Just a few years ago, property owners on the shorelines of the Great Lakes took measures to protect their property from high water levels. Many people installed sandbags, usually at significant cost. The sandbags were often permitted under Part 353, Sand Dunes Protection and Management, or Part 325, Great Lakes Submerged Lands, of Michigan’s Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act. The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) is now requiring the removal of those sandbags, including issuing some property owners a Notice of Violation (NOV) if they have not yet removed the sandbags.
EGLE’s actions in requiring the removal of sandbags has drawn criticism from many property owners. One obvious concern is that the removal of the sandbags may cause more damage to dunes and the environment than simply leaving them in place. Some property owners question the feasibility of removing sandbags, especially those that have been buried by sand or that have sunk below the surface. In some situations, structures (such as steps) have been built over sandbags. Others have concerns that water levels may rise again or that the sandbags are still actively protecting their property from eroding due to the unique geographic features of their property.
What makes the situation particularly ironic (and bothersome) for some property owners is that they did not want the sandbags in the first place. Some property owners sought permits for structures such as sea walls that would have permanently protected their property, even though such structures are far more expensive than sandbags. But EGLE denied some of those requests and instead told the property owners to install the purportedly less intrusive sandbags. Now EGLE is requiring the removal of the very solution it preferred, even though removal will certainly require disruption to the dunes while property owners with sea walls are allowed to keep their structures.