September 22, 2014

Arenac commissioners hold off on soil erosion ordinance decision

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ARENAC COUNTY — The Arenac County Board of Commissioners decided to hold off a decision on the county’s proposed soil erosion ordinance until its June 18 meeting following a public hearing Tuesday, June 4.

The commissioners decided they needed more information to make a final decision, and wanted a full board there for it after Commissioner Dave Munson was unable to attend the June 4 meeting.

At the hearing, members of the public had questions on the necessity of the ordinance. Enforcement Officer Dale Zygiel said the county is violating state law until it is able to enforce part 91 of the 1994 Michigan Natural Resources and Environment Protection Act, which deals with counties administering and enforcing the state’s soil erosion laws.

The county currently has a resolution that addresses soil erosion. However, Prosecutor Curtis Broughton is not comfortable working under the resolution, and has been reticent about prosecuting violations.

Chairman Bob Luce said for the most part, the county has had about six erosion violations in a 10-year period, plus a number more that stemmed from the office of the drain commissioner.

“So we have an issue where people are not complying,” Luce said. “Right now, they can just snub their nose at Dale, which they have done. There is proof of that.”

Commissioner Mike Snyder said that Zygiel can write a letter to an offender asking them to clean up their mess, but he has no way to actually push them to do it short of getting Broughton involved.

“(Broughton) indicated his willingness to prosecute under an ordinance is greater than under the resolution,” Snyder said. “In actuality, it is because it will go from Dale into a formal process rather than Dale’s letter.”

Glen Rice of Arenac Township questioned the number of violations the county has faced over soil erosion, noting that a larger number were made in the previous four years by Drain Commissioner Larry Davis. He posited that in either case the prosecutor has the final say on whether or not to pursue a violation, and by not going after violations, he could be saving the county money.

Davis acknowledged he had been one of the biggest violators for a few years as far as permits go because he did not believe prior drain commissioners ever needed the state to tell them “to put seed on something and give them $150 to do it.” However, last year he and six other drain commissioners took a class and became certified to get their own erosion permits at the behest of the DEQ.

“So yes, I was a big violator,” he said. “I repented, went to school and into the process, but I felt the same way you folks do — that we are doing a good job of doing this ourselves. We lost.”

Deep River Township Trustee Matt Stawowy formally noted his board’s opposition to the ordinance and echoed Rice’s sentiments about enforcement.

“There are probably more drains clear in your time in office than anytime 40 years before,” Stawowy said to Davis. “But if you’ve been reborn on this, and know what you need to do, then why do we need this ordinance?”

Commissioner Jeff Trombley said the problem was not with the ordinance, but enforcement, and that the county needs to find a way to enforce things when Zygiel writes a letter to someone regarding soil erosion violations. He reiterated his own opposition to the ordinance.

Building Department Clerk Theresa Irving said the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality is the investigative agency on erosion control, and Environmental Quality Analyst Matt Siler wants to make sure the county is enforcing the state law. She said from what she heard from Siler, the ordinance is not any stricter than the existing state law.

“The DEQ is not forcing us to have an ordinance, but they are forcing us to do our job to enforce part 91,” Irving said. “If the resolution could fulfill that to their satisfaction, we’re good, but they don’t think so. So to pass their audit, we need to prove that we are capable of enforcing part 91, and so far this resolution has not showed enough compliance to do it.”

“According to what I read, unless there is an ordinance, Dale is not allowed to issue an enforcement ticket unless by an ordinance, so basically we’ve taken away 2-3 slaps on the wrist,” she continued. “By not having the ordinance, he skips steps that allow him to take other avenues to get to compliance, and goes right to prosecution.”

Luce said if the county is failing to adequately enforce the law, the DEQ would need to step in, and any money brought in as restitution from prosecution would then go into state coffers instead of the county’s.

While the ordinance would be more restrictive for the county itself, spelling out the explicit steps Zygiel would need to take in enforcing it, Luce said it would likely be easier to work with him rather than the state to avoid paying restitution for a violation. As it stands, Zygiel can only make recommendations and contact the prosecutor.

“Siler could do something, but he is telling the commissioners, who are my bosses, to get some kind of enforcement procedure in place,” Zygiel said.

Luce said gardening, farmer tillage and other standard agricultural practices would continue to be exempt from the law under the ordinance. The Saginaw Bay is considered a major natural resource nationally, and he said the state is very interested in making sure it stays in good shape.

Irving also addressed a question about the fee structure brought forth by Standish Township Trustee Wayne Reetz, saying that ordinance or no, the building department has no plans to change its fees.

Davis said he wanted to hear Broughton speak before the commissioners about the ordinance at the June 18 meeting if possible to discuss the prosecution side of the issue.

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