EPA Objects To Proposed McClendon Property Access Road; Moot Point, Says Bruinsma
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says it objects to the McClendon property’s proposed access road because of its potential impact to wetlands, but the property owner’s legal counsel contends the EPA’s disapproval is grounded on information that was out-of-date and therefore irrelevant.
“The objection filed by the EPA on the proposed McClendon road echoes many of the same concerns raised by the Coastal Alliance,” David Swan of the Saugatuck Dunes Coastal Alliance (SDCA), the group long opposed to Oklahoma City natural gas magnate Aubrey McClendon’s development proposals, told Observer Newspapers recently.
McClendon’s land company, Singapore Dunes LLC, is asking the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) for a permit to relocate, widen and extend an existing access road to serve the proposed development on the 130-acre duneland.
The proposed access road is 20 feet wide and nearly two miles long and is to traverse state regulated critical dunes and wetlands.
“The applicant must describe alternative sites and/or site configurations, the resulting impacts, and whether such alternatives are available and capable of being done,” states the EPA’s November 7 letter to the DEQ.
The letter was signed by Tinka Hyde, EPA Water Division Director of Chicago.
In the letter, the EPA informs the DEQ that it objects to its issuance of an access road permit.
“Interdunal wetlands are ranked by MNFI (the Michigan Natural Features Inventory) as both globally imperiled and state imperiled. Such wetlands are also known to fluctuate hydrologically based on Great Lakes water-levels…
“Because of this high hydrologic variability, EPA recommends a wide buffer around the interdunal wetlands to protect the complete wetland resources in a year when Lake Michigan water-levels are high,” wrote Tinka.
But it is all a mute point, says James Bruinsma, legal counsel to Singapore Dunes.
“We have already addressed all of the concerns of the DEQ even before that notification was issued,” said Bruinsma. “We met with the DEQ and Greg Janik (fire chief of the Saugatuck Township Fire District) on October 25 and made substantial modifications to address all of the concerns regarding wetlands…
“The EPA assumes that there is going to be dredging and filling of wetlands and there is no dredging or filling of wetland as the application now stands before the DEQ.”
He went on to note there are two statutes his client’s road application is subject to, one from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, a section of which deals with critical dunes, and the other from the EPA regarding the section concerning wetland areas.
The SDCA, however, is not so convinced.
“The (recent) settlement (lawsuit settlement over the township’s critical dune overlay district) has no bearing on the DEQ decision regarding McClendon’s proposed road that would bring in over 10,000 10-wheel dump trucks of fill, cut down over 500 trees, and negatively impact the globally imperiled interdunal wetlands,” Swan said.
Bruinsma further expressed concerns about the November 7 EPA notification which he said Singapore Dunes never received a copy of.
“We learned about the letter not from the EPA, not from the DEQ, it was disseminated by a third-party advocate,” he said referring to how the SDCA got a copy of it.
“It seems to me that an application review going from one agency to another agency should not first go through a newspaper or a third-party advocate (before the applicant receives it),” he added.