Roadkill problem not dead just yet

In a clever move, apparently to deflect attention away from itself and its responsibilities for the disposal of roadkill, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources sent a letter to Grand Traverse County Road Commission officials that did nothing more than say what had already been said.

Our question is: Why bother? Nothing had changed, although the wording of the letter certainly created that impression at first.

Citizens who’ve been asking — no, imploring — the state to resolve the issue were hoping the letter would be a breakthrough for the impasse that has left them living with the stench of deer carcasses rotting on their roadsides.

Scott Whitcomb, deputy director of the DNR, wrote that “contractors and others have the authority and, thus, permission to transport road-killed deer for proper disposal in landfills or other lands with permission of the landowner.”

“There is no issue with moving roadkill off the side of the road to an approved disposal site,” he told the Record-Eagle on May 16, raising hopes the issue had been resolved.

Not so after all.

There are other rules and regulations and state agencies involved that need to be addressed before the situation can be resolved, road commission officials point out.

If they follow what the DNR is saying they can do, the commission faces the potential for fines from the state Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy.

It’s true that fines have not been levied in the past, but given all the sudden attention being paid to practices of roadkill removal — something that had been done for years without intervention until now — why should county road commission officials trust that they may resume the practice without potential reprisal?

The DNR is interpreting the public road right-of-way as an easement in which an adjacent property owner, public or private, can revoke permissions or otherwise obstruct road maintenance activities. Road maintenance authority within the public road right-of-way is codified in several Michigan Compiled Laws, road commission officials note.

But the DNR doesn’t appear to consider the requirements set forth in the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act (Act 451 of 1994) or the DNR’s Wildlife Conservation Order — or exempt road agencies or their employees from the responsibilities set forth in that legislation, they point out.

In fact, from county road officials’ perspective now, “any DNR officer may interpret previously allowed road commission activities as a violation of either of these mandates and cite/fine the organization or employee.”

Another concern expressed is requirements set forth by EGLE regarding surface and groundwater contamination. In these cases, permission of the landowner is hardly sufficient to dispose of roadkill. And how about the Bodies of Dead Animals Act, or BODA, regarding carcasses of other large animals besides deer?

Road commission officials are now raising all these questions and, given the way the problem has not been resolved by the state, we can understand why.

If the DNR requires road commissions to meet its specific requirements, as they keep repeating, it needs to provide the funding to pay for it.

This week’s latest gamesmanship by the DNR may take some public heat off their office temporarily, but does nothing to resolve the issue.

On May 5, state Rep. John Roth, R-Traverse City, and 20 other state legislators sent a letter to the DNR Acting Director Shannon Lott making it abundantly clear that road commissions should be allowed to remove and dispose of roadkill and urged the DNR to work with county road commissions to make that happen.

We agree. But these legislators may want to request a progress report next — perhaps that will turn the heat back on.


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