A split Michigan Senate voted Thursday to let homeowners and others with property along the Great Lakes temporarily install structures to combat erosion from record-high water levels without needing a state permit.
The legislation, which cleared the Republican-led chamber on a party-line 22-16 vote, was sent to the GOP-controlled House for future consideration.
The sponsor, Republican Sen. Roger Victory of Hudsonville, told a Senate committee last week that people should be able to save their homes “without red tape.”
The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy announced in October that it was expediting permits for actions such as placing rocks or building seawalls to prevent erosion, so they are issued in a matter of days if homes or infrastructure are at risk. The agency said that in most cases, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also needs to approve applications.
Victory said residents told him that the state’s expedited permitting process is “not very quick,” and that the department “was trying but coming up short.”
Under the bill, a permit would not be required for construction of a temporary erosion-control structure if certain conditions were met. The property owner would have a year-and-a-half to apply for a permit for a permanent structure to replace or remove the temporary structure. The temporary structure would have to be removed within three months if the application were denied.
Officials from the department, which opposes the bill, told lawmakers last week that they take the issue “extremely seriously” and are working to help homeowners during a “very trying time.” Steps including rotating regulators from other areas to help with permits and authorizing overtime pay.
Spokesman Nick Assendelft said Thursday the agency often turns around completed shoreline work permits within a couple of days.
“Regulatory oversight through the permitting process is critical to protecting people and natural resources,” he said. “That oversight includes approval of which materials are used, how they are used and what the impact will be on neighbors, the Great Lakes and in many cases critical dunes.”
Democrats and environmental groups also opposed the bill.
The Michigan Environmental Council said it would let people make drastic and in some cases permanent changes to the Great Lakes shoreline without oversight, threatening the long-term viability of coastal communities.