Wetlands are a valuable natural resource and they provide benefits from improved water quality and storm water management to erosion control and wildlife habitat.
However, for many landowners, developers, and contractors, wetlands are often perceived as more of a hindrance than a benefit because of the local/state/federal regulations that may protect them. Furthermore, its difficult for many to determine what is actually a wetland, not to mention where its boundary exists, because water does not necessarily have to be visible at the surface. Certus’ professionals understand these challenges and can help you understand in a practical sense what are/are not wetlands, whether they’re regulated or not; and if regulated, we can assist in navigating the permitting process.
According to the 1987 Wetlands Delineation Manual (Manual) derived by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), a set of criteria with specific indicator parameters has been established to determine the presence of a wetland. The three (3) indicator parameters are: wetland plants (hydrophytic vegetation), wetland soils (hydric soils), and necessary hydrology. Regional Supplements to the Manual further provide technical guidance and procedures for identifying and delineating wetlands that may be subject to regulatory jurisdiction.
Michigan is unique in that it currently implements its own wetland regulation through the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy’s (EGLE) Part 303 of the Natural Resources and Environmental Property Act, Public Act 451 of 1994, as amended – Wetlands Protection (Part 303). In addition, select municipalities across the state protect wetlands under specific wetland ordinances. Part 303 defines a wetland as “land characterized by the presence of water at a frequency and duration sufficient to support, and that under normal circumstances does support, wetland vegetation or aquatic life, and is commonly referred to as a bog, swamp, or marsh.”
In summary, wetlands in Michigan regulated under Part 303 generally include those that are:
- Five (5) acres or larger in size. The wetlands on your property may be smaller than this threshold, but if they are contiguous with a larger wetland unit beyond your boundaries, your wetlands may be regulated;
- Connected to or within 500 feet of a regulating surface water body (i.e. lake, river, stream, or pond);
- Connected to or within 1,000 feet of one of the Great Lakes or their connecting waters; or
- Not fitting the preceding but are determined by the EGLE to be essential to the preservation of the state’s natural resources.
Municipalities with ordinances derived to protect wetlands may further regulate wetlands that are smaller than 5 acres in size.
Whether regulated under local/state/federal regulations, most activities intended within regulated wetlands require a permit, even if those activities are proposed to occur on private property. If a wetland is not regulated, a permit is not necessary.
Wetlands are often associated with adjacent surface waters such as lakes, rivers, streams, drainage ditches, ponds, etc., and these surface waters are regulated under EGLE’s Part 301 – Inland Lakes and Streams (Part 301). In Michigan, permitting is provided through the Joint Permit Application (JPA) process which addresses state and federal rules and regulations that pertain to construction projects/land alteration activities where land and water interface. The JPA covers activities proposed in or near ecological features protected under Part 303 and Part 301, as well as activities related to floodplains, critical dune areas, high erosion areas, marinas and dams, and Great Lakes Bottomlands. Categories within the JPA process cover both new construction and maintenance projects, and Certus can help you determine if you’re intended activities warrant a JPA.
Certus’ professionals are experienced, and we’re prepared to provide you with wetland assessment and permitting services.