As residents begin summer construction projects, county urges them to take preventative steps against erosion

CASS COUNTY — As the state begins to emerge from COVID-19 lockdowns and warmer weather is here to stay, many southwest Michigan residents are tackling construction projects on their homes or building new homes entirely.

However, before residents take to breaking ground, one area agency is urging them to take preventative steps to preserve the land and protect against erosion.

Representatives with the Cass County Soil Erosion and Sediment Control Program are working to educate and enforce erosion and sediment control practices within the county. According to SESC inspector Patrick Boyle, the Cass County Conservation District, which has been responsible for enforcing SESC compliance since 2016, has had a difficult time spreading the word about safe SESC practices — especially as construction projects have resumed following COVID-19 shutdowns.

“We have projects out of compliance all the time,” Boyle said. “Many people just don’t know. … Some of these contractors and developers and homeowners are coming from other states or counties that might enforce things a different way.”

The Cass County SESC program enforces the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act of 1994, which requires, in part, that a person “engaged in an earth change” to plan, implement and maintain acceptable soil erosion and sedimentation control measures. This includes obtaining permits from a local SESC program, which are required if working with 500 feet of a lake or stream or when working on a plot more than an acre in size.

Boyle said these measures are essential, as erosion from construction projects can have significant consequences, including toxic algae blooms, the destruction of fish habitats, a loss of property value and — in some cases — making lakes unswimmable.

“Erosion is a huge issue as far as water quality is concerned, and I think it is one that is overlooked,” he said. “Probably the biggest threat to inland lakes here in Michigan is erosion from development projects.”

Boyle’s role in the SESC process is to inspect properties and help contractors and homeowners understand the importance of erosion prevention measures. Though he can issue fines, he said he prefers to use education as a tool to promote the program.

“It costs a lot to remediate these problems, so it’s not just about protecting the water quality here in Cass County,” Boyle said. “It’s also about protecting against hidden fees and taxes in the long run.”

One recent project that obtained proper SESC permits was the Cassopolis Stone Lake Beach project. One of several measures required to prevent erosion and sedimentation was a black construction fence designed to prevent sediment runoff into the lake and wind erosion. The fence must remain in place until the shoreline is fully vegetated.

Had the village not taken that measure, Boyle said the consequences could have been huge.

“It takes hundreds of years for the top inch of soil to develop and have beneficial bacteria. If you are not careful, that can be gone in a day,” Boyle said. “Then you have that in the water where is causing problems.”

Boyle said he hopes Cass County developers follow in Stone Lake Beach’s footsteps by obtaining property permits and following proper SESC protocols to protect the county’s lakes and water quality.

“I just want developers to understand the importance of this,” Boyle said. “I think a lot of people have a hard time placing value on a healthy ecosystem when they don’t know what the repercussions are for not minding those things.”

For more information, contact Boyle at pat@cassccdistrict.org or visit mishorelinepartnership.org.

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