Michigan DEQ Says McClendon's Company Will Get Road Permit For His Development
A controversial development that’s proposed on 300 acres of critical duneland in Saugatuck is likely to get the state permit it needs to get the project rolling. The parcel has been at the center of a years-long legal battle.
Environmentalists wanted the state’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to reject the permit.
But DEQ Director Dan Wyant says the project is permitted under state law, with certain conditions.
“We anticipate in short order that the details of the permit will be developed and the permit will be offered,” Wyant said.
The DEQ decision marks the latest victory for developer Aubrey McClendon and his company Singapore Dunes LLC which is planning to build homes and condos on a portion of the former Denison property located along Lake Michigan.
The DEQ sent a letter dated January 6 to the developer outlining the conditions required to get the permit.
“We’ll wait and see what the response is from all sides on this but we wanted to be transparent, we wanted to be forthcoming about the decision given that it’s been in the news,” Wyant said.
Wyant notes the developer will be able to build only 17 homes - not as many as he’d like. He’ll have to replace more native plants and better secure the shifting sand dunes to make way for an access road. He’ll also have to give up eight acres of land to the state or a land conservancy to protect rare wetlands that have formed inside the critical dunes.
Environmentalists are not pleased with state regulators’ decision.
Nicholas Occhipinti is with the West Michigan Environmental Action Council.
“We’re happy the DEQ took such serious consideration of the issue,” Occhipinti said, “But this is a really precious, really globally unique treasure. It’s really time to come together as a community and look at what we can do together to preserve this.”
There’s been talk for a while about someone or some group buying the land to put in a public trust or conservancy. The entire parcel has been listed for sale since August. So far, no one has come up with the $40 million sale price.
“Certainly from WMEAC’s perspective it increases our interest in getting it done,” Occhipinti said.
The Saugatuck Dunes Coastal Alliance issued this written statement:
“We are disappointed with the intention of the DEQ to approve a “road to nowhere” that ignores the scientific evidence attesting to the devastating and irreversible damage it will cause to this globally rare and fragile dune system. The additional conditions required to be met by the developer are inadequate to protect this natural resource.
“We are disappointed and frankly baffled by the DEQ’s failure to consider this development project in its entirety. By cutting the project into little unconnected pieces, it creates greater potential for future conflicts with homeowners while seriously degrading the natural resource.
“The Coastal Alliance is evaluating our next steps with our attorneys. Along with our many committed partners, we will continue to vigorously advocate for the protection of these Saugatuck dunelands which are uniquely valuable to this regional community, the State of Michigan and the world.”
DEQ officials said Swan and his group tried to “swamp” the agency with letters, telephone calls and visits in an effort to sway the decision. “But the law is clear…they (Singapore Dunes LLC) are permitted to proceed with the project under state law.”
Stephen Neumer, the attorney who represents Singapore Dunes LLC, said he was gratified - but not surprised - by the DEQ decision.
“We are very pleased. The working relationship with the DEQ was very positive and cooperative. We adjusted the permit application in major ways.”
Asked for examples of those ‘major ways,’ he provided two.
“One is we eliminated one of 19 lots; we are down to 18 lots at the beach.” He said that meant giving up “a couple of million dollars.”
“And two, we changed the road design to completely avoid the wetlands.”
Neumer said the U.S. EPA had earlier ruled - after reviewing a revised permit application draft from Singapore Dunes LLC - that the planned development would not impact wetlands on the property.
To ensure those interdunal wetlands remain protected, Neumer also said seven to eight acres of the property containing them would be put into a conservation easement.
Next up, said Neumer, is “We finish up with the DEQ and get our permit and proceed to commence construction of the road.
“We will also start working on Phase II in the marina district, at the Old Broward factory, with the (Saugatuck Township) Planning Commission for a PUD.”
Earlier plans for a golf course for the area have been taken out, added Neumer.
Asked what he thought the Saugatuck Dunes Coastal Alliance would try next to impede or halt the development plan, Neumer declined comment, saying, “We’re just moving forward. The law is on our side and always has been.”
The recent DEQ decision marks the latest in a long succession of defeats for the Coastal Alliance which has unsuccessfully tried numerous public relations, governmetal and legal avenues in an attempt to keep the McClendon property from being developed.