Government, Real Estate, and Sustainability

Realtors oppose EPA’s expanded ‘waters’ proposal

Other groups also are up in arms, alleging a power grab.

November 21, 2014
| By Pete Daly |
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The incoming president of the Michigan Realtors organization has been busy this fall, calling upon many of its 24,000-plus members and supporters to let the Environmental Protection Agency and elected representatives in Washington know they are staunchly opposed to the EPA’s proposal to leave “navigable” out of a revision of the Clean Water Act.

Agricultural groups in the state already have launched an offensive against the EPA proposal, with U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow being one of the signers on a letter sent last summer to the EPA, Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Department of Agriculture, asking for “much needed certainty the (proposed) rule will not have unintended effects on agriculture.”

Gene Szpeinski of Signature Associates in Grand Rapids, who will be the 2015 president of Michigan Realtors, said “every property owner” in every state may lose some rights to develop property with water on it if the EPA proposal is approved.

He said when the Clean Water Act was passed years ago by Congress, it included the word “navigable” in defining “waters of the United States.”

“You have to be able to navigate the darn thing in order for it to be a water of the United States, under the jurisdiction of the EPA and the U.S. Corps of Engineers,” said Szpeinski.

“When you take the word ‘navigable’ out, you basically are saying that just about any mud puddle in the country comes under the EPA/Corps jurisdiction. Therefore, any time we alter or touch the flow, or gathering of water in our country, we would need permits,” he said.

He said Michigan has laws pertaining to wetlands, and any development involving water requires a permit from the DNR’s Department of Environmental Quality. Szpeinski said that, under the EPA proposal, the EPA and Corps of Engineers also would be involved in that situation.

“Consider how difficult, time consuming and expensive it is to get any kind of U.S. permits,” he added, stating this would add to the time and cost of development.

“Our biggest concern is they are circumventing Congress by making a major change in the Act,” he said, so that “any potential water anywhere — a drainage ditch, the little pond on your property or the little spot that catches water” — could become a “water of the United States.”

Szpeinski said Realtors are concerned the proposed revision could become a tool for opponents of development — “and there are plenty of people who think that way.”

He said the U.S. Supreme Court previously affirmed the Clean Water Act and Constitution both limit federal authority over intrastate waters.

The Michigan DEQ “does a fine job policing these things, and we work well with them. For us, this is a huge issue that we are highly concerned about,” he said.

Michigan Realtors was previously known as the Michigan Association of Realtors.

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