Leelanau Needs to Protect and Cherish Our Beautiful, Fragile Home

If there were ever a local issue that should be 100% non-partisan, it would be protecting our stunningly beautiful peninsula, its rural and small-town character, and our abundance of natural resources.

Surrounded by Grand Traverse Bay and Lake Michigan, Leelanau County has 100 miles of Great Lakes shoreline, 33 inland lakes and incorporates five islands.  We have the second-highest proportion of water area of any county in the United States, behind only Keweenaw County, Michigan.  Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, located on the west side of the county, was voted “The Most Beautiful Place in America” by Good Morning America, in 2011.

Water, water everywhere.  Which means keeping our lakes, shorelines and watershed clean and healthy should be Priority One.

Leelanau County is thoroughly rural and agricultural, with a half-dozen charming and unique resort towns running along the outer coastline. Inland lakes and streams are lined with villages, homes, businesses and cottages, many of which were built decades ago and have independent septic systems. It is estimated that 20-40% of those systems are either failing or need attention.

After rejecting a septic inspection ordinance for 30 years, the County Commission recently passed a point-of-sale/transfer septic ordinance—when you’re selling or transferring a property, a septic inspection (and correction, if needed) is now mandated.

My opponent says this is the ‘big arm of government’ coming down on property owners. My take is that such an inspection will not only protect our most precious resource, and economic engine—water—but will protect new buyers from having an unpleasant surprise when their inadequate holding tank or drainage field fails. It’s common sense and a simple first step to protect the watershed.

Recycling is another important factor in keeping Leelanau clean and green. When we moved here in 2010, we were delighted to learn that free recycling bins were available in Cedar, and other locations around the county, funded by a vote made by our fellow citizens. Recycling keeps waste out of the ground and out of the water.

I do understand that recycling centers have sometimes been misused— but recycling (and monitoring recycling centers, or making them more attractive) is something citizens can do, and government can support. It’s a mix of individual responsibility, and good policymaking. It’s one component in protecting the ecosystem we all share.

Another example of individual initiative and policy support is boat-washing, to keep destructive and invasive species out of our lakes. The Lake Leelanau Association and the Grand Traverse Band partnered on this project, to protect lake health and fishing. Plaudits to them—we need more boat washes. County Commissioners should be behind all such plans. That’s what good government is for.

Protecting the natural environment is not a township-by-township or private association issue. Every major change to the landscape impacts interconnected systems: Traffic. The health of our lakes. Farming. Access to recreation, open and wooded spaces. Controlling growth and retaining rural character, while also providing essential housing and services for our citizens and visitors.

When it comes to protecting our land, air and water—we’re all in this together.

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