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A Better Partnership
December 15, 2016

COA determines that the actual water's edge is the boundary of a critical dune area

In Port Sheldon Beach Association v. Department of Environmental Equality, No. 328483, the Michigan Court of Appeals held that the lakeward boundary of a critical dune area (“CDA”) located in Port Sheldon Township extends to the water’s edge, thereby subjecting the boundary to the Sand Dune Protection and Management Act (“SDPMA”).

This case arose out of the Port Sheldon Beach Association’s (the “Association”) attempt to remove dune grass from a portion of the lakeward boundary of a CDA due to the shoreline of Lake Michigan moving westward by 150 feet.  The Association wanted to groom that portion of the property, but was advised by the Department of Environmental Quality (“DEQ”) that it could not do so because it was within the CDA.  In December 2014, the Association filed suit, and both parties moved for summary disposition.  The Association argued that the lakeward boundary of the CDA was fixed, and therefore the dry area of land to the left of that boundary was not subject to the SDPMA because it was not part of the CDA.  The DEQ asserted that the boundary extended to the shore of the lake, thereby subjecting the dry area to DEQ control under the SDPMA, and the trial court agreed, granting summary disposition in the DEQ’s favor. 

On appeal, the Association made several arguments as to why the lower court erred in its ruling, including its interpretation of the SDPMA.  The trial court interpreted the statute by analyzing the Port Sheldon Township map included within it.  The court determined that the lakeward boundary in dispute depicted a meander line along the lake, not a fixed boundary line.  The Michigan Court of Appeals agreed, reasoning that there were areas within the map that contained fixed boundary lines.  Thus, if the Legislature intended for the disputed area to contain a fixed boundary line, its intent would be evidenced by the map.

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