Our Opposition to the Michigan Department of
Natural Resources Proposed Boat Launch Site
By Paul J. Sniadecki
Eagle Lake Improvement Association, Inc.
In the Spring of 2012, The Eagle Lake Improvement Association, INC (ELIA) heard ‘rumors” of the DNR’s keen interest in acquiring a 7.01 +/- acre parcel on the East Side of Eagle Lake, Ontwa Township, Cass County, Michigan, which is just north of the Indiana Border and Elkhart/South Bend, Indiana. Their reported intent was to construct a boat launch facility. That action by the Michigan DNR is what motivates us to share our story. This is the first in a series of articles that will chronicle how the DNR has conducted itself in the process, how our Lake Association attempted to reason with the DNR, provide periodic updates on the acquisition process, and highlight many glaring disconnects that point to serious shortcomings in the DNR approach to such acquisitions and development.
In Part 1, we will cover some history about the Eagle Lake situation, as well a summary of what has happened to date, and what steps we await currently.
Eagle, one of eight (8) such “Eagles” in Michigan, is 379 acre lake that was expanded to over 400 acres due to numerous “key-holing” channels that were created from 1930 through as recently as 1991. The lake is densely developed, with an extensive hardened perimeter of sea walls, and an average lot width at the shoreline of about 50 feet. Over 315 homes and cottages surround the lake. The lake has several Public Road End Access points, and one Road Commission launch without any parking spaces. There was a long-standing tavern/restaurant on the eastside known as THE DOCK, which ceased operations a few years ago. The property was then acquired by a developer who set-out to construct a Site Condominium Development with 48+ condo units, complete with “marina” type docks providing mooring for 50+ water craft. Based on legal actions pursued by ELIA, and about three years of hearings and tens of thousands of dollars in legal expenses incurred by ELIA, the Circuit Court rejected the developer’s plans, and he went bankrupt. The bank, which had issued an approximate 2 million dollar loan on the property, foreclosed in 2010-2011, and is now trying to recover some of its original cash outlay. A few initial inquiries by private investors did not progress and it appears the bank then approached the DNR about acquiring the property. So, Eagle Lake, THE DOCK property, and the DNR became connected by chance, not by choice.
We discussed the rumored DNR interest at the ELIA Annual Meeting in May 2012. During the meeting the membership compiled a list of pros and cons about such a DNR purchase. There were about five positive points, while the Flip chart column of “negatives” filled two (2) pages. High on the list of negatives was Eagle’s long history of infestation with exotic species. The lake was the first in Michigan to encounter Zebra Mussels, and was one of the first to received Eurasian Water Milfoil (EWM). The lake is also one of the first to have genetically documented “Hybrid” EWM and also has an expanding Curly Leaf Pond Weed area. “Carrying Capacity” was another listed drawback because whether the calculations used was 20 acres or 7 acres, per water craft on the water, the lake was significantly overcrowded on weekends, with near-miss accidents a common occurrence. We also listed the fact that Eagle already HAD several public access points. We further outlined the many Zoning and Master Plan incompatibilities. Because our Lake Association’s mission is to provide “stewardship” for the health of the lake and surrounding community, we met with the DNR field people in the Fall of 2012. We shared our extensive “list of concerns” and attempted to obtain feedback how these concerns would be evaluated by the DNR. We never received a detailed response. All the DNR would say was they “…would keep us advised.” Subsequently the ELIA “list of concerns” did not deter the DNR process, for on April 4, 2013, the DNR entered into an “option” to purchase the THE DOCK property pursuant to Michigan Act 210 and Act 451, Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act.
This just begins our story. There is more to share that should interest any Michigan resident, especially Riparians. Future articles will provide detailed reporting on how the DNR handled this “option” and the outcomes of the many hearing we will be participating in.
EDITOR’s NOTE: This newsletter recently published a yearlong series of 2012 General Election focused articles by Paul concerning how Riparians need to influence the local election process. That series was well received by readers. In this next series, Paul will cover a very real concern for inland lakes.