The erroneous EGLE permit

In December 2020, the State of Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy granted Scott and Debra Law a permit to construct the boathouse, boat basin and channel, with seawalls lining the entire basin and channel. (The Laws had submitted a joint permit application to the state and federal governments the previous July). No public hearing was held. Nowhere in the narrative of the application did the Laws describe the project as including a dining and event facility on the second floor of the “boathouse.” The Laws answered the questions correctly, however, about where their proposed structures would be in relation to the Ordinary High Water Mark: Below it. In fact, the majority of the building would be over the expanded waters of Lake Charlevoix, which is also “Waters of the United States.” Only Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council submitted any comments, although several agencies were noticed, including Charlevoix County Planning Commission (whose chair was Ron Van Zee, Hayes Township Supervisor) and the Lake Charlevoix Association (whose chair was Tom Darnton, the Hayes ZBA Chair).

In June 2022, the US Army Corps of Engineers issued a federal permit to the Laws. The Corps’ approval was conditional on having a valid state permit. Because the Laws modified their plans with the Army Corps, a modified permit would also be needed from EGLE.

But there’s a problem. In winter/spring 2022, EGLE District Supervisor Joe Haas reviewed the permit file and determined that the permit was issued in error. That’s right. In error. The written proof arrived via a Freedom of Information Act request for documents on May 31. We sent it to the US Army Corps and urged they deny the permit. But the Army Corps had  just “proffered” the federal permit to the Laws. We wrote Army Corps again to not countersign or issue the final permit, given this information from EGLE, but the agency granted the permit anyway.

Haas wrote the permit was “atypical,” with a boathouse “over newly created public trust waters.”  He continued: “It is a bad EGLE permit not sure how to say that publicly or what that would mean.” And: “We will likely to continue to hear reverberations of this bad and incorrectly reviewed permit. We likely haven’t heard the last of this.” Specifically, Haas said his staffer Scott Rasmussen failed to do proper environmental review, by answering many questions incorrectly. One example, Haas corrected that the project would adversely affect the public trust by dredging the lake, “we should not be permitting cuts with permanent structures over them” and the activity would not have “minimal adverse” effects, but rather the project would have “cumulative and perpetual ongoing impacts with maintenance dredge requirements and likely to be requested.”

He concludes “I am not able to defend this decision.”

"incorrect decision making"

Permit application narrative

Permit issued in 2020

"Section C" of the Laws' submitted plans, with comments and markings in color highlighting location of Ordinary High Water Mark (OHWM).