Responsible for its own problem
By Jeff Alexander,
CHRONICLE STAFF WRITE
If you create a problem, it's your responsibility
to fix it without creating another one.
That was the overriding message delivered Wednesday
when Michigan's top environmental official denied
Nugent Sand Co.'s
proposal to build a 600-foot
pipeline through a 4,000-year-old Lake Michigan dune.
Nugent was seeking a state permit to build the pipeline so it could discharge
million gallons per day of treated wastewater from its sand-cleaning process
Lake Michigan. Company officials said they needed the pipeline to lower the
water level in a manmade lake Nugent created at its mining site; the company wants
to build 65 homes around the lake in a development called Dune Harbor.
officials said they were surprised when the water level in the man-made
six feet after mining ceased on the south portion of its 440-acre site.
Chester, director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and
area native, called the company's alleged surprise a "red herring."
"Beneath Dune Harbor's position that the higher lake level was unexpected
the tacit acknowledgment that it failed to monitor the rising lake level,"
said in his ruling. "There is no excuse for this surprise.
the history of annual fluctuations (in water levels), given the importance of
lake levels to its (development) plans, given the ease of observing the lake level,
how Dune Harbor could fail to notice a six-foot increase in the lake level is
to fathom," Chester said.
Nugent owner Bob Chandonnet declined
to comment on Chester's order.
said he wanted to thoroughly review
the order before commenting on it.
Nugent could appeal Chester's ruling
in circuit court.
Environmental activists praised Chester's decision.
think it shows what the DEQ is more aware of environmental issues than it has
been in the past," said Jamie Morton, manager of outreach programs for the
Alliance for the Great Lakes.
Chester's ruling does not affect Nugent's ongoing
sand-mining operation. The
company is still mining the north portion of its property
and is seeking renewal
of a state permit that would allow mining to continue through
But the company's plan to lower the water level in the man-made lake
water to Lake Michigan is dead unless Nugent takes its case to court
Since Nugent created the lake, Chester said, the company
must solve the high
water problem on its own -- without building a pipeline that
a coastal dune protected by state law.
"It is unrefuted that
by its very scale, the project will fundamentally alter the
of the dune," Chester said in his 21-page ruling.
"I find, as a matter
of fact, the proposed project will likely cause an adverse impact
to the dune."
Chester offered a solution to Nugent's water woes: Build fewer houses around
lake. Chester said Nugent could build 48 homes around the lake, without lowering
the water level, and still earn a profit of between $900,000 and $1.9 million
"Such a development would eliminate any need to impact
the critical dune,"
Chester said in his ruling. "Dune Harbor can realize
the benefit of the
proposed alteration, residential development of the site, while
and ecology of the dune is assured."
During an earlier
hearing on the pipeline project, Chester said Nugent officials
the company expected to earn as much as $5 million by building 65
around the man-made lake.
Downsizing the Dune Harbor development would
not deny Nugent's right to
a reasonable use of its property, Chester said.
proposed pipeline sparked a fierce community controversy.
Many area residents
and officials from the cities of Muskegon, Muskegon Heights
and Norton Shores
expressed concern that Nugent's plan to discharge millions
of gallons of treated
process wastewater into Lake Michigan could pollute the
lake, which provides drinking
water for those communities. DEQ officials had said
the discharge would not pollute
Lake Michigan, but many area residents
Critics said the proposed pipeline -- which would have dumped water
treated wastewater from
Nugent's sand-cleaning process into a 1,925-square foot,
rock-filled plunge pool
on the Lake Michigan beach -- would have been an eyesore
and a potential hazard
to kids playing on the beach.
In his ruling, Chester said the proposed
pipeline project would not threaten human
health or public safety. But he said
the proposed plunge pool constituted a structure
and, as such, was prohibited
by state law from being constructed on the beach.
Nugent officials had argued
the plunge pool did not meet the legal definition of
critics called Chester's decision a watershed event in the annals of
County's environmental history.
"It's a great step forward for Muskegon.
We're finally protecting our environment
and taking a stand to protect the most
beautiful place on Earth," said Darlene
DeHudy, vice president of Muskegon
Save Our Shoreline.
©2006 Muskegon Chronicle
© 2006 Michigan Live. All Rights Reserved.