Green light, almost 

The Department of Environmental Quality has offered a Detroit developer a restricted plan for building upscale homes and a golf course at Humbug Marsh, a fragile shore and island ecosystem that environmentalists say represents the last mile of coastal marsh along the Detroit riverfront.

The DEQ announced its offer Friday after rejecting Made In Detroit Inc.’s latest plan for their contested development.

Rich Powers, chief of the DEQ’s land and water quality division, says the new proposal addresses many of the concerns environmentalists have voiced. While Made in Detroit and DEQ officials were discussing particulars Monday, how-ever, some environmentalists expressed disappointment.

"Three hundred and forty homes and a golf course are going to destroy this marsh, period," said Blair McGowan, an activist with Friends of the Detroit River’s Humbug task force. McGowan said the DEQ failed to consider nonpoint source pollution, such as surface runoff, from the development. He says migratory birds moving between northern Canada and Central and South America will not stop to rest in a developed Humbug and will lose their habitat.

"The leaders of DEQ and the governor of Michigan … are woefully out of touch with the environmental concerns of the citizens of our state, and lacking of any signs of love of the outdoors, wild things or nature," McGowan said.

Powers of the DEQ says an example of how the new agreement addresses pollution from nonpoint sources is its requirement that MID implement a pollution prevention and pesticide control plan for the proposed golf course.

Powers adds, however, "I don’t think we can do anything that will please everybody."

The DEQ’s offer requires a fence at least 4 feet high to mark areas protected by a state conservation easement that was at the center of the dispute last year when MID proposed to build on it. The DEQ also requires MID to present detailed soil erosion control measures, enact a new easement that restricts dredging and the docking of boats, and develop plans to control the disruption of sediments in the vicinity of a proposed bridge. The plan also prohibits dredging in the bottomlands or wetlands of the Detroit River.

MID has 30 days to decide on DEQ’s offer. Approval by the DEQ and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are required for the project to proceed.

According to Powers, who met with MID officials Monday, the developer appeared eager to sign the proposal, perhaps later this week, after a few minor adjustments are made.

MID spokesman Kevin Piotrowski says MID officials still believe their development plan to be ecologically sound.

MID is owned and run primarily by African Americans, and the development’s critics have been accused of racism. However, MID officials have said the real issue is property rights and what’s good for the economies in Gibraltar and Trenton, where the development is proposed.

The Corps has yet to decide whether to grant MID permission to fill wetlands and other areas of the river.

Meanwhile, some environmentalists are hoping to stop the development at the local level: Gibraltar officials are reconsidering the zoning of that city’s portion of the land to be developed, which is to include the golf course and all but 15 of the 340 homes.

A new hearing is necessary because Gibraltar failed to notify some surrounding landowners during the last rezoning.

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