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  • Writer's pictureAshley Walker

So, what has SAVE OUR SHORELINE been doing for the past 21 years?

t is hard to believe that it has been almost 21 years since SOS was officially formed. The short reason why SOS was formed was to preserve and maintain our riparian rights. These rights have evolved from well over 2000 of common law and case law years and clearly they favor the shoreline property owners. Who wanted to take these rights from you?

Well some powerful and scary folks like the MDEQ (EGLE) and the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE)? I will use MEDQ AND EGLE throughout for they are the same agency. Did they act like spoiled children and have they done more harm than good? Absolutely! EGLE said they owned the private beaches and when SOS said show us the law for your authority of ownership, they then said they had a right to regulate their use. We agree the right to reasonable regulate is a legitimate function of the government, but the government cannot unreasonable regulate which even today, they continue through intimidation and many forms of harassment when you apply for one of their permits.

Each day many wake up and think how they can trample on our riparian rights and exert the government’s power. The east and west coast and the northern shoreline continue to be fair game for these “regulators”. We have supported several legal suits with financial and legal support. Are we going to let them get away with it, absolutely not? We will continue to use media, political and judicial means to put the bright light on their activities for we are determined to preserve and maintain our riparian rights for current and future shoreline property owners.

I have highlighted some of the work that SOS Directors and many of its members have done to bring partial success to preserve and maintain our riparian rights. I have not calculated the tens-of-thousands of the hours the SOS Directors and Members and our supporters have given, but we are most thankful, and it shows how important riparian rights are. We have had expenses, but our membership continues to provide the resources to stay in the fight. We thank those who continue to pay their dues, special assessments, and generous donations. So here are some the highlights of the journey SOS has been on:

August 6, 2001. SOS is officially formed by filing Articles of Incorporation with Michigan Department of Commerce. Board adopts Bylaws, Mission Statement, and elected officers. We later obtain an IRS letter authorizing us as Nonprofit under IRC § 501(c)(4).

September 7 and October 11, 2001. Caseville Public Beaches receive “Cease and Desist” letters. The Corps is trying to shut down beaches on the east side of the state, but for some reason has not touched the west coast like Holland.

October 25, 2001. SOS holds first organ­izational meeting at John Glenn High School in Bay City, Michigan. Board of Directors invites David Kraft and Joe McBride of Caseville to Board meetings, begin expanding membership to Caseville area.

November 1, 2001. SOS learns that State Senate Committee, “Great Lakes Task Force,” is touring the state, and will come to Saginaw. Board members go to Port Huron to preview the meeting to bet­ter prepare for Saginaw meeting.

November 26, 2001. SOS turns out in force at Great Lakes Task Force meeting at SVSU. With about 400 members, ap­proximately 150 show up with SOS yard signs in hand and listened to our issues; Task Force agrees to hold separate meeting with SOS.

December 17, 2001. SOS Board meets with State Senators Joel Gougeon and Mike Goschka, and Ken Sikkema, Chair of Great Lakes Task Force. Ernie, David and Joe gave presen­tations of the beach maintenance issues and they were well received by the Great Lakes Task Force.

January 1, 2002. Great Lakes Task Force ( GLTF) publishes its Report, which recog­nizes SOS. As part of its findings, GLTF concludes that “the state must work harder to find a balance between preserv­ing habitat during periods of low water levels and recognizing the desires of beachfront property homeowners to have access to clean sandy beaches.” Without SOS’s involvement, shoreline property owners interests would not have been considered in this important state report.

January 8, 2002. ACOE re­jects EGLE proposal to allow limited beach maintenance. Corps later advises SOS that it is working on suit against beach owners, and that there are “no beaches” on the Saginaw Bay. Now begins the intimidation and harassment of shoreline property owners. SOS now see the new growth of Phragmites in areas where it was previously sandy beaches and spreading all over Michigan beaches. Now the EGLE gets to spend millions and millions of dollars to try an eradicate, and tell shoreline folks well you just leave Phragmites to the professionals.

March 23, 2002. John Stuart becomes first beach owner to be sued by Corps for maintaining his beach. Suit against Chuck Groya will soon follow. Both reside in Bangor Twp., north of Bay City. April 16, 2002. SOS Board determines that political discussions alone will not be enough, sets goal to establish SOS Legal Fund with minimum of $200,000. Board pledges to return all contributions if goal is not met by July 1, 2002. On a show of hands, only two directors believe goal will be accomplished. Board decides to go ahead anyway.

April 25, 2002. Board announces Legal Fund to membership meeting at John Glenn High School. Congressman James Barcia contributes first check of $500.00. Members vote to expand Board to 12, Caseville members David Kraft and Joe McBride join Board of Directors.

May 2, 2002. SOS Board votes to support all state parks in their requests for permits to perform beach maintenance.

May 30, 2002. Legal Defense Fund ex­ceeds $100,000.

June 8, 2002. SOS holds organizational meeting in Caseville, Michigan, attended by 500 people in 400-seat auditorium. Due to lack of room, many were turned away, but they let their voices be heard in the media and their legislatures.

June 11, 2002 Corps sues Caseville resi­dent Marion Kincaid, who in 2002 used only hand tools, and no mechanical equip­ment, to maintain beach. The ACOE are in lock step with the EGLE. These folks continue to be most unreasonable because their culture is getting in the way of science. There are countries where private property rights do not exist, but our Constitution protects these rights or us.

June 18, 2002. Ernie, David and Joe, SOS Board mem­bers, meet in Lansing with DEQ Deputy Director Arthur Nash and three others. DEQ will not acknowledge state does not own the beaches but agrees to direct staff to stop making assertions of ownership. SOS was going to take the DEQ to court to resolve the problem, but it was clear from the legal experts that the DEQ did not want to be embarrassed.

June 22, 2002. First day of summer, Bay City State Recreation Area is fully staffed. At 2:00 p.m., with sunshine and tempera­ture of 80°F, not one person is on the so ­called “beach,” full of muck and Phragmities. In 1950’s and 1960’s, this was one of the State’s most popular beaches. EGLE and the Army Corps efforts to destroy Michigan’s beaches very obvious and follish for using tax dollars to deny the people of Michigan to play on traditional beaches.

June 27, 2002. With three days to spare, Legal Fund reaches goal of $200,000. Membership exceeds 1,000 households. Later that year membership swells to over 3,000 and growing.

July 18, 2002. SOS selects Marzulla & Marzulla of Washington D.C. and Mika, Meyers, Beckett & Jones, PLC (“MMBJ”) of Grand Rapids, Michigan as law firms to represent SOS.

July 23, 2002. Ernie, David and Joe, SOS Board mem­bers, testify before Congressional Subcom­mittee on the current status of beach maintenance issues in Washington D.C.. Subcommittee chair John Duncan pledges unqualified support and directs SOS to develop language to submit to Congress for inclusion in an authorization bill.

July 27, 2002. SOS holds organizational meeting in AuGres, Michigan, nearly filling 300-seat K of C Hall.

August 14, 2002. MMBJ suggests filing amicus brief with U.S. Supreme Court in pending case. Marzulla firm subsequently recommends the same action. Board di­rects Marzulla to file brief with input provided by David and Joe.

August 25, 2002. SOS holds organiza­tional meeting in Traverse City, Michigan at Grand Traverse Resort. Approximately 400 attend, and SOS is well received.

August 26, 2002. Marzulla firm files ami­cus brief on behalf of SOS with U.S. Su­preme Court in case of Borden Ranch v. Corps of Engineers.

August 28, 2002. Ernie, David and Joe a meet with State Senator in Detroit area that agrees to introduce legislation to resolve ownership and maintenance issues. SOS submits proposed language drafted by MMBJ firm and SOS’s attorney David Powers.

September 19, 2002. Representative Brian Palmer introduces bill in State House to secure beach maintenance rights.

September 20, 2002. Board meets with the Corps of Engineers in Detroit and merely listens, says it simply “takes or­ders.” If they just take orders, they are paid way too much. Trust me, they carried on conversations with the EGLE and coordinate their efforts to make our beaches wetlands,. Why? SOS is not demanding to change 50 miles of wetlands into beaches from Bay Port to Bay City?

September 25, 2002. Congressman Barcia publicly discusses Great Lakes beach main­tenance issue before House Transportation Committee. Secures commitment of Com­mittee Chair Don Young and Sub­Committee Chair John “Jimmie” Duncan to place needed language in an upcoming bill.

June 4, 2003, the Governor signed the Shoreline Maintenance Bill, which permitted limited beach maintenance in the Saginaw Bay and Traverse City Areas. SOS legal efforts consumed many hours of presentations before the State House and Senate Committees and the strong support of Senators Barcia, Brader, Burkholz, Sikkema and Representative Brian Palmer. Our Lobbyists especially, Pat McCollough, David Ladd and David Gregory were superb and created the right atmosphere for negotiations.

SOS considered the new law only partial successful, but it was a starting point for the fight to fully return riparian rights. Little did we know that it would take another nine years to approach restoring many of our riparian rights. To this day we are committed to full restoration, but that will take additional time and support from our membership, the media and our political friends.

Fall of 2003, the U. S. District Court dismissed the case against the Kincaids. The Caseville resident Marion Kincaid was sued by the Justice Department in May 2002 at the request of the Detroit District, Army Corps of Engineers for moving sand on her Caseville Beach. SOS financially supported the legal efforts against the unreasonable regulation of her riparian rights. Why did the Detroit District bring such a terrible action? It was to cause emotional stress and raise potential financial havoc on a retired couple ($25,000/day fines) to bring the shoreline property owners into compliance with the Detroit District’s power demonstration. They obvious did not understand SOS’s mission statement and if they try it again, SOS will unleash our media, political and financial might and will build our shoreline coalition strong and remove from their authority even the opportunity to walk on or fly over our beaches.

December 2005 I’m sure you have already heard that the Michigan Supreme Court, in the case of Glass v Goeckel, held that the public has the right, by virtue of the public trust doctrine, to walk anywhere on your beach below a so called “ordinary high water mark.” From all that I have read and heard, there is no question in my mind that the Court disregarded the law and bowed to the demands of newspaper editorial boards and others calling for open beaches. What is next? Open lawns, then empty bedrooms. Speaking of newspapers, there simply is not much we can do about newspapers telling the public that we want to exclude the public from our beaches. Our issue in the Glass case was never about beach walking; it was about ownership and the extent of the so-called “public trust doctrine.” This is a judge-made theory being used to take property rights away from people in a number of states. We opposed expanding the “public trust” theory, not because we wanted to stop beach walking, but because we wanted to preserve our s t a t e ’ s m a i n t a i n e d beaches. Now, the EGLE and others will say that the public trust doctrine imposed on your beach means you can’t groom it without our authority. And who knows what else they’ll now say you can’t do.

November 2006 Under4 PA 14 (“Temporary Beach Maintenance Act”) the EGLE was directed to issue a report, no later than January 2, 2006 but MDEQ did not release the report until mid-March 2006. So much for the MDEQ obeying the law. Their breaking the law prevented SOS from doing a through review of their report but, our four scientist found that: (1) the MDEQ’s study failed to meet the minimal requirement of PA 14 of 2003, (2) Study exceed the scope of PA 14 , (3) MDEQ study’s methodology was problematic in that they changed the design of the study to accommodate their desired results, and (4) MDEQ studies had a disproportionate number of samples which leads to distorting the data. We found so many errors in their studies from which we concluded was a big waste of taxpayers money, but it did what they wanted to do and that was to harm shoreline property owners, by making them beg for permits to clean their beach. Are we sure we live in America?

July 2007 Since PA 14 2003 was due to expire in November 2007, SOS has had three of its board members Ernie, David and Joe volunteered to meet over several months with the DEQ and others to help solve the beach maintenance issue by developing a General Permit for the State of Michigan. The final General Permit (GP) had some similarities to 2003 PA 14 and while SOS did not embrace fully the GP it did provide us with the ability to maintain our beaches until we can have legislation passed that will require no permits from the State of Michigan to maintain our beaches and have our children and grandchildren playing on clean and healthy beaches.

April 2009 The MDEQ issued its pamphlet entitled “A Landowner’s Guide to Phragmites Control.” The purpose of that guide is to convince shoreline owners and others to pursue complicated and expensive methods for eliminating phragmites, instead of simply removing all vegetation, or mowing, which work much better. Remember that beginning in 1999 the MDEQ and the Army Corps loved Phragmities and tried to keep us from destroying them on our beaches so they could flourish and did they ever.

SOS wanted to respond with pamphlets of our own, so we requested that Sea Grant provide its mailing list. They refused. Obviously, they did not want you and other shoreline residents to hear a different viewpoint. So, SOS sued for the list under the Freedom of Information Act. And we won. Better yet, the lawsuit ended up costing SOS members nothing. The Bay County Circuit Court ordered the University of Michigan Sea Grant program to pay all of our attorney fees and expenses. Why did we sue? First and foremost, we wanted to provide shoreline residents with accurate information about their rights, and about the best ways to control Phragmites. But we also wanted to establish an important precedent: government bureaucrats can’t use our money to spread political propaganda to people on secret lists. Finally, we wanted to send Sea Grant, MDEQ, and other allies an important message: SOS will use all means available to protect the rights of shoreline residents, and will continue to point out how these agencies violate the law in an effort to achieve their misguided policies.

September 2010 SOS participated in the Florida beachfront property case, Stop the Beachfront Renourishment Inc v. Florida Department of Environmental Protection, reviewed by the United States Supreme Court during the recently completed 2010 session, by filing an amicus brief. The case involved the uncovering of bottomlands bordering the Atlantic Ocean that were subsequently filled in with sand and in effect, extended the existing beachfronts in some instances by several thousand square feet. The Florida Supreme Court found that the additional beachfront area that covered the bottomlands was state property. This was the case even in situations that the beachfront property owners had footed the bill for expansion of the beach area! The beachfront property owners contended that the additional beachfront areas represented an accretion to their existing land and should properly be considered an addition to their existing property. The Florida beachfront owners sued in court on the grounds that denial of their property rights related to accretion of soil and land over time represented a judicial taking under the fifth amendment of the US Constitution.

The US Supreme Court heard oral arguments last December attended by SOS President Ernie Krygier, Board member Dave Almeter and SOS attorney (and former board member) Dave Powers. The US Supreme Court ruled in favor of the State of Florida. The court upheld the state’s contention that private property rights for beachfront owners in Florida extended only to high tide mark and that the new beach area from the filled bottomlands was state property. The court also referenced the distinction between the rights of property owners in relation to accretion, i.e. the gradual addition of dry land and soil to existing property as opposed to avulsion, i.e. a sudden addition of dry land and soil, even if by human action rather than natural occurrence. The new beach areas represented the process of avulsion and therefore were not subject to the accretion rights of beachfront property owners. Although the Florida beach owners lost, Justice Scalia’s decision sent a loud warning to state courts that they cannot use their power to change the law as a way of confiscating private property. Specifically, he said that 1) Individual laws in each state ultimately determine private property rights, and 2) The Supreme Court has standing to determine if a state court decision represents a “judicial taking” in violation of the fifth amendment of the US Constitution. This latter determination may ultimately provide Michigan beachfront owners a future opportunity to challenge Glass v. Goeckel or a similar case as an unlawful judicial taking under the fifth amendment. Although a majority of Justices did not support all of Justice Scalia’s views, they did let him write the lead opinion, which suggests that they share some agreement with his message. Consider, for a moment, the potential liability for Michigan if they decided to move the OHWM to take a foot of your beach?

May 2011 So…what do we have to deal with this summer? 1) Low water, 2) More beach to clean, 3) MDEQ saying “No”, 4) Army Corps saying “No” and 5) Wind mills in the Great Lakes. We will work together to fight for our beaches and property values that continue to be under assault by our government. These are all issues that the SOS Directors are involved with this year. Attending meetings, with the new head of the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), Dan Wyant. We discussed bringing back Public Act 14 that was our beach maintenance bill that was enacted in 2003. There was also discussion about removing the We have been talking with the ACOE, and public meetings have been scheduled throughout Michigan to discuss their regulatory program. It is important that SOS members attend those meetings to let the ACOE know that we will protect our beaches and keep them safe for our children and grandchildren.

On November 10, 2010, House Bill 6564, sponsored by Representative Scripps, was a bill that would have permitted offshore wind energy facilities (Wind Turbines) in the Great Lakes. However; it died in the legislature. On March 24, 2011, House Bill 4499, sponsored by Representative Franz, bans Commercial Wind Turbines and transmission lines in the Great Lakes.

Most of our communication with our membership has been through SOS’s email system and for some reason many of you have not responded to our request for your input. Your input is essential to assist the board in developing a position on whether or not SOS as an organization should support placing wind turbines in the Great Lakes. For those of you who have responded we thank you; and for those of you who have not, we would like to hear from you. The results we have received from our membership wind turbine survey are as follows: 54 members for windmills 240 members against windmills 13 members for windmills conditionally 19 members want more information. Windmills in the Great Lakes does not seem to be such a great idea, we have too much ice, migratory birds and the cost would be excessive and very little return on investment.

January 2012 We all owe a special thanks to Senators Mike Green and Tom Casperson. They are leading the way for us to change the laws, or at least to make clear that our beaches are not “wetlands” or state-owned “bottomlands” regulated under state law. We also have a great friend in the Michigan House of Representatives with Charlie Brunner and we let our state legislators know that we need them to support the work of Senators Mike Green & Tom Casperson. That is to protect our ability to keep our traditional beach safe and that a clean beach in front of your home or business is good for Michigan. That is why people from all over the country come to our Great Lakes State.

August 2012 As those members on our email list already know, on July 2, 2012, Governor Rick Snyder signed into law Public Act 247, which specifically exempts mowing and common beach-grooming activities from state regulation. Unlike the 2003 law, this new law has no expiration date. While the Corps of Engineers-Detroit District still regulates our beaches, this change in state law was a major step toward getting our beaches back from unreasonable regulations. We have a long list of people to thank, but it starts with Senator Tom Casperson from Escanaba and many other Senators and Representatives that support private property rights and reasonable regulations.

This law amended the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act Parts 303 (Wetlands) and 325 (Great Lakes Submerged Lands) to eliminate the state requirement that beachfront owners obtain a permit for grooming or removal of vegetation between the ordinary high-water mark and the water’s edge. Ernie and David attended the signing ceremony and receive signature pens from the Governor


The push to deploy off-shore wind turbines in the Great Lakes has been quiet in Michigan over the last year while opposition to them has generally increased throughout the Great Lakes region including in Canada. Plans for proposed offshore projects have stalled, and some local and Provincial governments have enacted temporary moratoriums for a variety of reasons. The reasons range from hazards to lake birds, unsustainable economics, fear of visual blight, loss of coastal property values, and engineering and safety concerns

August 2013 Your SOS board members continue to work with Restore Our Water International (ROWI) on our Great Lakes low water issues. Our water levels have been higher this summer, but not at the level of a normal year. It is now estimated that up to 10 billion gallons are lost per day. This is water that will never come back to the Great Lakes Basin.

ROWI is an alliance of Canadian and US organizations concerned about the low water crisis on Lakes Michigan and Huron. In addition to Save Our Shoreline, the Sierra Club of Ontario, Les Cheneaux Watershed, Lake Charlevoux association, and the Georgian Bay Association are among the organizations included. ROWI represents at least 15,000 shoreline owner and commercial interests across these water bodies. ROWI has been actively lobbying in Canada and Washington DC since early this spring. We have testified and met with the IJC leadership which advises both governments on the Great Lakes. In fact, IJC recently changed their recommendations for action based on advocacy from groups like ROWI. SOS will continue to monitor this situation and press for action by the US and Canadian Governments. We will provide updates as progress is made.

SOS opposed the convenient stretching of the “public trust” doctrine that would extend the state’s interests in the Great Lakes bottom lands to include development of offshore wind turbines. This would clearly be an illegitimate use of public resources for the benefit of a few private interests. Instead, we encouraged pursuit of opportunities on inward land that met the test of due process such as city and township planning, remuneration of interested landowners and overall respect for private property.

August 2015 SOS has lost a dear friend and advocate. Jay Graebner, former Treasurer and one of the founding board members of SOS, passed away in March. Jay had been retired as a partner in Area Independent Underwriters (formerly VanAuken-Graebner-Mason Insurance Agency) and was very active in the Saginaw Community. Jay was instrumental in the establishment of SOS between 2000 and 2004 and remained a strong advocate for shoreline property owners. He was an avid golfer, loved Corvette cars and spending time at Pt. Lookout. The SOS Board of Directors extends our condolences to his wife Nancy and the entire Graebner family.

March 2016 Who would have thought as recently as two years ago that the water levels of Lakes Michigan and Huron would rise and remain as high as they have been this past year? At present, it appears this trend will continue into next summer. After 16 years of levels 20 inches to two feet below the norm we have been pleasantly surprised by a return to more normal levels. There have been many explanations for the prolonged period of reduced water supplies. We heard that the ground around northern Lakes Huron and Michigan were experiencing a rebound from pressure created by the glaciers during the last ice age. It was global warming that was causing the problem and this prolonged period of reduced water levels was going to continue for time eternal. We had just better get used to it. While both of those issues might be a reality, they are not the only reasons for the fluctuations of Great Lakes.

The Detroit District’s is ignoring Michigan’s Law, PA 247, 2012 (Beach Maintenance Law) with its beach maintenance proposal. The Beach Maintenance Law took over 12 years of negotiations, legislative hearings, presentation of studies by all stakeholders and in the end legislators voted overwhelmingly for the Beach Maintenance Law and it was signed into law by the Governor. The Beach Maintenance Law was passed to protect Michigan’s Environment, its tax base on 3000+ miles of shoreline, tourism, public health and safety. Remember those who died because of the West Nile Virus. Clean, safe and well-maintained beaches have provided families much enjoyment for decades and have created many wonderful memories. There are many studies that indicate that a clean beach is a healthy beach.

June 30, 2017 Detroit District, Army Corps of Engineers issued their Regional General Permit (GP)for Michigan which permits the Leveling of Sand, Grooming of Sand Paths, with significant restrictions, still insisting on a permit from the ACOE. Can you believe this? Our government wasting more money and creating more division. SOS submitted many comments during the review process of the GP and did they pay attention to any of our comments. Heck no. We remined them that the people of Michigan, through their elected representatives, have determined to allow beach grooming in 2012, that was five years ago before they issued this General Permit. The people of Michigan have determined what best meets their needs and welfare, but the “regulators” I call them the extortionist, who continue to thwart the will of the people without any scientific evidence. The regulations require, at 33 CFR 320.4, that the Detroit District consider the needs and welfare of the people of Michigan, as expressed through their elected representatives, including their need for groomed private beaches. Their intent is to intimidate and control you not to protect the environment. That why this 800-pound gorilla a.k.a. ACOE needs to be restrained and educated by the 3000 members of SOS.

2018, 2l019, 2l020 and 2021 While most of us find it difficult to maintain our beaches during this high water time, SOS continues to interact with our legislators, and other state organizations to have regulators reevaluate their regulatory process and make them compatible with modern day reality and science and get rid of the harmful culture that exist within these organizations. Now that the water appears to be coming down you can count on the “regulators” wanting to destroy your idea of a private beach. We will continue to assist those who are being threatened, harassed and intimidated by providing our interpretation of the law and reasonable solutions and intervening if appropriate.

I view the EGLE and the ACOE ability to protect our environment the same way I view DDT. While they do some good, they continue to do great harm to our waters, environment, beaches and our economy.

I View Save Our Shoreline the same way my good and trusted friend stated some time ago:

“SOS is the best, most effective, and genuine citizen advocacy group we have seen in our political lifetimes.”

--Dennis O. Cawthorne, former House GOP Leader and Patrick H. McCollough, former state Senator


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