Inland lake living is premised on a concept that is simple to state, yet difficult to enforce: each owners’ use of the lake for their personal enjoyment, without adversely affecting others’ exercise of that very same privilege. In order to maintain some manner of restraint on development, to prevent inland lakes from becoming so choked with structures and seawalls that those lakes become unsafe and undesirable, and to provide a regulatory structure and a minimum “floor” regardless of municipal zoning ordinances, the Dept. of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (“EGLE”), has implemented a four-part permitting system for “major” property modifications that have an effect on the waterway and require more than homeowner discretion. It is important to note here that local or municipal ordinances may be more restrictive than EGLE’s regulations and forbid or limit an activity that is otherwise allowed under EGLE.

The Joint Permit Application (“JPA”) framework covers three main areas  statute: Part 301 (Inland Lakes and Streams); Part 303 (Wetlands Protection);
and Part 325 (Great Lakes Submerged Lands) of NREPA.

The first category to discuss are activities that do not, in fact, require any permit at all from EGLE for their completion (which is not to say those activities are vested rights, or absolutely allowed activities.) For example, the installation of a seasonal boat hoist on an inland lake, for private single-family use where its placement does not unreasonably interfere with the use of waters by others, does not require a permit. To expound upon our example, if the hypothetical property owner seeking to install the seasonal boat hoist resided on a lake in Highland Township and did not have any lawful nonconforming pre-existing use protections, proposed amendments to local ordinances may limit seasonal hoist placement otherwise allowed by EGLE based upon how many feet of separate lake frontage the subject property has.

The second category of EGLE permits are “General Permits”, which are for activities that are considered the least impactful to the environment, while still requiring standards and oversight. Often times, with a properly completed General Permit application, no public notice, no department site visit, and no mitigation measures are necessary (as used in EGLE permitting “public notice” generally means abutting and neighboring property owners.) A residential property owner may, for example, apply for a general permit if they would like to install a permanent, non-commercial mooring buoy in front of their residential property.

The third category of EGLE permits are “Minor Project” permits. Many permits of interest to a residential property owner fall into this Minor Project category. Most Minor Project permits don’t require public notice, but some Minor Projects may require EGLE staff site visits. Using our example, a boat hoist that will be permanent requires a Minor Project permit, as does construction of a single pier (dock) for private residential use. marinas, seawalls of more than 500 feet, etc.) and require public notice and a site visit.

While the permitting structure can be daunting, we are here to assist with your applications and determining what is right for your specific project.