Alliance pitches, owner disputes alternative boat basin plan
By Scott Sullivan
The Saugatuck Dunes Coastal Alliance Tuesday unveiled publicly what members call a practicable alternative to NorthShore of Saugatuck LLC’s proposed boat basin north of the Kalamazoo River channel leading to Lake Michigan.
NorthShore, seeking a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit to start excavation, called the nonprofit land preservation group’s plans for its land deficient and one more example of the Alliance’s “death by 1,000 paper cuts” strategy of forestalling building until the owner is bled dry economically.
NorthShore, whose principal is Holland businessman Jeff Padnos, needs a USACE permit to excavate a boat basin roughly 200 feet wide by 1,620 feet long covering 6.5 acres on previously-disturbed land, some of it site of the lost 1800s Singapore lumber settlement.
It would accommodate 33 vessels 40 to 60 feet long, 17 more boats 80 to 100 feet long, and be ringed by 23 single-family dwellings.
Saugatuck Township and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (recently renamed Environment, Great Lakes and Energy) have OK’d the housing portion spreading over 50-plus surrounding acres.
Padnos bought 308 acres north of the channel from the Aubrey McClendon estate in March 2017 and announced plans soon after to build around 40 homes on it, largely clustered so as to place 208.3 acres in a conservation easement.
About 17 of those lots exist by right or were pre-approved as result of a 2012 federal court settlement between then-owner McClendon and the township.
The SDCA, which has contested development of the privately-owned land some members call “the wild heart of Saugatuck” since 2007, is appealing both state and township permits. The Corps is still weighing, and Alliance disputing, the NorthShore basin proposal’s hydrology and legality.
The SDCA claims its proposed alternative — designed by FreshWater Engineering of Madison, Wisc. — is both feasible and would minimize negative impacts to cultural and natural resources such as nearby critical dunes and interdunal wetlands.
It would also, the Alliance argues, better respect archeological sensitivity, reduce impact of increased boat traffic near the river mouth and possible harm caused to lake sturgeon and other aquatic species.
Instead, it would furnish dockage for more than 36 boats on land partially excavated from a crook near the river mouth (see map) while employing a 650-foot long wave attenuator to provide vessels docked greater shelter.
USACE records show FreshWater principal Laura Rozumalski completed her proposal, as contracted by the Alliance, Jan. 28 and the group submitted it May 10.
“Given,” wrote SDCA president David Swan, “how the alternative design 1) removes the adverse impacts on the aquatic ecosystem, 2) resolves many of the heretofore-unresolved conflicts of resource use, and 3) will accomplish the objective of the proposed work, the current permit for the NorthShore marina must be denied.”
Padnos engineer Edgewater Resources and counsel Gabrielse Law replied to the Corps that the proposed alternative as submitted was not practicable due to lack of wave attenuation and other concerns. These included siltation, debris accumulation in the harbor, limited dockage and the elimination of one already-permitted residential lot.
Rozulmalski responded July 18 that the criticisms treat her concept as a fully-formed, finalized marina design despite the fact FreshWater has conceded further hydronamic analyses, hydrographic and biological surveys of the area, plus hydrologic and hydraulic modeling would be needed — costs presumably borne by the landowner, not Alliance.
“The SDCA plan,” NorthShore said in a statement Monday, “is not new. It is basically a redo of a concept submitted and found unsatisfactory more than a year ago.
“Its biggest deficiency,” the developer continued, “is that it fails to meet the fundamental purpose of a boat harbor: to provide a safe mooring place for boats. The ‘wave attenuator’ in the SDCA plan is essentially a floating breakwater that extends into the channel to provide some shelter for boats moored along the channel.
“Any observer with even a casual awareness of the variations in wind and water conditions in our area would quickly see that this concept fails to offer adequate protection. Wave attenuators are not intended for the size of waves that frequent this area or the ice or debris that travels down the river.”
Swan stood by the science of the report. “It is sound and attenuators such as this have worked well in similar situations.”
“It is hard to imagine that this is a serious proposal,” NorthShore’s statement continued. “In our opinion, it is not and never was intended to be. We believe that this is one more in a long line of the SDCA’s delaying tactics, which they themselves have publicly described as ‘death by a 1,000 paper cuts.’”
“It is interesting,” Swan said, “that paper cuts are self-inflicted. Yes, what we have submitted is a concept, but it preserves in a way we believe the Corps will find more acceptable than the current Padnos plan.”
“This latest version of their plan,” said the NorthShore, “shows a date of Jan 28 and they are now introducing it to the public on Aug. 6 as a new plan.
“If you want something actually new to talk or think about,” the NorthShore statement went on, “how about reflecting on how much cost the SDCA has imposed on the taxpayers of our community?”
“We’re investing in presenting sound science and a practicable alternative that will save the forever cost of a harmed environment,” Swan responded.
“In all the legal actions you have read about,” the NorthShore statement continued, “a local government entity has been one of the defendants.
“Taxpayer funds and taxpayer paid staff have been burdened responding to their ‘death by 1,000 paper cuts strategy. Moreover, area governments have lost thousands of dollars in tax revenue which our development plan would have generated.
“The Saugatuck Public Schools have lost on two separate millage proposals. How much lower could those millage requests have been if our proposed development could have been added to the tax base a year or two ago?
“Has anyone actually done more to harm the interests of the local community or School system than the SDCA?” the owner said.