By Louie Stout
The DNR closed off Eagle Lake parking due to complaints from Ontwa Township officials but it had nothing to do with anglers.
The entrance to the grassy DNR property was blocked by large boulders a week ago, placed there by the Michigan DNR after townships officials threatened citing them for an ordinance violation.
“This had nothing to do with fishermen,” said Leroy Krempec, township planning commission administrator. “It was the general public that was causing problems.”
The grassy lot, which the DNR owns and intends to develop as a parking area for boaters, has been open for boat and trailer parking since the DNR purchased the land nearly four years ago.
However, litigation filed by the Eagle Lake Improvement Association to prevent construction of a new boat ramp across from the parking area has put the project on hold.
The lot has remained undeveloped and has been discovered by Eagle Lake beachgoers, many of who have caused problems along Eagle Lake Road during nighttime and weekends.
Krempec said as many as 60 cars have been counted in the lot and litter has become a major problem.
“People have been using the roadside as a bathroom, young children are running across the road into traffic and we had all kinds of problems we needed the DNR to address,” Krempec said.
Given the circumstances, the township gave the DNR two options: Shut it down or limit parking to boat trailers only. The parking area was not part of the litigation.
“We gave them two weeks to respond, and we received a letter stating that they were going to shut it down at the advice of their own attorneys,” said Krempec.
Krempec said although the lot is zoned residential, zoning allows for the DNR parking lot - as long as the DNR addressed required amenities and restrictions.
The DNR’s conceptual plan for the development met that criterion, but public activity this summer was in direct violation while the site remains undeveloped.
“If they didn’t do something, we were going to have to cite them,” said Krempec.
Jordan Byelich, the DNR’s waterways development program manager, said there wasn’t enough time for the DNR to go through its own land use order process and meet the township’s needs.
“We asked if they could work with us to expedite, by way of a repair to the land, to respond to their concerns but that offer was met with resistance,” said Byelich. “The pursuit of a DNR land use order, something that takes more time than the township was willing to support, was not a viable option. Based on those factors, coupled with the issues going on near or on the site, we chose to temporarily block off vehicle parking.”
Meanwhile, development of the new boat launch remains tangled in the DNR’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) legal system. The lake association is challenging the DEQ’s permit approval for the new boat launch. That case has been stalled before the DEQ hearing judge for nearly two years, although it is believed that a ruling is coming this fall.
Byelich said the parking closure is only temporary, but couldn’t say when anglers could park there.
“You can still park alongside the west side of the road where parking is permitted, carry a kayak or small boat across the DNR property to the channel edge, and launch into the channel leading into the Juno Chain,” he said. “But we can’t allow parking on the lot.”
It’s a very unfortunate situation for anglers who have enjoyed the good fishing the lake has to offer. They have been victimized by general public and the lake association that has contested new launch construction for four years.
If the lake association hadn’t fought so vehemently to prevent the development, the finished parking area would have been restricted to fewer than 20 vehicles with trailers, the amenities would be there to meet the township’s criteria, we wouldn’t be discussing public problems that developed this summer, and a safer, better boat launch would be provided for everyone.
Of course, state government isn’t without blame. It’s inexplicable how the DEQ hearing judge has allowed the lake association’s challenge to drag on for as long as it has.
So anglers are penalized for something out of their control.
Krempec emphasized that the current problem has nothing to do with anglers.
“Most of the lake people have nothing against fishermen,” said Krempec. “It’s the weekend and nightly crowds that have ruined a good thing.