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Department of Attorney General Secures $350,000 Civil Fine and Full Restoration of Macomb County Forested Wetlands Following Consent Judgment
August 02, 2022
LANSING – Local real estate developers and related individuals who illegally destroyed natural resources in Macomb County will pay a $350,000 civil fine, among the largest civil fines secured for violations of legislation designed to protect Michigan’s wetlands, Attorney General Dana Nessel announced today.
On Thursday July 28, 2022, a Consent Judgment was entered in Ingham County 30th Circuit Court to resolve a complaint filed on behalf of the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE), Water Resources Division (WRD), by the Michigan Department of Attorney General. The complaint was filed January 11, 2022, alleging that MJC Land Investments LLC, MJC Providence Estates LLC, Michael A. Chirco, Michele J. Chirco, and Mario Izzi mechanically cleared, graded, and filled 8.97 acres of wetland in violation of Part 303, Wetlands Protection, of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act (NREPA).
After the real estate developers and related parties continued refusal to bring the impacted property into compliance with the law, the Department of Attorney General filed suit on behalf of EGLE, which prompted more serious negotiations. The real estate developers and related parties denied liability for the claims asserted by EGLE, but ultimately agreed to the terms of a consent judgment that requires restoration of wetlands and payment of the civil fines, among other concessions.
The 25.75-acre property is located in Clinton Township, Macomb County. The consent judgment requires the MJC companies and related individuals to restore the impacted wetland, monitor the restored wetland for 10 years, place a conservation easement over 13.02 acres of wetland, and pay the $350,000 civil fine. The court promptly entered the consent judgment, which also orders that the real estate developers and related parties not violate this statute in the future.
In the lawsuit, EGLE alleged that the impacted property was identified in 2004 on a Michigan Natural Features Inventory Map as a potential conservation area for its natural resources and critical ecosystem. EGLE further alleged that in 2019, before acquiring the impacted property, the real estate developers had a study conducted that identified that nearly two-thirds of the parcel were wetlands. Minutes from an October 2019 meeting of the Clinton Township Planning Commission indicated that the real estate developers and related parties knew that the wetlands were regulated and development of the property would require a permit from EGLE. EGLE alleged that despite having that knowledge, the real estate developers began dredging, filling, and removing trees from the regulated wetland, shortly after purchasing the impacted property in 2020, without obtaining permission from EGLE to do so. EGLE learned of the illegal activity in July 2021 and promptly notified the real estate developers to stop work on the development.
“We depend on our wetlands to filter our drinking water and provide habitat for our wildlife, and it remains our priority to protect them,” Nessel said. “Anyone who thinks they can get away with destroying these resources for their own personal gain should think again.”
EGLE’s authority to regulate wetlands is based on legislative findings that wetland conservation is a matter of state concern and that wetland loss deprives the people of the State of Michigan of important environmental benefits. Wetlands filter and remove pollutants from the soil before they can drain into waterways, absorb and retain stormwater that might otherwise contribute to flooding, and provide habitat and food for numerous aquatic organisms among other benefits.
“Wetlands are often referred to as the kidneys of the Great Lakes for the work they do filtering pollutants and protecting water quality,” EGLE director Liesl Clark said. “They provide ecological services and flood control for Michigan residents, and this ruling affirms that individuals cannot simply destroy them without repercussions.”
Permits are required for certain activities such as dredging, filling, and draining wetlands.