By Rosemary K. Otzman
Some of the residents in the 96 condominium units at Bayshore are going to have to get creative in finding a way to get their boats into Belleville Lake this summer.
That’s what Van Buren Township’s Planning and Economic Development interim Director Arthur Mullen told them.
Seven Bayshore residents attended the April 17 meeting of the Van Buren Township Environmental Commission to find out the latest on their shore stabilization and boardwalk construction project and proposed docks. The project currently is being held up by requirements of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission [FERC].
Mullen said a meeting was held on April 11 with MDEQ, Bayshore representatives, and township officials to see if a workable solution is available to allow for the replacement of docks for the 2013 boating season. They found that is not possible.
“Trust me. I didn’t want this to happen,” Mullen said. “The residents want to use the lake. There is a lot of worry and fear about it.”
He said the residents may be able to move boats around to use about one-third of the docks still intact for this summer, with the plan to be able to use the lake completely next summer.
Mullen said when he was hired in mid-February he was advised that Bayshore was an important issue.
A permitted project to replace the boardwalk in front of the units started last fall, he said.
The township has to give a letter of support to the MDEQ as part of the process and former Director Terry Carroll gave a letter and work began. The work included gabian baskets and boardwalk work as the first phase of the approved project.
Phase two included angle docks, but permission for them to be removed and constructed has to go to FERC for approval because of the dam.
Docks were removed prior to the issuance of a letter and permit. After discussion with the state, all work was ordered to cease until further notice from the state.
Mullen said in 2010, the MDEQ and Bayshore’s contractor met at the site and MDEQ clearly told them they need permits for removal and replacement of docks.
The 2011 approval does not include that language, Mullen said. They were trying to get ready for 2013 and the township cannot give an approval letter contrary to FERC.
“As of last week, there’s nothing we can do,” Mullen said. “We cannot approve a letter that will put us in jeopardy of a $10,000 a day fine.”
Mullen said FERC said it will make a site visit sometime this summer.
“We can prepare all the documents and present them to FERC,” Mullen said, adding construction could start this coming winter and they can have docks for their boating next year.
At issue is FERC’s requirement that the township can’t allow more than one ten-boat dock on a single family residential parcel without FERC approval. Although residents in the 96 Bayshore family units each have deeds to their properties, FERC seems to be considering the complex eligible for only one dock with 10 slips.
The township is not able to provide Bayshore with the necessary approval letter to allow MDEQ to issue the permit for their dock project until everything is straightened out.
Mullen said the township and the French Landing Dam operator could be liable for significant fines from FERC, like $10,000 per day.
Trustee Jeff Jahr, who sits on the Environmental Commission, said the situation hasn’t really been explained, but township can approve up to 10 docks and then the approval goes to MDEQ and on up to FERC.
“We have no standards,” he said. “We have to have standards … We have to find out the reason for 10 docks…,” he said.
Mullen said his understanding is that a lot of parcels near dams are in Appalachia and Out West and the federal laws are made with them in mind.
Mullen said the process involves getting the request to federal and state agencies, including U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the Michigan Historic Preservation Commission, who have 30 days to act on it, and then it goes to FERC. He said he doesn’t believe FERC will object.
“As long as we’re happy they’re happy,” Mullen said of FERC. “It’s about a six-month review by FERC. It’s not handicapping anything, but it’s a longer process. The rule was developed when the dam was established.”
Bayshore is in a cove in the west end of Belleville Lake, six miles from the dam, and residents said their docks wouldn’t interfere with dam operation.
Tom Buckley, Bayshore president, said Mullen and Supervisor Linda Combs have been excellent to deal with and their efforts are appreciated.
He said FERC caught Bayshore on their “blind side” in considering the complex as “single-type residential.” He said each unit has a parcel number and all 96 family units have one wall in common.
He said two years ago they hired a contractor to stabilize the shoreline. There are 12 buildings and the whole project was to stabilize the banks and the boardwalk and the docks became a secondary issue. He said it has been 30 years since the complex was built.
He said in the beginning they couldn’t seek a permit for the docks because there was no design yet. So, no permit application was made.
MDEQ permitted 2,050 feet of shoreline stabilization for the whole cove, Buckley said. He said they talked to the contractor and came up with uniform dock designs and changed the bylaws to put the association in ownership of the docks rather than each individual unit.
“Everything was on their desk but the letter of authorization from the township. It was the only thing missing,” Buckley said.
Mullen complimented Bayshore for planning for a uniform look on the docks, which is good for the township.
“We appreciate your efforts and apologize for what’s happening,” Mullen said. “We hit the wall for this year and I want to get it done for next year.”
One of the Bayshore residents pointed out Bayshore is not a marina and not renting out any dock space. There are limitations to marinas on a lake.
“I want to make sure you are not [considered] a marina” so that won’t damage Harbour Club around the bay and if the township wishes to have a marina at Van Buren Park, as has been discussed, Mullen said.
“The Belleville Yacht Club is going to be a marina – can’t get around it,” Mullen said. (In the minutes of the Dec. 19 commission meeting, former Director Carroll said permission for the 20-plus docks for Belleville Yacht Club was issued as a seasonal permit, not requiring an authorization letter.)
Mullen said he has been trying to figure out a way to get boating for Bayshore this summer, “without a bunch of disgruntled boaters coming in and yelling at my boss.”
“Ninety-six, to be exact,” Buckley said.
At the Dec. 19 meeting of the Environmental Commission, 23 people from Bayshore attended to discuss their problems with getting their docks back in place. It was a raucous meeting and Chairman Brownlee cut off the long discussion when people started talking and asking questions over each other and debating among themselves.
Also discussed at the April 17 meeting was the Ad Hoc Lake Ordinance Working Committee that was formed in January to put together a lake ordinance. The ordinance was a pressing project due to FERC requirements, court cases, and the need to regulate uses on township-owned lake bottom lands and “gap” lands.
Members of the Environmental Commission, Planning Commission, and Board of Trustees serve on the committee.
Once a draft is complete, a group of lake users and lakefront property owners will be invited to provide their feedback to the preliminary draft.
Mullen said this information will be compiled and then larger public meetings will be held prior to the formal adoption proceedings.
“Our lake is big, but not that big,” Mullen said, adding that overloading the lake would not be good.
A Bayshore resident said, “If people buy lakefront property, they expect to have a dock.”
Trustee Jahr asked if people buy a 20’ easement to the lake, are they entitled to put a boat dock in? The committee is considering this, he said.
“This committee is just kicking things around and will come back to this body and the planning commission and township board,” Jahr said.
Mullen said they will bring their ideas to the people to find out what they forgot or left out. He said there will be lots of people helping with getting the ordinance together.
Jahr said the Bayshore issue didn’t influence starting work on the ordinance and it was started before Bayshore became a problem.
Mullen said the township is not waiting for approval of this ordinance, which will take four to six months, before making the application for Bayshore.
“The township will proceed with the application ahead of the ordinance,” Mullen said.
Quirk Drain Clearance
The committee also discussed the Quirk Drain clearance project in the area of Ryznar Drive and Denton Road by the South I-94 Service Drive.
Mullen said representatives of the township met with county staff and Matt Best offered to meet with the property owners along the Quirk Drain inlet into Belleville Lake, which he did on April 2. Best suggested the homeowners establish a Special Assessment District to fund the dredging work in their inlet.
Best also recommended the property owners petition the Wayne County Drain Board to complete a repair project at the same time. This work will help to reduce the amount of sediment that flows down the drain during a wet-weather event.
In another matter, Mullen said Ypsilanti Township had VBT representatives over about four weeks ago to talk about their plan of taking out the Tyler Dam to save the cost of maintaining the dam.
The committee discussed the landfills in that area and what contaminants might end up pouring into Belleville Lake.
By Rosemary K. Otzman