Phragmites stories in the Elk Rapids News

This week in Torch Lake Township

Gerry Sell, Elk Rapids News, May 21, 2009

Over at the Township Hall the Board of Trustees discussed the concept of required “point of sale” septic system inspections, laid the groundwork for a Special Assessment District to fund eradication of invasive phragmites, heard a request for increased policing at the Nature Preserve, and appointed the former Supervisor to a vacancy on the Planning Commission.

Norton Bretz, Executive Director of the Three Lakes Association, and Dean Branson, TLA Board member, made a presentation on the septic system issue and asked the Board to schedule an informational meeting for the public. “We are not advocating a specific ordinance,” said Bretz. “We are proposing that the community examine the issue.” The Board scheduled an educational forum for June 17 from 7-9 pm at the Township Hall. “This will not be a public hearing,” said Supervisor George Parker. “It is an informational meeting only. We have not proposed an ordinance.”

The Board does intend to propose an ordinance to establish a Special Assessment District for the purpose of eradicating invasive phragmites. The tall reed spreads aggressively and pushes out native vegetation, creating impenetrable walls that affect wildlife habitat and recreational uses. There are patches all along the lakeshore—Banks Township to the north and Milton to the south are also working on eradication programs—and Torch Lake Township would like to nip the invasion in its early stages. Parker said that proceeds from the assessment would be used for a DEQ permit and a two-year professional spraying program along the entire Lake Michigan shoreline in the Township, to begin this August. The assessment would cost each property owner $1.00 (one dollar) per lakefront foot. With Board support the Supervisor will send a letter to lakefront property owners detailing the problem and the proposed solution and asking for support in the process of pinpointing spraying locations.

Shirley Wolfe of the Torch Bay Nature Preserve Authority reported increases in prohibited behavior (fireworks, bonfires, and the use of guns) in the Preserve since Constable policing of the area has ended. Sheriff Dan Bean said he will work with the Authority to increase patrols, and the Township continues to seek a qualified resident to fill the Constable vacancy. “We may have a good candidate,” said Supervisor Parker. Wolfe also endorsed phragmites eradication in the area of the beach pond, and invited people to volunteer at the Preserve.

The Board expressed its appreciation for the contributions of Planning Commission member and neighbor Lee Colvin, who died earlier this month, and expressed condolences to his family. Supervisor George Parker appointed former Supervisor Bob Spencer to fill the vacancy created on the Planning Commission, and the Board approved the appointment on a 3-2 vote.

Torch Lake Township Board passes Phragmites ordinance over opposition

Gerry Sell, Elk Rapids News, June 25, 2009

At its regular meeting on June 16 the Torch Lake Township Board passed a Phragmites control ordinance.  Members of the public were evenly divided on the issue, with feelings running high on both sides.  After considerable discussion, the measure carried on a 4-1 vote, with Supervisor George Parker, Clerk Kathy Windiate, Treasurer Sharon Schultz and Trustee Larry Tomlinson in favor and Trustee Alan Martel opposed.

Parker said that the ordinance addresses “what the Township should do about a problem on a property when people are not willing or able to take care of the problem themselves.”  In his view an eradication program will keep Phragmites from growing into impenetrable walls that will damage natural habitat, interfere with recreational uses, and cause a decline in property values.  He opened the floor to public comment, advising speakers that even though a police powers ordinance does not require a public hearing, the Board wanted to hear their thoughts.

Resident Ron Frohriep said that getting rid of Phragmites is a good idea, but he doubted whether the Township has the authority to regulate bottomlands along the Bay.  He raised the issue of potential threats to inland streams, ditches and wetlands, and asked why the plan was limited to lakefront parcels.  He also wondered why the State of Michigan has not funded a statewide eradication program.

“The State doesn’t have any money,” said Heidi Lang, Antrim Conservation District soil erosion officer.  “We should handle this locally.”

The estimated cost of the program, according to Parker, is about one dollar per waterfront foot.  At its May meeting the Board discussed establishing a Special Assessment District that would apply to lakefront owners, but the ordinance adopted on June 16 leaves open the method of funding.  A number of speakers contended that eradication should be paid for by everyone, not just lakefront owners.

Speakers in favor of the ordinance said that it offered an opportunity to control the problem before it got out of hand.  Tim Pierson, a volunteer at the Torch Bay Nature Preserve, where Phragmites is growing in the beach pond, said “If we get this early we’ll be so much better off.”  Loraine Mottern described the rapid spread of the weed just north of the Township at the Antrim Creek Natural Area, and reported that many communities from the Straits to Sleeping Bear are working to develop a coordinated attack. 

Others contended any solution should be a private, rather than government, operation.  Jerry Hug said, “Nobody doubts we have [Phragmites] and need to get rid of it, but I want to take care of it myself.”

Clerk Kathy Windiate said “If I take care of a problem on my beach and you don’t, pretty soon it’s my problem again.”  Treasurer Sharon Schultz thought the ordinance was a good place to start.  “I’m not turning my back on [Phragmites],” she said.  “I think it’s important.”

Trustee Alan Martel said he didn’t doubt the problem is real—“It’s eating Harsen’s Island”—but he thought the Township should obtain a blanket permit, identify areas of infestation, and then leave it to property owners to either tackle the weed themselves or hire a professional.  Asked about owners who might ignore the problem, Martel said “I don’t want to give ‘em a ticket yet.  People are afraid of another law and another rule . . . and we don’t know how we’re going to pay for [eradication].” 

The day after the ordinance was adopted Ron Frohriep gave notice of his intent to file a petition for a referendum.  He later concluded that a police powers ordinance is not subject to referendum, and halted the petition drive.  Instead opponents plan to attend a public meeting sponsored by Trustee Alan Martel at the Township Hall on Saturday, June 27 at 9:00 a.m., where they will devise a list of recommended amendments to the ordinance.

SIDEBAR: Summary of the Torch Lake Township Phragmites Ordinance

The ordinance provides for the establishment of a Phragmites administrator charged with identifying areas of infestation along Lake Michigan and inland lake shorelines.  It gives the administrator the right, upon written permission by the owner, to inspect properties for Phragmites.  It also provides that if the owner refuses permission, the administrator may not enter the property without an administrative search warrant issued by the Court. 

The administrator must give the Board of Trustees a written report identifying areas for possible inclusion in a Phragmites eradication zone.  After a public hearing where property owners may explain why their parcels should not be included, the Board will establish the boundaries of the zone.  Once the Phragmites eradication zone is established for the year, the Board will apply for appropriate permits and retain professional herbicide applicators for the treatments.  The cost of the process, including permits and treatments, is to be paid for as determined by the Board.

Phragmites ordinance opponents press for changes

Gerry Sell, Elk Rapids News, July 2, 2009

After the Torch Lake Township Board passed a Phragmites control ordinance earlier this month, Trustee Alan Martel invited residents who opposed the ordinance to a public meeting to discuss their options.  Three dozen people showed up on Saturday morning.  Martel summarized their concerns for the Elk Rapids News.
First, he said, ticking the items off, “everyone wants to get rid of Phragmites.  They just want to do it themselves, and they want to know how.”  He went on to say that opponents don’t like the search warrant provision in the ordinance, and they think the state, not the township, should fund eradication.

Martel says he sees opportunities to resolve the dispute.  “I think we need to soften the ordinance,” he said.  “The Phragmites czars could be a resource rather than cops.  We could contact all the associations along the Bay and get them involved in an educational process.”  He believes it should be possible to obtain a single permit that would cover all private eradication efforts.

He says that 70 patches of Phragmites have been identified, affecting about 1,800 of the 50,000 feet of bay shore in Torch Lake Township.  This is a manageable problem, he argues, and it should be possible for individuals to solve it in cooperation with their neighbors.
For Martel the larger issue is that “the Board doesn’t recognize well what privacy means.”  He was offended, and says others were as well, when Supervisor George Parker and Treasurer Sharon Schultz speculated that people who objected to inspections of their property might “have something to hide.”  
“I have a big back yard,” said Martel, who owns a great deal of property in the Township, “and I’m generous about sharing it with other people.  But it’s my back yard, and I should be able to control who is there.”

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