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Critical Dune Areas Program

Oceana county barrier dune
Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy

Critical Dune Areas Program

EGLE's Water Resources Division (WRD) is requesting that shoreline property owners remove sandbags that were placed along the shoreline during the Great Lakes High Water Levels.  EGLE will be contacting property owners over the next several weeks.  Contact the EGLE staff that covers your county should you have any questions.

The Great Lake coastlines have extensive coastal dunes on Lakes Michigan and Superior. In the 1980’s it became apparent that development pressures had potential to impact the future of Michigan’s dunes as they became increasingly popular sites for recreation and residential development. In 1989, approximately 74,000 acres of dunes along 265 miles of coastline were identified as needing protection from developmental pressures and designated as Critical Dunes. 

These Critical Dune Areas represent a diverse cross-section of dune shapes, height, and vegetation along Lake Michigan’s shoreline in the lower and upper peninsulas, and the shore of Lake Superior. 

The Critical Dune Areas (CDAs) include public lands and private properties where developmental, silvicultural, and recreational activities are regulated and a permit is required under Part 353, Sand Dunes Protection and Management, of the NREPA. The law balances the benefits of protecting, preserving, restoring and enhancing the diversity, quality, functions, and value of the critical dunes with the benefits of economic development, multiple uses, and public access.


Information on specific sites:
District Permit Staff

Where are Critical Dunes located?

The boundaries of regulated dunes and adjacent lands, commonly called critical dune areas or CDAs, were drawn on the maps of 19 lakeshore counties and their townships.

The CDAs are a combination of coastal barrier dunes, land that has dune-like features, and unique plant communities. Regulatory authority goes to the water’s edge. A permit is required for a regulated use in a CDA.

Determine if your property is in a Critical Dune Area

Begin the permit process


What requires a permit?

A permit is required for activities that significantly alter the CDA.  Examples of activities where permit applications are typically required are the construction of a house or garage, building a road or driveway, installing a septic system, installing retaining walls, and sand removal to name a few. View the list of common activities needing a permit. The application for a permit requires a fee of between $150 and $6000. The fee is added to all other application fees.

There are some activities which do not require a permit when specific criteria are met. Stairways are a common project that does not need a permit when the project meets the following requirements: elevated above grade, no wider than five feet including the entry and exit platforms, no roof or walls, constructed without wheeled or tracked self-propelled tools, and vegetation impacts are limited to the stairway footprint. Projects which do not meet these criteria will require an application for a permit be submitted to EGLE. 

Local units of government may choose to administer Part 353 through their local zoning ordinance. Currently EGLE administers Part 353 in all CDAs except for those in Pere Marquette Township in Mason County and Peaine and St. James Townships on Beaver Island. If you live in one of these communities, you should contact your local zoning administrator for permit information.

Apply for a permit

A property owner may choose to meet with their local EGLE staff person during a pre-application meeting to discuss their proposed project.  This is an optional service available to the property owner prior to their completing and submitting a permit application.

Applications for pre-application meetings and individual permits are submitted through MiEnviro Portal. Additional information about the application process is available at EGLE/USACE Joint Permit Application. Once a permit application is received, EGLE staff review the application and visit the project site to assess the proposed impacts to the CDA. The status of all permit applications may be tracked at MiEnviro Portal. A valid permit may be transferred to a new property owner with the written permission of the current permittee. A request to transfer a permit is submitted in MiEnviro Portal.

Every application must include a completed online form, property owner authorization, property location, a permit from the local health department if proposing a new or replacement septic system, a soil erosion and sedimentation control permit or waiver from the local soil erosion and sedimentation control permitting agency, and a vegetation assurance. The proposed impact must be identified and quantified, and a site plan and cross-section submitted.

Submit your permit application in MiEnviro Portal
Event Schedule

Application Process

Some projects may require additional information for EGLE review. EGLE staff will communicate with you when the information is needed. Projects that are unable to meet the standard application review criteria of Part 353 must apply for a special exception. When necessary, EGLE may require an applicant to obtain a surety bond to ensure compliance with the permit.

Submitted applications for permit enter a 30-day administrative completeness period. During that time your application is reviewed to ensure the required information for a complete application has been submitted in MiEnviro Portal. If the application is not complete EGLE staff will put your application on hold and request the information from you. Once the application is complete the processing period begins. EGLE has 60 days to process your permit application. Projects requiring a public hearing have a 90 day processing period.

Additional information for your permit application

Application drawing showing construction criteria near the top of bluff of a critical dune.


If you are applying for a permit, you must submit a site plan and cross-section with your application. Take a look at the following examples to ensure all the necessary information is included on your plans before submitting them with your application.

Multiple paper cutouts of questions marks laid over a notebook and pen

Frequently Asked Questions

Many of our permit applications are for common projects, like building a home, installing a driveway, or removing sand from your property. We have created project-specific FAQ documents for your convenience.

Vegetation Assurance

By law, all permit applications must include a vegetation assurance. The assurance describes the existing vegetation on the site, the project impacts to the vegetation, seasonal issues, and special considerations such as threatened and endangered species and invasive species.

Additionally, the assurance addresses how the site stability will be maintained during and after construction and revegetation of the site.

See the sample vegetation assurance plan for more information. Your permit may require monitoring of restored sites after construction to ensure the plantings are stabilizing the site.

Frequently asked questions on vegetation assurance

Invasive Species Management

Invasive species are a major threat to the diversity, quality, and functions of the CDAs. Invasive species change the plant diversity of the dunes by displacing native plants which degrades the quality and function of the CDA. Trees hold land together and are a stabilizing force against erosion. Trees, such as hemlocks or oaks that die because of an invasive species no longer provide those long-term benefits to the function of the CDA.

Depending on the type of invasive species, a variety of management techniques may be used to control and manage their spread on your property and adjacent properties. You can work with your local Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area (CISMA) staff to address specific species found at your project site.

Michigan Invasive Species Program
a critical dune area in Allegan County Michigan
a critical dune area in Allegan County Michigan

Shifting Sands: Michigan's Critical Sand Dune Areas Story Map

Learn more about the regulation, diversity, quality, and functions of the largest freshwater dune system in the world on the Critical Dune Areas Story Map. Permit applicants can find information and resources on designing projects that preserve and enhance the critical dune area.