TEMPERANCE - As a Lambertville developer awaits the results of a state criminal investigation into the alleged destruction of at least six wetland areas on his property, township officials can do little but sit back and watch because they have no jurisdiction in the dispute.
But they would have, had Bedford Township not abandoned an effort begun in earnest two years ago to protect local wetlands because of the costs involved in locating them.
"We found out the expense of it, and we put it aside," said township clerk Bob Schockman. "We have everything done up to [an inventory of local wetland areas]. But that was going to be in excess of $20,000."
Wetlands are marshy areas that are habitats for animals, wildflowers, and migratory birds.
Township officials first pursued a wetlands ordinance in late 2001 as part of its efforts to keep Germano Management Inc. from developing a mobile home park along West Dean Road by the Ann Arbor Railroad tracks.
The land Germano had optioned at the time, 46 acres owned by Eugene McNett, had significant amounts of groundwater on it, township officials said at the time. But without a local wetlands ordinance in place to protect those environmentally sensitive areas, all a developer would likely have to do is fill in those wetlands and replace them somewhere else.
Though the Germano issue is mostly settled now, pending a further appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court, wetlands continue to be an issue locally as developers are forced to consider land that is less-than-perfect.
"What we're seeing right now is that all of the easily developed
parcels are gone," said Dennis Jenkins, the township's planning and zoning coordinator. "So what we're having now is 'in-fill' development that takes place on the property that's left over. All of those have one type of development issue or another to contend with, like floodplains or wetlands."
Developers and engineers have had to contend with extensive wetlands issues as they lay out plans for a subdivision on the site of the former Fire Creek Golf Course. And work was halted several weeks ago on a 33-acre parcel off Douglas Road after the developer, Douglas Ridge Development, is alleged to have illegally filled in regulated wetlands.
Not all wetlands in Michigan are as protected by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to the extent that those in the Douglas Ridge project are. State laws place stricter controls on wetlands within 500 feet of a waterway, such as the Bragden Ditch that traverses that piece of property south of Dean Road.
Mr. Schockman said that if interest in protecting local wetlands peaked again, the township board might pick up the project where it left off - if it can find the money.