On Monday, August 26, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality convened a public hearing at the Saugatuck High School Auditorium, in order to receive views and information from the public regarding proposed roadwork by Singapore Dunes, LLC. Singapore Dunes proposes to relocate, widen, and extend an access road and construct utilities that would serve a Phase 1 development consisting of nineteen single-family lots and a potential, unspecified Phase 2 development. The public hearing was restricted to the impact of the road on wetlands and dunes protection, in order to contribute to the department’s determination of whether or not the issuance of a permit for the road would be “in the public interest.”
The MDEQ staff conducted a well-organized and informative hearing. Approximately 120 persons attended, with thirty-five making prepared statements regarding the Singapore Dunes permit application. Thirty urged that the permit be denied, four spoke in favor of the proposed roadwork, and one appealed for civic goodwill.
Many of the most important arguments in opposition to the road construction permit are available in recent issues of the S.O.S. Dunes News, and I urge readers to review that information and send their comments to the DEQ, Water Resources Division, via email to firstname.lastname@example.org before September 5. Points made at the public hearing included:
• The road would fragment a naturally interconnected ecosystem and threaten plants such as Pitcher’s thistle and birds such as the prairie warbler.
• Expansion of the road from a long driveway ranging from eight to eleven feet wide into a twenty-foot roadway with a thirty-six foot base, buried utilities, and fire hydrants would have a negative impact on wetlands and dunes.
• Such infrastructure would have negative impact well beyond its explicit dimensions, since the site is part of a naturally interconnected ecosystem and adjoins the Saugatuck Dunes State Park.
• The road would imperil significant archaeological and historical sites, including the historic town of Singapore and its cemetery.
• The Saugatuck – Douglas community master plan has identified the importance of these natural areas for the local economy, tourism, and outdoor recreation. The public interest is best served by recognizing that this irreplaceable set of natural resources draws both talented new residents and visitors to the area.
• A representative of the West Michigan Environmental Action Council pointed out that negative environmental consequences of the road would continue long after the construction phase, since the destroyed trees and plants would take years to replace and the maintenance of the roads, for example plowing and salting, would have an on-going impact.
• Removal of 500 trees and their root systems would seriously affect the wetlands water system, the habitat for wildlife, and the structure of the dunes system.
I would like to add three comments of my own, regarding the public hearing. First, Singapore Dunes has filed an application for permit that is too narrowly defined to be the basis for any sound judgment about the environmental impact of the Singapore Dunes project. This road is not “the road to nowhere.” And if the MDEQ intends to consider the road in isolation, then the road clearly is not in the public interest since on that narrow interpretation it serves no purpose whatever. More realistically, this proposed road is the basic transportation access to a two-phase development project, much of which is currently unspecified. The overall environmental impact of this development could be devastating to the natural environment, the archaeological sites, and the tourism-based economy of the region. Furthermore, if the larger development falls through, the road project on its own would be left behind as a needless and negative environmental blight.
Second, the property listed as Singapore Dunes is now up for sale. A representative of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality stated at the public hearing that this fact was not among the criteria that would be used in determining whether or not to approve the permit application. Nonetheless, the obvious lack of commitment to the community demonstrated by the current owner and the uncertainty of the commitments of any potential owner raise extremely serious questions about the future of irreplaceable natural resources that would be better preserved if they were added to the adjacent state park.
Third, the same MDEQ representative also stated that the department had verified the size of the wetlands that would be impacted by the road “based on conditions at the time.” The estimate of the extent of a wetland according to its size at a given point in time seems scientifically inadequate. Surely, many factors over an extended time, including water levels in Lake Michigan, influence the extent of wetlands and, consequently, the environmental impact of road construction should be evaluated in relation to a scale based on several decades of observation. Astronomers do not walk outside one evening, see that the moon is a crescent, and conclude that is how it always looks.