Permits Are Required for Many, But Not All, Shore Land Activities

Beachgrooming is the “ten dollar word” for cleaning up the beach area on a portion of one of the Great Lakes. As a surprise to many, it traditionally required not one, but two permits: one from the state via the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and one from the federal government through the Army Corp of Engineers.

Lake front property owners were never pleased or just did not realize the requirement to request a permit to groom their own littoral (i.e. lake front) lands. Even local governments accidentally mess up because it is somewhat complicated.

In 2012, the Michigan Legislature removed the permit requirement for limited beach grooming activities. Under state law, littoral owners may freely mow, level sand, groom and remove debris from the area between the ordinary high water mark and the water’s edge without a state permit provided that the area is made up of only unconsolidated materials such as sand, rock or pebbles.

However, the federal permit still is required if it involves a beach on the Great Lakes.

Yes, a permit is required… sometimes
Different proposed activities have different permit requirements and different permitting reviewing processes. Information on state permitting requirements can be accessed here while federal permitting requirements can be accessed here.

For shore land activities requiring state and federal permits, the Amy Corp of Engineers and the Michigan Department Environmental Quality have created a joint application for certain dual-required permits in attempt to reduce paperwork.

A misfiled application can delay the permitting a substantial amount of time. Moreover, the requirements and standards are always changing. Assistance of legal counsel is always recommended.

Author: Philip Ellison

Philip L. Ellison, MBA, JD, Esq is an attorney, business counselor, and civil litigator with Outside Legal Counsel PLC. He represents riparians, backlotters, and others protecting water access on Michigan's recreational lakes. Visit his online profile at