State Rescinds Grant Request For Funds To Help Purchase McClendon Property
Efforts to preserve a large section of pristine Lake Michigan duneland hit a stumbling block after the state withdrew a $500,000 grant request to help buy 150 acres.
The state’s Natural Resources Trust Fund Board on Wednesday, Dec. 3 was to consider whether to approve a $500,000 grant as seed money for land owned by Oklahoma businessman Aubrey McClendon.
But written communication that stated the land was not for sale prompted the Department of Natural Resources to withdraw the grant request.
“It’s disappointing to a lot of folks,” said Steve DeBrabander of the DNR grants management section. “But who knows what the future will bring.”
Conservationists have long eyed about 300 acres McClendon owns north of the Saugatuck channel. They see the land as a natural complement to 171 acres directly south of the channel purchased in 2009 for $19 million and now preserved.
But McClendon seems prepared to move forward with a housing and development project called Singapore Dunes, featuring 18 high-end home sites.
Work already has begun on building a road to the sites, but no other construction has happened.
Officials with the Land Conservancy of West Michigan earlier this year launched an effort to gauge possible support from private donors to buy the land north of the channel.
The result, announced in October, was that $7.5 million could be secured at that point if the state also made a commitment.
McClendon in the past was asking $40 million for the entire 300 acres.
Vaughn Maatman, director of the Land Conservancy, said the next step for conservationists is unclear.
“I think we have to have some conversations with our public and private partners to answer those questions,” he said.
“This really changes things,” he said of McClendon’s letter about the land’s status.
“Will the seller change his mind down the road? And are private donors willing to hang in there and commit to a project with a longer term? We don’t know,” Maatman said.
The DNR’s application to the Natural Resources Trust Fund Board involved about half of the 300 acres and looked toward a public-private partnership to pay for the land.
Maatman said the McClendon property, as an acquisition, scored the second-highest on a Trust Fund ratings scale among all projects being considered for funding.