SPRING LAKE TWP. — A homeowner on Ottawa County’s northern-most shore is banking on a seawall and armor stone to protect his property from being further engulfed by Lake Michigan this fall.
He is also bringing in about 18 truckloads of sand (460 cubic yards) to fill in almost 20 feet of dune that was lost in front of his home during the last two windstorms.
“He lost 4 feet last week, and two weeks ago lost 15 feet,” said Zack Brown, a King Co. employee who is overseeing the work.
A deck fell in the first storm, and a large flagpole and steps going down to the beach fell in the more recent storm.
The Spring Lake Township home sits high on a dune – now more like a cliff – with Lake Michigan lapping the base. The homeowner has sawed through stringers attaching more stairs to another deck to reduce pulling on his home in case more of the dune gets chewed away.
Brown said the Holland company has been busy the past three years building protection for homes along the lakeshore. He said they are even busier now that more homes and cottages are hovering close to the edge, and would be moving from one job to the next.
With Lake Michigan levels reaching close to the record highs of the mid-1980s, Ottawa County Emergency Services Director Nick Bonstell said the threat to lakeshore homes is not going away anytime soon. In reaction, more than 50 percent of the homes along Ottawa County’s lakeshore have installed, or are in the process of installing, some form of protection for their property. Two homes have also been moved back on their property, Bonstell said.
“There is a ton of work going on along the lakeshore,” he said.
Bonstell took another flight along the lakeshore late last week and said he saw three barges at work sites.
There are a couple of homes with exposed foundations, and Bonstell said that his office is working with the property owners to help determine the best course of action. In some cases, demolition might be the best option, he said.
“Clean-up operation is much more expensive from the water than the land,” he said.
Officials will continue to monitor activity along the Lake Michigan shoreline throughout the winter. Once things calm down in the spring, they will turn their attention to the lakes and rivers, which are also at high levels.
The Grand River has already hit the “action level” seven times this year, Bonstell said.
“We’re on track for one of our wettest seasons,” he said. “We’re going to have high water levels for a long time.”
Back at the North Shore erosion control site on Wednesday, Brown used an excavator to move sections of crane mats to create a road for a 75-ton crane expected to be in place late this week or early next week.
All of their work, to this point, has been creating access to the beach for the materials they need to build a seawall and a beach of stone armor. They first had to remove some trees and shrubbery, and then cut the slope out of the area to make the road. This prevents erosion and allows them to drive the crane out closer to the lake, Brown said.
Some of the debris that has fallen down the dune has been moved in front of a neighborhood easement that is not being protected by this project.
Trees, deck furniture, decks, steps, a large flagpole and pieces of floating dock will be removed before the backfill sand goes onto the dune.
As long as it’s not too windy, a work crew will be in the water installing a metal wall that starts 50 feet out from the corners of the house and comes to a point about 62 feet out in the center. The wall will rise 10 feet above the current water level, Brown said. The armor stone will rise to the same height as the seawall, but on the lake side of the seawall, and then gradually slope down as it extends 20 feet out into the lake.
Brown said the stones help break down the waves and creates a more natural drift that will help bring in the sand. Eventually, the structure will be covered by sand again, he said. It will probably resurface in another cycle, much like the seawalls (much of them built in the 1970s) surfaced last year.
In the Grand Haven area, protection projects in the mid-1980s involved a cement mix-filled sleeve that extended out into the lake, Brown said.
In the meantime, people seeking help are seeing a quicker turnaround in the permit process, if possible.
“Each application is handled on a case-by-case basis,” said Lynn Rose, director of public affairs for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Projects that require Corps of Engineers permits include structures and work (including discharges of dredged or fill material) in navigable waters of the U.S., and discharges of dredged or fill material into waters of the U.S., including wetlands, she said.
“Many shore protection projects qualify for expedited review under our general permits,” Rose said. “We evaluate permit applications in the order in which they are received, evaluations are expedited for properties where there is an imminent threat to life or property. The corps is receiving a large number of applications and we are working to evaluate applications in a timely manner – expediting permits for emergency situations whenever possible.”
Regional general permits cover certain categories of activities that have been reviewed in advance and determined to have no more than minimal impacts, Rose said. These categories include seawalls and backfill, riprap, and bank protection.
“We highly encourage potential applicants to tailor their project to meet the terms and conditions of these general permits, since they involve a less intensive review and can be evaluated relatively quickly,” Rose said.
The general permits and the criteria for a project to fit into these permit categories can be found online at www.lre.usace.army.mil/Missions/Regulatory-Program-and-Permits/.