.”
Kate Walsh said “There’s no question that shoreline armoring damages and destroys beaches.”
Bob Hartman of Allegan County said he supports the ordinance because he’s “witnessed first-hand the same sort of problems with hard armoring up here in Allegan and also Van Buren County. Loss of beach, loss of the sand bar, loss of the ability to walk the beach safely.”
Olga Georgiev voiced support for the ordinance, noting “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”