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Saugatuck – Developers of high-end homes in the Lake Michigan sand dunes are using a 114-year-old document in a legal dispute against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Holland residents Jeff and Peg Padnos, operating under North Shores of Saugatuck LLC, filed a quiet title action this month against the federal agency. They’re working toward developing 23 homes near Saugatuck Dunes State Park, some of which would be built on Lake Michigan dune grass while others are to be constructed along the Kalamazoo River.

The developers are arguing that the Army Corps violated a century-old agreement by extending its right-of-way after rebuilding walls along the channel between the Kalamazoo River and Lake Michigan eight years ago. The 1904 document in question is a deed between former property owner Marguerite Cook and the Army Corps, which allowed them to create the Kalamazoo River channel.

The walls and channel have encouraged tourist access to Saugatuck.

“Well, it’s important to the three communities that are here and that includes the harbor area also,” Saugatuck Township Clerk Brad Rudrich said of the structures.

The Corps’ extension of its right-of-way up to 45 feet inland from the walls is keeping the Padnoses from developing seven lots for homes that start at $1.5 million. The Corps’ property inland from the retaining walls interferes with the planned development, according to the filing.

The action asks a judge to clarify ownership of property that abuts the channel.

Army Corps representative Tom O’Bryan said the retaining walls are “important for navigation” and the channel could be in danger if the agency doesn’t have the space necessary to access the walls.

He and a public affairs specialist have said that the Army Corps isn’t yet aware of the filing.

The Army Corps has a month to respond to the suit.

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