News Story

State Tells Landowners: Sandbags Along Great Lakes OK — For Now

Agency suspends permit mandate that usually takes up to 90 days

Property owners along Michigan’s Great Lakes shorelines who are suffering from erosion due to high water levels have been granted modest and temporary relief from state environmental regulations.

In a revised rule issued Nov. 15, the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy said it will allow people to deploy sandbag barriers “where there is a risk to structures, human health and safety” through a process that circumvents a lengthy and expensive permitting regime.

Permits which customarily would require public notice, a 60-90 day turnaround and fees as high as $1,000 can now be obtained in less than 10 days for about $100, EGLE spokesman Nick Assendelft said.

Assendelft characterized the revised policy as a stopgap measure for “people in jeopardy.” He emphasized that property owners will ultimately be required to remove the bags or seek more permanent erosion control measures, such as riprap or seawall barriers.

The expedited permits are intended to be used along Great Lakes shorelines — where water levels are at their highest since 1986 — not inland lakes or rivers, he said. Permits are not required to deploy sandbags for emergency uses to address exigent flooding, Assendelft said.

The policy revision provides some respite from a welter of state and federal regulations that outline permissible activity along Great Lakes shorelines, requirements that are intended to protect natural features and water quality.

Guidelines for construction or alterations in so-called critical dune areas along the lakes are especially stringent. But even people using sandbags temporarily are cautioned to follow detailed instructions about where and how they deploy them.

Sandbags are to be “filled with clean sand from an upland source ... or ... from open dune areas (free of vegetation)” in critical dune areas, and “sand from bottomland dredging is not authorized,” according to the revised regulation.