Bill would allow state to purchase more land

LANSING — A bill that would uncap the amount of land the state owns and manages is being met with some opposition.

Sponsored by Rep. Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City, the bill would raise the 4.626 million-acre cap on land and allow the Department of Natural Resources to acquire more. The change would be allowed because the department has a new plan for purchasing and selling land.

The state cannot own more land than it does today, according to Brad Garmon, director of conservation and emerging issues for the Michigan Environmental Council. He said the cap is inhibiting the department’s abilities to do its job.

“We want the DNR to get back to doing what they do best,” said Garmon — managing the state’s land.

According to Steve Sutton, DNR finance and operations manager, with land acquisition on hold, the DNR is unable to add recreation areas and public water access.

While there are a few exemptions, such as property donated as a gift and trails, current law requires the department to have its strategic plan approved by the Legislature before the cap will be removed.

Action on the bill has come to a standstill, as the DNR and Schmidt meet with the Michigan Townships Association and the Michigan Association of Counties to work out how local governments will be included in decisions concerning buying and selling land.

The Michigan Townships Association wants an approval process that involves local officials before this legislation passes, said Judy Allen, its director of government relations.

She said that in some townships, most of the land is owned by the state, so local governments should have a say in what land is bought and sold by the state.

The Michigan Association of Counties has similar concerns regarding being part of the decision-making process.

Deena Bosworth, director of government affairs, said the association wants to partner with the state, not just let the state do what it wants. She said the association thinks the DNR should have to seek approval from it before doing anything with the land, including how the land is used and developed.

 The bill is in the House Natural Resources Committee.

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