Century-old agreement leads to dispute over Saugatuck property

Allegan County

SAUGATUCK, Mich. (WOOD) — The long fight over the development of prized land running along dunes, Lake Michigan and the Kalamazoo River goes back more than 100 years.

It was 5 p.m. April 27, 1904 when a notary public in Kane County, Illinois, recorded an agreement between then-property owner Marguerite Cook and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The agreement allowed the corps to build and maintain retaining walls along the channel between the Kalamazoo River and Lake Michigan.

In the last century, that wall and channel has allowed navigation and tourist access to Saugatuck.

“Well, it’s important to the three communities that are here and that includes the harbor area also,” said Saugatuck Township Clerk Brad Rudrich. “We’re a big boating community, it brings in the tourists, a lot of tourists come in for a lot of events like our Venetian Festival which will be next week.”

About eight years ago, the Army Corps rebuilt the crumbling walls.

“The walls are very important to navigation, they’re called navigation structures,” said Tom O’Bryan of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He has not seen the lawsuit, but says the walls are vital.

Now, Jeff and Peg Padnos, influential Holland residents, have been working to develop under the LLC North Shores of Saugatuck.

The Padnos and their attorneys didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Their plan calls for 23 homes, seven of which will be built in dune grass on Lake Michigan, and four to six homes along the Kalamazoo River.

They say the Army Corps has violated the terms of the agreement by extending its right-of-way 12 to 45 feet inland from the walls, and that keeps them from developing seven lots for homes that start at $1.5 million.

O’Bryan said the channel itself could be in danger if the Army Corps didn’t have the room needed to access the walls.

“We’ve gotta be able to get out there to inspect those in storms, winter ice — those kind of things can really damage our structures, and without the access to those structures we wouldn’t be able to do the repairs to those structures,” said O’Bryan. “Without those structures in place, you would end up having erosion along the banks, these materials would fall into the harbor.”

The Army Corps has a month to respond to the suit.

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