Michigan Senate votes to cut fees for breakwater walls on Great Lakes

LANSING, Mich. — Michigan would cut state fees assessed on homeowners who have wave-reducing break walls near the Great Lakes shoreline under legislation a divided Senate approved Wednesday.

The vote came 15 months after Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed another bill that would have lowered the payments. The sponsor, Republican Sen. Tom Casperson of Escanaba, said he has since reached an agreement with the state Department of Environmental Quality and the GOP governor on a new fee structure to use Great Lakes bottomlands for forming a private harbor exclusively for noncommercial recreational watercraft.

A DEQ spokeswoman confirmed that the agency worked with Casperson to find a fee structure that is “agreeable to both parties.” The measure would limit the charge for a 25-year breakwater lease to 1 percent of the property’s state equalized value.

Casperson said the existing fees “are pretty new,” can run up to $1,000 annually and are surprising property owners. One owner’s $500 yearly payment would drop to $29 a year under the measure, according to the nonpartisan Senate Fiscal Agency.

“The department went off on a mission and all of a sudden they see money coming in. It’s at the expense of the little guy out there,” Casperson said.

The legislation won approval 26-12, with all 11 Democrats and one Republican opposed. It was sent to the GOP-led House for consideration next.

Sen. Rebekah Warren, an Ann Arbor Democrat, criticized the bill, saying “it’s just not right” for people to put structures on publicly owned land – denying others access – without paying adequate fees. She unsuccessfully proposed an amendment to homeowners’ ability to remove the break walls, citing their negative impacts on aquatic ecosystems.

“If you live on the Great Lakes and you want to build on the bottomlands of the Great Lakes, you should do what we have always done, which is pay a permit fee for that use for your private enjoyment,” Warren said.

Casperson disputed contentions that breakwaters deflect waves in a manner that scours the lake bottom and increases water turbidity, hurting spawning areas and fostering invasive species.

“This really isn’t about the ecosystem and it really isn’t about whether or not they’re using bottomlands and they should be compensating for using it,” he said. “This is about an agenda of removing people from using the great outdoors. … We’re talking about small, little harbors.”

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