WETLANDS ENFORCEMENT INITIATIVE
The Wetlands Enforcement Initiative is a cooperative effort between the Macomb County Prosecutor’s Office and MDEQ to increase compliance with the laws protecting wetlands, inland lakes and streams, and floodplains in Macomb County.
The Macomb County Prosecutor’s Office and MDEQ started the Wetland Enforcement Initiative in April 2000 to address the problem of wetland destruction in the County. Macomb County has been one of the fastest growing areas in the State. As development pressures intensified in the County, illegal dredging, filling, and draining activities by developers in regulated wetlands, floodplains, and lakes and streams increased. Before the Initiative started, however, MDEQ had only four persons assigned to deal with wetland permits, compliance, and enforcement in the entire five county area of southeastern Michigan. The Macomb County Prosecutor’s Office believed that more local and state resources were needed to assure that the County’s wetlands were protected.
Wetlands are extremely valuable natural resources. In addition to providing critical fish and wildlife habitat, wetlands help to prevent flooding and erosion, and help to keep our lakes, rivers, and streams clean by filtering pollutants out of storm water. These public benefits are lost when wetlands are replaced with hard surfaces such as roads, parking lots, buildings, and lawns.
Many (but not all) wetlands are protected under Michigan law. A person doing any of the following activities in a wetland regulated by State law is required to get a permit from MDEQ:
- Depositing or permitting the placing of fill material in a wetland;
- Dredging, removing, or permitting the removal of soil or minerals from a wetland;
- Constructing, operating or maintaining any use or development in a wetland;
- Draining surface water from a wetland.
A person doing any of the above activities without a permit can be convicted of a misdemeanor. Violators may be punished by a fine of up to $2,500.00 and ordered to restore any lost or damaged wetland. If a person deliberately violates a permit, the person can be convicted of a misdemeanor and sentenced to up to one year in jail, fined up to $25,000.00 per each day of violation, and ordered to restore the wetland. A person violating this law for a second time can be convicted of a felony.
There are usually two major questions a person should ask regarding whether activities in wetlands will require a permit: 1) will the activities take place in a State regulated wetland; and 2) are the activities exempt from the State wetland requirements. MDEQ has a Wetland Assessment Program under which persons may request MDEQ to determine whether regulated wetland exists on property. Persons having reason to think that their property may contain wetland should contact MDEQ at the number given below prior to doing any of the activities described above.
Under the agreement establishing the Wetland Enforcement Initiative, MDEQ assigned additional staff to investigate wetland violations. Criteria were developed to prioritize investigations and guidelines were established for referring cases for prosecution. Targets were established for numbers of case investigations initiated and for numbers of cases referred for prosecution.
The Wetlands Enforcement Initiative has resulted in an approximately 70 per cent increase in the number of wetlands investigations in Macomb County since April 2000. Over 30 cases have been referred for criminal prosecution.
The policy of the Macomb County Prosecutor’s Office is that no wetland enforcement case may be resolved without a judicial order requiring the complete restoration of any affected wetland area. When wetland restoration is no longer feasible, the policy is to require mitigation for lost or destroyed wetlands at not less than ratios used by MDEQ when issuing wetland permits.