Define Key Terms in the Statute

The Legislature should create working definitions of the key scientific terms in the statute. The definitions can, of course, be informed by expert testimony. Ideally, wetlands should be limited to the marshes, bogs and swamps mentioned in the current legislation, and these should be described in the statute, including some reference to the type of soils included.

State legislators should, for instance, consider adopting the federal wetland definition. This definition is not perfect, but it does at least refer to soil types as a primary indicator of the presence of a wetland. Adopting the federal definition would have the added benefit of making Michigan’s wetland definition consistent with those in most of the rest of the country.

Similarly, inland "lakes, rivers, streams and ponds" should be defined as natural bodies of water, while "contiguous" bodies of water should be adjacent or in actual physical contact.[43]

These changes will ensure that the state’s regulators are expending their resources on areas that provide genuine environmental benefits, not areas similar to what even the DEQ calls the "low-quality wetland" at Hart Enterprises. Better definitions will also increase the chances that informed citizens and private experts will be able to know a wetland when they see it. The current system, in which a property owner can only know whether his or her property contains a wetland by applying to the DEQ for a permit, risks creating a rule of men, not of laws.

For the same reason, the Legislature should remove all references to the DEQ’s determining items like "the public interest," "public and private need" and an "unacceptable disruption" to aquatic resources. Defining such terms is the very purpose of an elected Legislature. It is not the right work for an unelected government agency.[44]