Controversial wetlands legislation gets scaled back by state Legislature

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News
An Upper Peninsula road commission lost an appeal over a wetlands dispute.

Lansing — A scaled-back plan to deregulate small Michigan wetlands, streams and inland lakes emerged from the Legislature Friday following an all-night session on the final day of lame duck.

The new version of the controversial bill has gained the support of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and brought some environmental groups to neutral on the bill, said House GOP spokesman Gideon D’Assandro.

Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, introduced the legislation to redefine wetlands and limit MDEQ oversight. Casperson said the changes were needed to preserve property rights and prevent overly punitive rules and fines.

What started in the Senate as a bill that would exempt wetlands on 10 acres, was winnowed down to five acres, and narrowed still further under the House substitute from Rep. Triston Cole, R-Mancelona.

Cole’s changes would add a subcategory of protected wetlands within the five-acre exemption that would include rare or imperiled wetlands. It would maintain federal environmental standards as the floor in federally protected waterways and change the definition of contiguous waterways to exempt more waterways from the five-acre exemption.

The legislation requires the DEQ to cite specific provisions with which the application does not comply and make suggestions for changes when denying a permit.

The bill also alters the conditions under which a DEQ employee may enter someone's property to include through a search warrant, with the consent of the property owner, in the event of an imminent threat to the environment or public health, or if the wetland is a water of the U.S. 

Other environmental agencies that are now neutral on the bill include the Michigan Environmental Council, Michigan United Conservation Clubs, Ducks Unlimited and The Nature Conservancy.

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