Filling the Gaps
The following is an excerpt from Filling the Gaps: Environmental Protection Options for Local Governments, 2nd Edition, a publication written by Katherine A. Ardizone while serving as NOAA Coastal Management Fellow for DEQ, and Mark Wyckoff, FAICP, Planning & Zoning Center, Inc. The document was created as a NOAA Coastal Managment Fellowship Project. Financial Assistance from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration authorized by the Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972. The complete resource can be found at the bottom of this page.
How we use our land is the foundation of environmental quality because nearly every environmental problem has a land use origin. Additionally, most resource management decisions are tied to a series of existing or potential land use decisions. Without careful consideration, these land use decisions may unintentionally serve to undermine environmental protection objectives. Thus, governments at all levels must share common goals for a quality environment and equitable use and protection of dwindling natural resources, or all will suffer. The better local, state, and federal governments understand the shared responsibility for coordinated decisions affecting our common resources, the greater the likelihood each will do their part in protecting our environment.
Statewide there are more than 1850 units of local government with land use decision making authority. This fact alone makes it easy to see why protecting our land, air, and water in a consistent manner presents a monumental challenge. Under the status quo, the cumulative impacts of local land use decisions have the potential to negatively affect the overall quality of the environment and jeopardize the ecological health of our state.
Coastal areas in particular face some of the greatest ecological threats. With over 3,288 miles of Great Lakes shoreline, fed by over 36,000 miles of rivers and streams and more than 11,000 inland lakes, the land abutting just the surface waters of this state is staggering. If the riparian lands are not wisely used, the quality of Michigan’s water will worsen to the detriment of present and future generations.
Many local governments recognize the challenges of resource protection, and the limitations of state and federal regulations. They also appreciate the important ecological, aesthetic and economic benefits of wise resource management. Consequently, some have instituted strong local protection measures to maintain community character, grow sustainably, and safeguard environmental quality for future generations. Along the way, these local governments have sometimes asked for clarification about their roles in resource protection as well as information about how to address environmental issues locally.
Other local governments may not be aware of their options and the opportunity that exists when localities constructively partner with state and federal agencies, land conservancies, local conservation organizations, and others to protect Michigan’s natural resources. This guidebook was written in response to those needs. It provides information about local options for environmental protection, the correlation between land use and ecological functions, and implementation tools. Although the guidebook focuses on coastal areas, the environmental management practices are applicable to shorelines throughout the state.
While it may be easy to point to inadequacies and gaps in the current environmental protection structure, by focusing on opportunities for improvement within the existing framework we are taking the first step towards improvement. We cannot afford to maintain an “us and them” mentality among state and local policy makers. The natural world does not recognize political boundaries. We know our jurisdictional confines and these should not be viewed as roadblocks. By knowing them, as well as knowing the responsibilities of others, and effectively utilizing the tools we have available within our scope of authority, we can make a positive difference now, and for future generations.
One does not have to be an environmentalist to appreciate a healthy environment. Having clean air, clean water, beautiful surroundings, and a healthy economy are subjects on which we all can agree, but they do not just happen on their own. Perhaps now more than ever before in our state’s history we must work together to protect our shared resources, because it is clear that no level of government can achieve this alone. As the Michigan Environmental Protection Act states, it is the duty of officials at every level of government to help protect the air, water, and land from pollution, impairment or destruction.[i]
Local government is the first line of defense for our environment. By working cooperatively with state, and sometimes federal environmental protection officials, local officials can ensure that the right plans, regulations, and effective coordination mechanisms are in place to protect our environment.
Ardizone, Katherine A. and Mark A. Wyckoff, FAICP. FILLING THE GAPS:
Environmental Protection Options for Local Governments, 2nd Ed. Michigan
Department of Natural Resources and Environment, Coastal Management Program
with financial assistance from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration, authorized by the Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972.
© 2010. This publication and future versions of this publication may be
quoted or reproduced in part without permission, as long as such
reproduction is for noncommercial or non-profit educational purposes, and
the authors are credited with any use. Mention of trade names and commercial
products does not constitute endorsement of their use. Printed in the United
States of America.
Cover Photo by Michigan Coastal Management Program, Office of the Great
Appendix T – Cluster Development and Planned Unit Development Examples
[i] Michigan Environmental Protection Act, 1970, now codified as Part 17 of NREPA, MCL 327.1702 et seq.