One new local watercraft control OK’d, anonther nixed
While one Oakland County lake community recently achieved success in an effort to have a special local watercraft control enacted for its lake, another county lake community has been stymied and is renewing its own effort.
Local watercraft controls are special marine laws enacted for an individual lake, or even a specific lake feature like a bay or a canal. Such marine laws can only be enacted with state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) input and approval.
The process of establishing a local watercraft control typically begins with a lake community approaching the municipal governing panel to ask the DNR to investigate the need for a local marine law.
If the DNR determines there’s a need for special watercraft rules, the department proposes a local ordinance for municipal adoption. If watercraft controls aren’t recommended, the municipality is notified of the reasons for coming to that conclusion. Such a determination, under the Public Act (PA) 237 of 2006, can be appealed to the state’s Natural Resources Commission (NRC).
State law sets criteria the DNR must use when investigating a need for special rules on a particular waterway. According to the law, those are:
• Whether the activities subject to the proposed special rule pose any issues of safety to life or property;
• The profile of the water body, including local jurisdiction, size, geographic location, and amount of vessel traffic;
• The current and historical depth of the water body;
• Any identifiable special problems or conditions on the water body;
• Whether special rules would create a hardship on normal navigational traffic;
• Whether user conflicts exist;
• Complaints received from local law enforcement agencies;
• The status of any accidents that have occurred on the water body;
• Historical uses of the water body and potential future uses;
• Whether the water body is public or private; and
• Whether existing law adequately regulates the activities.
Following the DNR’s initial investigation, it must issue a preliminary report. The report will be given to the municipality or municipalities where the water body is located. Then a public hearing on the findings of the report will be scheduled.
Within 90 days following the public hearing, if the DNR determines there is a need for special watercraft rules, the DNR will propose a local ordinance. The municipal governing body may begin the process toward adopting the proposed ordinance as drafted, or reject it — local officials can’t revise the proposed ordinance drafted by the DNR.
If the DNR determines there’s no need for an ordinance, it’s required to notify the municipality and specify the reasons for its determination. The DNR’s determination can be appealed to the NRC.
Under the appeal scenario, the NRC reviews written arguments received from the appellant and the DNR. The NRC may hear oral arguments; determine if additional information is needed from either party (if so, an extension is granted); and may request and consider advice from legal counsel to the NRC on legal and procedural matters pertaining to the appeal.
An NRC decision will then be reached based on a majority vote, and issued in writing.
In mid-May, the Milford Township Board of Trustees unanimously approved the introduction of an ordinance that would authorize the use of electric trolling motors on Sears Lake.
Currently, Sears Lake is regarded as a “no-motors lake” per a township ordinance; however, the Sears Lake Community Association board recently received requests from residents to allow electric motors on the water.
The DNR held a public hearing regarding the use of electric motors on Sears Lake back on March 1 at the Milford Civic Center, at the request of the Milford Township board.
The hearing drew a total of 30 people, including state Sen. Mike Kowall (R-White Lake), Milford Township Supervisor Don Green, Clerk Holly Brandt, and Treasurer Cynthia Dagenhardt.
Residents at the meeting spoke for and against permitting electric motors on the lake. Those opposing electric motors cited reasons ranging from the size of the lake, environmental and tranquility concerns, and residents having purchased properties on the lake with the knowledge that no motors would be allowed.
Sgt. Al Bavarskas, a DNR Marine Safety Specialist, stated in a letter addressed to DNR Boating Law Administrator Lt. Andrew Turner that based on all the information gathered, Sears Lake didn’t have enough activity to justify a no-motor restriction on the lake and recommended allowing the use of electric-troll motors.
The homeowner’s association previously set forth guidelines for a possible amendment to the existing no-motors ordinance, such as capping electric motors at no more than 45 pounds of thrust and not allowing more than one motor per boat.
The association is also requesting that no more than two boats with motors be allowed per dock and that boats with motors must be owned by a Sears Lake resident, who must also be in a boat at all times during operation, with exceptions.
The next township board meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, June 20.
Meanwhile, the West Bloomfield Township Board of Trustees has thrown its support behind the Green Lake Association as it prepares an application to ask the state to establish a 15 mph speed limit for watercraft on the lake.
The board last month unanimously directed the township to prepare a resolution of protest if the DNR denies the association’s latest application.
This comes after the DNR turned down an application last year that was submitted by the association to establish a 10 mph speed limit for watercraft on Green Lake, where only vessels powered by electric motors are allowed on the water.
The DNR’s Bavarskas stated in a letter dated Nov. 18, 2011 that no safety or environmental issues have been reported on the lake, according to the Oakland County Sheriff’s Department Marine Division.
Bavarskas also stated in the letter that there have been no documented complaints from law enforcement agencies regarding activities on Green Lake, and that no accidents have occurred on the lake, according to the Marine Division and the DNR’s Law Enforcement Division.
He added that a public hearing was held on the association’s first request, but no township officials were present and only three people in attendance gave testimony on their concerns about future watercraft technology, including the development of turbo-electric motors.
Green Lake Association President Emil Hagopian and other Green Lake residents expressed disappointment in the DNR’s denial of the initial request at the April 23 West Bloomfield Township board meeting, saying they didn’t like the DNR’s stance that there must be a documented problem on the lake before the department would consider addressing the issue.
Township Trustee Steve Kaplan said that the application for a 15 mph speed limit is currently being submitted and that a public hearing is being scheduled for sometime in either June or July.