Saugatuck Dunes Save Our Shoreline 2022

2022 A Remarkable Year
Our efforts last year focused on stopping the proposed Northshore of Saugatuck marina and Van Horn sand dune mine and ski lake, while also strengthening our reputation as advocates to protect and preserve the Saugatuck Dunes and Kalamazoo River mouth.

Proposed Marina
In July the Michigan Supreme Court clarified the criteria that establishes who can challenge local zoning decisions. This was a huge victory for public participation and good governance and gives the Coastal Alliance the opportunity to appear again in Allegan County Circuit Court to argue that we have standing to challenge the Saugatuck Township’s Special Use Authorization for the proposed marina. We hope to have a decision within the next month. If we are granted standing, we’ll be able to pursue our lawsuit that argues the permits clearly violate Township ordinances.
In October, the City of Saugatuck City Council unanimously approved a 65-point resolution that was sent to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) as part of their Public Interest Factors Review for the proposed marina. The resolution concluded with:
The City, as a "local agency having interest over the particular activity," finds that the proposed marina basin is "contrary to the public interest."
The City finds that the cumulative, permanent detrimental impacts of the excavation and construction of the proposed marina basin on property held by the City, adjacent natural areas, and on the Tri-Community tourist-based economy far outweigh any benefits from the construction of the marina basin. The City therefore finds that the canal is not necessary for development of the property at issue.
The City finds that the Tri-Community tourist-based economy relies on the preservation of the historical, ecological, and cultural values in the river mouth area.
The City finds that the proposed marina basin is contrary to the well-established "public and private uses to which the area is suited."
In November, the USACE released a Memorandum of Record in their Section 106 Historic Properties Review. The memo concluded by detailing five adverse effects that must now be avoided, minimized, or mitigated should the proposed marina receive necessary permits to proceed:
In summary, the undertaking would cause an adverse effect on the Kalamazoo River Mouth TCP due to its direct physical effects on the landscape; visual and auditory characteristics of the river mouth (i.e., the place where river, lake, and forest meet); the feeling and character of the river mouth area; Potawatomi cultural and spiritual beliefs and practices associated with use of the river mouth; and potential impacts on lake sturgeon, water quality, and the ecological characteristics of the area.
The USACE also articulated Environmental Justice concerns:
The adverse effects of the undertaking on the Kalamazoo River Mouth TCP would accrue for the Potawatomi Tribes that ascribe significance to the TCP, and we will consider the potential environmental justice implications further in our NEPA analysis, as part of our permit review.
The USACE continues to review the three permit applications for the proposed marina – the Section 106 Historic Properties just described, Public Interest Factors, and the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA).
In December, we made a formal request to the Saugatuck Township Planning Commission to hold a public hearing to terminate the Special Approval Use (SAU) permit granted to NorthShore of Saugatuck on April 26, 2017, and require the developer to reapply should they desire to pursue the construction of their proposed marina. According to a condition of the 2017 SAU, “The project, including the marina, shall be constructed in a single phase beginning no later than March 15, 2018.”
As a reminder, the State permits for the proposed marina expire next week, which will require the applicant to reapply. Upon completion of the application, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) will hold a public hearing. Stay tuned for details!

YOU are truly the Alliance and we, as your Board of Directors, could not be successful protecting and preserving the Saugatuck Dunes and Kalamazoo River Mouth without each and every donation.

David Swan, Dawn Schumann, Frank Alfieri, Cynthia McKean, Rick Kirk, Bobbie Gaunt, Becky Bruns, Holly Anderson, Kathryn Birky, Christian Birky

2021 Update....
A lot has been happening. Please scroll down   WE APPRECIATE YOUR SUPPORT!!! GoFundMe is a critical part of our fundraising...scroll down to read more about all our efforts including the recent oral arguments presented by our attorney, Scott Howard, to the MI Supreme Court on October 7, 2021, for our case regarding standing. Saugatuck Township Zoning Board of Appeals needs to hear the merits of our case that is based upon local zoning that clearly reads: “In No Event shall a canal or channel be excavated for the purpose of increasing the water frontage.” “In No Event’ means never and without exception.Our budget for the legal defense is approximately $30K.

You can also read about our work with marina consultants and designers to create a Least Environmentally Damaging Practicable Alternative (LEDPA) to the proposed Padnos marina. If there is a LEDPA then the permit must be denied.  Budget = $25K

We have worked with hydrogeologists to detail the impact of the excavation and dewatering of the proposed marina. They found that the ground water table that feeds the globally imperiled interdunal wetlands would drop by more than 14 feet. This team of scientists has been instrumental in 1) showing the flaws in the data submitted by the applicant, 2) detailing the impacts of the proposed excavation and dewatering to the surrounding wetlands. Budget = $10K

Bring together nearly two dozen expert witnesses and our legal team for our March 2020 trial in our appeal of Department of Environmental, Great Lakes, and Energy marina permit. Budget = $30K

We are an all-volunteer organization with zero overhead costs. We always ask for reduced rates but our four conservation strategies cost significant money.

Together, we can protect the beaches, dunes, wetlands, forested back dunes, and river from the proposed marina; those public Natural Areas of the Saugatuck Dunes in which our community has invested tens of millions of dollars to keep public. If the proposed marina is unchallenged and allowed to move forward it will devalue the investments we’ve made in our Public Natural Areas.

Unless we act to protect these areas now, many of our beautiful natural areas will disappear before our children and grandchildren have a chance to enjoy them.



UPDATE: 2019 - over $100,000

We've raised over $100,000 since our first GoFundMe launch. You don't see it in GFM because it doesn't include $$ from our website, $$ from grants, $$ from individual donors, nor $$ from memorials.

We had a great crowd handing out information at the Saugatuck July 4th parade. 

We've been very busy executing against our legal strategy of ensuring that local zoning laws are followed. Please read this for an update on the three current proceedings.

The marina has not been approved.

The proposed marina requires three levels of permits: local, state, and federal.

(1) The local permit has been appealed to the Michigan Appellate Court. That lawsuit hinges on the threshold clause in our local zoning ordinance: “In No Event.” The full sentence reads: “In No Event shall a canal or channel be excavated for the purpose of increasing one’s water frontage.” The proposed marina would increase the applicant’s frontage by 3,200 feet.

(2) The state permit is scheduled for trial in October 2019. There are several issues being reviewed by the judge. The most significant being the process of excavation will lower the ground water table at the river mouth that feeds the globally-imperiled interdunal wetlands by as much as 18 feet. Feet, not inches. It is unknown how long it will take for the water to fully regenerate, if ever.

(3) The Army Corps has not yet finalized their review. They remain concerned with destruction to the historic site of Singapore, water quality given the ‘dead-end canal’ design, the impact to wetlands, the effects on lake sturgeon, and navigation.

FURTHER we have many important partners...
Michigan’s State Historic Preservation Office, The National Trust for Historic Preservation, The Pokagon Band of the Potawatomie, The Huron Band of the Potawatomie, the Gun Lake Tribe of the Pottawatomie, as well as the handful of scientists doing field studies in the river mouth area all oppose the current NorthShore of Saugatuck design. 

Our historic river mouth neighborhood drives our regional tourist-based economy. I would hope this paper would provide more context – science-based, historic, legal, economic -- when printing articles about the proposed marina development.

Please renew your membership with the Coastal Alliance today!

December 30, 2018
Please renew your membership with the Coastal Alliance today!

The Coastal Alliance needs your financial support as we work to protect the Wild Heart of Saugatuck.

Thanks to your support, we have much to be grateful for this past year. Below is a brief overview of Coastal Alliance successes, accomplishments, and efforts.

Thank you!We are honored, grateful, and humbled that the families of Tom Telder and Patty Birkholz suggested donations to the Coastal Alliance this past year. Tom was a strong supporter of Great Lakes protections. Patty was a mentor to all of us. It is Patty’s legacy we are working so hard to protect.

We are fortunate to live in such a generous community. We are so often stunned by the kind words of encouragement, notes, emails, facebook posts, and offers of assistance. This year the Coastal Alliance is grateful to have had Mary Lukens and Dave Burdick, of Slant Communications, provide remarkable assistance in updating our website and helping with our ten-part series of ads.

The Coastal Alliance announced a major fund-raising campaign in April with a goal of $150,000. Thanks to the hundreds of donations we have received through Go-Fund-Me, PayPal, and checks sent directly to our Post Office Box we have nearly achieved our goal. With your renewed membership we will hit our target. Thank you!

Army Corps Section 106 Historic Properties Review
• The Coastal Alliance was granted consulting party status along with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Michigan Historic Preservation Network, the Bily Family, Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi, Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi, and Pokagon Band of Potawatomi. Consulting Parties are invited to review and comment on the NorthShore plans to ‘avoid, minimize, or mitigate’ damage to historical and cultural resources at the Kalamazoo River mouth.

• On December 28th Michigan’s State Historic Preservation Office submitted a letter requesting the Army Corps consider alternatives to the proposed marina basin. This request is very significant.

• The State Historic Preservation Office also requested more study be done on whether the Kalamazoo River Mouth Neighborhood meets the criteria for a ‘Traditional Cultural Property.’ There is long history of Potawatomi use, which continues today, of the Kalamazoo River mouth. The Coastal Alliance is optimistic the area will be designated a ‘Traditional Cultural Property.’ This too is very significant.

• The State Historic Preservation Office concerns were echoed by four other consulting parties, all of whom request the Army Corps require NorthShore ‘avoid’ damage to the historical, cultural, and ecological resources.
We will know the next steps in the Section 106 Review in mid-January.

Developing Alternatives that protect our historic and ecological resources

• The Coastal Alliance is a leading proponent of alternatives to the 1600’ long trench through the site of Singapore. We have hired Fresh Water Engineering to further explore and develop an alternative to the marina as currently drawn. We believe alternatives can be designed that fully protect the site of Singapore, the globally-imperiled interdunal wetlands, and the lake sturgeon.

Geohydrological Modeling
• The Coastal Alliance has hired a geohydrologist to prepare accurate modeling that will detail the impact of the proposed marina excavation to the ground water that feeds the globally-imperiled interdunal wetlands. Basic science and physics tell us the proposed marina will damage our water – by draining our wetlands and creating a stagnant stew near the river mouth. The Coastal Alliance is investing in doing the necessary analysis that will prove our concerns are based in good science.

‘In no event shall a canal or channel be excavated for the purpose of increasing the waterfront’

• The language in our local zoning ordinance is clear. The proposed marina is a violation of our local laws. The Coastal Alliance long-time legal team from the Environmental Law & Policy Center and Olson/Bzdok/Howard have appealed to Michigan’s Appellate Court the Township Planning Commission’s decision which ignores local zoning.

• To be clear: NorthShore of Saugatuck owns 1,447’ on the Kalamazoo River. NorthShore is proposing an additional 3,200’ of frontage for boats for a total of 4,647’. That is a tipping point.

The Coastal Alliance is granted legal standing to challenge the DEQ approval

• In July, the Coastal Alliance was granted standing to challenge the DEQ approval of the proposed marina. This is significant as the Judge recognizes the proposed marina development could negatively impact Coastal Alliance members. The trial has not yet been scheduled though we anticipate a date in early fall 2019.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources wants to expand the State Park

• The DNR continues to include the NorthShore of Saugatuck property in the proposed expansion plans detailed in the revised State Park Master Plan. This has been part of the State Park plan since the original plan was approved in 1982. We applaud the DNR for their perseverance in wanting to keep the Saugatuck Dunes an intact and healthy eco-system.

Ten-part series in local papers

• The Coastal Alliance, working with local papers, ran a ten-part series of ads this fall. The ads were created to educate local citizens about the many legal questions facing the proposed marina. The ads can be viewed on the Coastal Alliance website:

The Coastal Alliance remains all-volunteer with zero overhead costs

• We have no paid staff. We have no office. The Coastal Alliance works out of our businesses, homes, cars, and local cafes. Your investment in the Coastal Alliance goes directly to our legal strategy – expert witnesses, scientists, cartographers, graphic designers, and the very best legal team in the Great Lakes region.

Please make the Coastal Alliance part of your year-end giving, or your beginning-of-the-new-year giving. And please renew your membership – membership numbers are important.

Several ways to join and/or give:

1 - You can make a private donation via our website through PayPal:

2 - You can make a donation through Gofundme at:

3 - Of course, we accept checks as well. Our mailing address is: Coastal Alliance, PO 1013, Saugatuck, MI 49453

Together we can stop the proposed marina and protect the historical, cultural, and ecological resources in Saugatuck’s Historic Kalamazoo River Mouth Neighborhood.

Thank you for your continued support.
We are grateful.
And yes, we are optimistic!

The Coastal Alliance Board
Saugatuck Dunes Coastal Alliance - P.O. Box 1013, Saugatuck, MI 49453 - [phone redacted]

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Giving Tuesday is a terrific time for you to give to The Coastal Alliance.

Your donations, added to many others, have allowed us to fight hard for the public interest at Saugatuck's Historic River Mouth Neighborhood.

Back in September we were granted consulting party status in the Army Corps of Engineer Section 106 Historic Site Review.

On Friday, 11/30/18, we will participate in negotiations to find a mitigation solution to the proposed damage of the historic site of Singapore by the proposed Padnos marina. For many, many reasons this marina is a bad idea, in a bad place, at a bad time.

With your help on Giving Tuesday we can continue to protect the:
• Dunes and Historic River Mouth Neighborhood from in appropriate development.
• Archeological remains of Singapore and native peoples.
• Reestablishment of native sturgeon.
• Endangered species including Pitcher's Thistle & Prairie Warbler.
• Views from publicly-owned land.
• Clean water & beaches.

Won't you make an additional donation to the Saugatuck Dunes Coastal Alliance today?__________________________________________________________________________________
The photo above is 2018 photograph of Saugatuck's Historic Kalamazoo River Mouth Neighborhood.

The big bald scar in the middle is where self-described "environmentally sensitive" developers are destroying dunes in expectation of being granted permission to dig a new river channel for a boat basin surrounded by expensive houses.

There are few words, none polite, to describe this kind of destruction.

This destruction is being perpetrated by the Holland-based NorthShore of Saugatuck development team of Jeff Padnos, Holland lawyer Carl Gabrielse, FifthThird Bank, Cottage Home, and Brian and Scott Bosgraaf.

This destruction violates local zoning that clearly states: "In no event shall a canal or channel be excavated for the purpose of increasing the water frontage."

This destruction is considered sand dune mining and was outlawed in 1998.

This destruction is contrary to the Public Interest established in the Tri-Community Master Plan.

This harbor mouth landscape has been the key to the Saugatuck tourist industry that supports some 90% of the local economy. Why would anyone want to harm this beloved community by destroying this rare and beautiful place forever? (It isn't just to make a reasonable return on investment either!)

If this Holland-based development team wants a place for big boats they should look at buying Tower Marine, or better yet putting it on the shores of Lake Macatawa where the Padnos family already owns land.GoFundMe is only a part of our fundraising - we are well on our way and confident in our ability to meet this goal. 
Older Homes

Based on what we were told, the houses would be "back in the trees," this recent photo, from the beach, is what we expected.

And THIS recent photo, from the water, shows work in progress on the multi-million $$ homes being built. 

Matching Grant: We qualified for our exciting  $30,000 in matching funds. We gained over 100 new or renewing members at the $100 or greater level. Some of those contributions were made via our website or via check to SDCA in US Postal Service.

Ongoing fundraising:  We will continue to need MORE donations to cover ongoing legal expenses. Please be generous and stay tuned for future matching grant opportunities.

If you are not already a member of SDCA please join after donating. To join go to our website -

Thank you to everyone who submitted comments to The US Army Corps of Engineers!

Anyone who lives in our community recognizes the importance of protecting the Historic River Mouth Neighborhood -- Singapore, Oxbow, the Saugatuck Lighthouse Cottage, and the many Pottawatomie sites. 

We will keep you apprised as to the outcome.
The Saugatuck Dunes in Saugatuck Michigan are being threatened again. Help us Save our Saugatuck Shoreline from a 50-yacht marina for 100'+ yachts.

The proposed marina would add nearly triple the legal number of boats at the most congested part of the Kalamazoo River making navigation unsafe, harming the character of the dunes, and threatening the unique interdunal wetlands. The proposed marina violates local zoning that clearly states, ‘In no event shall a canal or channel be excavated for the purpose of increasing the waterfrontage.’ 

Together we can continue the fight to enforce local, state, and federal laws that protect our water, our sand, our beaches and other navigational, historical, ecological, cultural, recreational, educational resources– all at the undeveloped mouth of the Kalamazoo River.  

How big is the  "Marina"?

The 50-yacht private marina - really a huge trench - would be as big as 5.5 football fields, would be 18' deep, and would mean removing 241,750 cubic yards of sand - and putting it somewhere

If you were to walk out your front door in the morning, 
what would this much sand look like?

75 Olympic Swimming pools
Or - 20,000 dump trucks
Or - a football field 90 feet tall

What else is at risk?
"...such as a Native American burial ground believed to be on the site. (There are many) other unresolved concerns about interdunal wetlands being at risk, the basin and subsequent structures altering the site’s natural hydrology, filter/pumps needed to circulate basin water may harm resident wildlife, buried toxic hazards may remain from the former Broward Marine yacht manufacturing plant on the site (not cited in claims about the land’s prior archeological heritage or significance) and improper influence." The Commercial Record

Who We Are
The The Coastal Alliance is a coalition of individuals and organizations working cooperatively to protect and preserve the natural geography, historical heritage, and rural character of the Saugatuck Dunes coastal region in the Kalamazoo River Watershed, beginning with the Saugatuck Dunes.

The Coastal Alliance is represented by Olson/Bzdok/Howard of Traverse City and the Environmental Law & Policy Center. We work closely with a team of scientists, biologists, planners, conservation designers, historians, geohydrologists, marina consultants, GIS cartographers, and graphic designers.

The Wild Heart of Saugatuck

WE NEED YOUR HELP to stop the threats to the law, to the purity & safety of our sand & water, and to the safe navigation of boats in the Kalamazoo River and Lake Michigan river mouth.

RECENT: Patty Birkholz passed away in May 2018. The Coastal Alliance sends its deepest sympathies to Patty’s family and the community at large. We are also humbled and grateful that the Alliance is one of the three organizations that her family has requested donations to in her honor. We hope you will consider this at either or at

All of donations are being used to enforce the local and state laws aimed at protecting the Patricia Birkholz Natural Area from the impacts of the proposed marina development.

Her legacy is so deep and inspiring. We are so much better for all she did and so bereft at losing her way too soon. To know Patty was to be filled with strength and love. We send our heartfelt wishes to our champion's family and to all of those that have been inspired by her life.

Thank you - whatever you can give will help.

If you give $125 or more we will be happy to send you a copy of our lovely coffee table book, The Saugatuck Dunes; Artists Respond to a Freshwater Landscape . Click to take a look insider the book :)

Please give now.


Dr. Frank Alfieri
Saugatuck, MI
Saugatuck Dunes Coastal Alliance
Registered nonprofit
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