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Published: Tuesday, 5/27/2003

Agency seeks $3M to preserve south Michigan land


MONROE - Every year, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources applies for grant money, just in case an attractive parcel of land becomes available.

This year, officials have their sights set on specific areas.

In order to make their application to the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund more appealing to those doling out the money, DNR officials chose about 1,200 acres in southern Michigan as prospective purchases. Three parcels, making up 325 acres, are in Monroe County.

Calling it the Southern Michigan Wetland Initiative, DNR officials are requesting $3 million to acquire land for wildlife habitat and management as well as other compatible recreation uses. They should find out later this year if they are awarded the money, said Scott Whitcomb, a public land specialist in the DNR's Wildlife Division.

“With the Southern Michigan Wetland Initiative, I identified some areas that, if given the opportunity and if there is a willing seller, we'd like to purchase,” said Mr. Whitcomb, who wrote the application. “It's not a land grab or anything, we're just expressing interest.”

The proposal involves privately owned land in Jackson, Tuscola, Saginaw/Bay, Arenac, and Monroe counties. Locally, there is interest in about 75 acres straddling the LaSalle Township and Luna Pier boundary and two larger parcels in Erie Township.

Monroe County staff planner Frank Nagy said the county planning commission has endorsed the concept, though it is ultimately up to individual property owners whether they will sell their land.

He said two of the parcels are slated as open space on the county's master plan. But a 142-acre parcel bordering the Ohio state line in southeast Erie Township has residential development possibilities, he said.

“It's not compatible with the county plan. We don't show that for open space or recreational purposes but for residential purposes,” he said. “However, if the owner does sell to the state, we wouldn't have any problems with that.”

Erie Township Supervisor Dan Bonkoski said he recently forwarded the proposal to the property owners involved. He too said the land jutting out into the North Maumee Bay was looked upon as a great place for waterfront development.

Mr. Whitcomb stressed that this was just a wish list - one of hundreds being submitted to the trust fund from all over the state. He added that other grants are available if the department is unsuccessful in securing money through the trust fund.

And once the money is in place, nothing will happen unless the property owners are interested in selling their land to the state.

“It's nothing we don't normally do. At this point, it's just an application for money,” he said. “If we don't get it, it's an `Oh well, we'll try again next year,' or they could choose not to fund the whole amount.

“And then it may be if we're successful that the property owners don't want to sell,” he added.

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