The “Triple Bottom Line” in Michigan’s coastal communities - Element 9: Transparent decisions

Standardized permitting and a formal planning process can reduce uncertainties that protect the environment, support private business, and promote quality of life for residents when development decisions are made in coastal and shoreline communities.

There is not a “one size fits all” approach to creating a sustainable coastal community. A community can only achieve the triple-bottom line by balancing “people, planet, and profit” relative to the community’s vision for itself in the future. Once this vision is identified, a formalized planning process and sound policies can help get the community where they want to be by providing a roadmap that reduces pitfalls from unknown rule requirements or potentially conflicting policies that can cost individuals and municipalities time and money.

Oftentimes, development decisions require technical assistance and permits from more than just the local municipality; and sometimes there are multiple state and federal agencies that regulate the same or similar activity requiring a permit. In Michigan, one example of an attempt to bring transparency and expediency to a permitted activity is the Joint Permit Application administered through Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) that covers construction, dredge and fill, or other activities that occur on or near bodies of water and wetlands, or in areas where there is a concern for impacting shoreline habitat. The formalized process allows the permit to travel to applicable divisions within Michigan DEQ that have responsibility for the various activities, and then it is sent to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers who has overlapping jurisdiction in many of the same areas.  By formalizing the process, the permit allows developers to spend less time dealing with permits, which can reduce the time it takes to process a permit, and still ensure that environmental impacts are kept to a minimum.  You can even request a pre-application meeting with DEQ staff on their webpage.

A standardized planning process can help stakeholders reach a consensus on how they see their community in the future by bringing community stakeholders together to help understand different points of view through sharing opinions and stories, providing science-based facts from experts in different academic fields, technical knowledge on best practices from practitioners, and even projecting different economic, social, and environmental outcomes based on different vision scenarios. More on how stakeholder engagement helps a community attain its vision and protect the bottom line will be the topic of Element 10 of this article series.

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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