It's been more than a year since the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) reallocated resources to expedite shoreline protection permits where public health or critical infrastructure are in jeopardy.
With Great Lakes water levels reaching historic highs, the number of applications for shoreline permits has continued to grow. For Fiscal Year 2020 (Oct. 1, 2019, to Sept. 30, 2020), EGLE approved 2,284 shoreline protection permits, a three-fold increase from Fiscal Year 2019 when 734 permits were approved.
Great Lakes water levels have been high in the past and they will be high again. It's important that state and local governments look in the future at the policies that affect Michigan's Great Lakes shorelines. As EGLE approves individual shoreline armoring proposals that are necessary to save homes and critical infrastructure, the department at the same time recognizes that armoring has long-term negative consequences. Moving homes or other infrastructure may be the best way to go.
To handle the jump in applications, EGLE has diverted resources from other programs to assist property owners, local governments and technical professionals in processing permits. What could be a 60-90 day process has been cut by a half or two-thirds.
The average time it has taken staff to process and issue a Part 325 permit in Fiscal Year 2020 was 29 days. Approximately 70 percent of shoreline protection permits were issued within 30 days. The average number of days to decide on a permit application after it's considered to be complete — meaning all the required documentation and paperwork has been submitted — was 14 days.
"A lot goes into vetting a shoreline permit application and how quickly we were able to process such a huge volume of permits is a testament to the dedication our Water Resources Division staff have for making sure homes and infrastructure are protected from the impacts of record high water levels. I could not be more proud of the effort and resourcefulness our staff have shown over the past year," said Jerrod Sanders, assistant director of EGLE's Water Resources Division.
In Fiscal Year 2020, 89 percent of the Part 325 permit applications that EGLE received were for shoreline protection, compared to 75 percent in Fiscal Year 2019.
"Water levels are expected to remain high in the near future and EGLE does not want to stand in the way of property owners protecting their homes," Sanders said. "Still, our department's mission is to protect natural resources, so we need to make sure that critical shoreline resources are not adversely impacted by protective measures.
If Michiganders want to continue to have the beautiful beaches and dunes that make the state's shorelines special, everyone at all levels need to think about alternative ways to plan and protect coastal development. That can range from moving homes, roads or other infrastructure from the water's edge to considering and adopting more effective long-term strategies and master planning.
Michigan's Coastal Management Program has been helping local governments to plan for coastal resiliency for more than 40 years. There has been a notable difference in impacts in communities that have put a coastal management plan in place, and those that haven't. The program has never been more important than it is right now, and EGLE's Coastal Management Program staff is ready to help communities put plans in place to be more resilient during the next high-water crisis.
Local governments that would like help with proactive coastal planning can contact Michigan Coastal Management Program supervisor Ronda Wuycheck at firstname.lastname@example.org 517-420-5921.
Property owners with questions about high water and erosion issues should contact EGLE's Environmental Assistance Center at 800-662-9278 between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, or by email to EGLE-Assist@Michigan.gov.
EGLE's high water webpage offers information about permitting, water levels, inland lakes and contractors as well as recordings of public webinars related to high water levels.