Great Lakes Shoreline Management

Contact: Anne Garwood 517-284-5535

Effective July 2, 2012, the Michigan legislature passed 2012 PA 247 which exempts mowing and other limited shoreline management activities from Part 303, Wetlands Protection and Part 325, Great Lakes Submerged Lands, of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, 1994 PA 451, as amended (NREPA).  Specifically, the following activities are allowed in the area of Great Lakes bottomlands lying below the ordinary high-water mark (OHWM) and above the water's edge without a permit, subject to other laws of this state:

 a.  In an area of unconsolidated material predominantly composed of sand, rock or pebbles, that is, an area where under normal circumstances, vegetation is non-existent, very sparse, or consists predominantly of plant species not typically adapted to wetland conditions:

  • Leveling of sand, which is the relocation of sand including the redistribution, grading, and spreading of sand that has been deposited through wind or wave action onto upland riparian property.  Alteration of the natural lakeshore contours, including excavation of basins, formation of new upland areas, and relocation of the natural shoreline location, is not exempt.
  • Removal of vegetation, which is hand-pulling or shallow tilling of very sparsely vegetated areas.  Alteration of the natural lakeshore contours, including excavation of basins, formation of new upland areas, and relocation of the natural shoreline location, is not exempt.
  • Grooming of sand or pebbles which is the removal of debris by raking or dragging, pushing, or pulling metal teeth without disturbance of or destruction to plant roots.  Debris is animal or fish carcasses, zebra mussel shells, dead vegetation, trash, and discarded materials of human made origin.  All collected debris shall be disposed of properly outside of any wetland.

 b.  Mowing of vegetation which does not disturb soil or plant roots.

These exemptions do not apply to St Clair Flats (lands included in the survey of the delta of the St. Clair River, located within Clay Township, St. Clair County, as provided for in 1899 PA 175).

Shoreline management activities in coastal wetlands, other than mowing below the OHWM of the Great Lakes and above the water's edge, are not exempt.  Permits are still required for dredging, filling, or other construction activities including the mechanical removal of vegetation (e.g., tilling) in wetlands.  Shoreline management activities below the water's edge of the Great Lakes are not exempt.  Other activities normally regulated under Part 303 or Part 325 are still regulated (e.g., removal of material from below the OHWM [dredging] or creating structures below the OHWM).

Permits are required for shoreline management in Environmental Areas as defined in Part 323, Shorelands Protection and Management, of the NREPA and Critical Dune Areas as defined by Part 353, Sand Dunes Protection and Management, of the NREPA.  The exemptions do not apply to inland wetlands, inland lakes, or rivers and connecting channels (the St. Mary's, St. Clair and Detroit Rivers) covered under Part 301, Inland Lakes and Streams of the NREPA.  Permits are also required for activities that impact State or Federally threatened or endangered species, from the Department of Natural Resources and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, respectively.

Aquatic Nuisance Control permits are still needed from the DEQ for herbicide treatments below the OHWM of the Great Lakes. More information can be found on the Aquatic Nuisance Control website or by calling 517-241-1554.

A permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is required for most activities that alter Great Lakes coastal areas.  Additional information regarding USACE permit requirements is available on the United States Army Corps of Engineers Detroit District web site.

Shoreline Management Permits

Shoreline management activities exceeding the exemption require a permit from the DEQ.  Information on how to apply for a permit can be found on the wetland permits website

When the Michigan Legislature passed 2003 PA 14, which exempted mowing and other limited beach maintenance activities from wetland and Great Lakes bottomlands protection requirements through November 1, 2007. the Legislature required the Department of Environmental Quality to evaluate the impacts of vegetation removal and report back to the Governor and the Legislature.  The results of this study can be found in the "Report on the Impacts of Beach Maintenance and Removal of Vegetation under Act 14 of 2003." 

Invasive Phragmites Management

Mowing alone is not an effective control method for Phragmites as regeneration from rhizomes often causes an increase in phragmites stand density, and can spread viable seeds.  Landowners are encouraged to follow the recommended control methods that include herbicide treatment followed by mechanical treatment of the invasive plants, as outlined in the publication A Guide to the Control and Management of Invasive Phragmites

Proper implementation of these control methods is very important, as these techniques have been developed for maximum Phragmites management effectiveness, while at the same time avoiding possible harm to the native aquatic resources in these sensitive areas.  Improper use of mowing, such as cutting during the wrong time of year, cutting too frequently, or cutting where native plants are present, can also disrupt wildlife and destroy existing native plants.  Vegetation removal (e.g., tilling, disking) is not recommended as a mechanical control method for phragmites since it results in the spread of rhizomes and the production of new plants.  In addition, native vegetation may be destroyed during the process. More information on Phragmites Control can be found on the DEQ Phragmites website.