The “Triple Bottom Line” in Michigan’s coastal communities, Element 10: Stakeholder participation

Throughout the development process, stakeholder participation can foster the creation of a community vision and ensure that people, planet, and profit are all taken into consideration when decisions are made.

While stakeholder involvement can benefit any sort of community-based plan, it is even more crucial in planning development in Michigan’s coastal and shoreline communities, due to the potential for conflict where private land is adjacent to public waters. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Public Trust Doctrine is based on English common law and can be dated back to the Roman Empire. While the extent of the doctrine varies from state to state in the U.S., it is essentially used to protect navigable waters and adjacent land areas for public uses like recreation, transportation of people and goods, and fishing. The NOAA Coastal Services Center offers an online training on the Public Trust Doctrine.

In Michigan, the law guiding the use of the Great Lakes and adjacent areas is in the Natural Resources Environmental Protection Act, Part 325: Great Lakes Submerged Lands. According to Michigan DEQ’s website on Great Lakes Bottomland Conveyances, the Public Trust Doctrine gives the State of Michigan the authority to protect and manage these areas in order to ensure their sustained use by the public.

There have been, and continue to be, legal battles in Michigan that contest the extent of public versus private rights when it comes to using shoreline and open waters of the Great Lakes. Planning that involves stakeholder participation allows community planners and decision-makers to be proactive about addressing these conflicts prior to development activities by providing an opportunity to address them before they result in legal battles. Educational seminars, facilitated stakeholder meetings, and community vision workshops can all help foster an environment where stakeholders from diverse groups can come together, discuss their different points of view, and potentially come up with a solution that is agreeable to all parties involved.

Michigan State University Extension and Michigan Sea Grant are actively involved in projects that seek to protect the environment, improve the quality of life, and promote economic activity in Michigan’s coastal areas. This article was adapted from:  Smart Growth for Coastal and Waterfront Communities, a report created by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the International City/County Management Association, and Rhode Island Sea Grant.  The document can be accessed at:

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