The New Buffalo Shoreline Alliance hosted their first public meeting the morning of Saturday, May 27, at the New Buffalo High School Performing Arts Center.
The auditorium was packed with concerned homeowners who wanted to hear about remedies for the beach erosion issues along the southern shoreline of Lake Michigan. NBSA President and Sunset Shores resident Ted Grzywacz opened the meeting by giving a background of the 501 3 (c) organization, which is looking for solutions to the beach erosion along the southern shores of the community.
“Our goal is to find a solution and a means of funding it. Over the past two years, we have explored the political, legal and private options for a solution to the continuing destruction of our beaches. This work has been funded by the members of the group in an amount exceeding $30,000. Our problem is large, ongoing and one that will leave the shoreline riddled with condemned properties,” he said.
Moderator and Sunset Shores resident Ed Oldis gave a PowerPoint presentation on the history of the beach erosion problems, its challenges and what the future may hold for property owners along the southern shore. Following the presentation, Grzywacz and Oldis took questions; however, they had few answers for an immediate remedy.
“You’re probably not going to like most of our answers,” Grzywacz said in his opening to the question and answer period.
The more than 175 registered audience participants represented homeowners from the City of New Buffalo, Warwick Shores, Forest Beach and the Village of Grand Beach. They learned that the NBSA, which is a group of residents, municipal leaders and presidents of the Homeowner Associations (HOA) along the lakefront have all been meeting amongst themselves and with government representatives for the past 27 months to find an answer and a remedy for the continual beach erosion. The group has met with U.S. Congressman Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph), State Congressman John Proos (R-21st. District), State Representative Dave Pagel (R-78th District) and staff from the governor’s office and U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow’s (D-8th District) office regarding the problems. State representatives came to New Buffalo in March 2015 and again in April 2016 to view firsthand the damage caused by the 2016 spring storms. At that meeting, Upton again stated that there were no federal dollars in the U.S.
Army Corp of Engineers (USACE) budget for beach nourishment remedies, or no money for Shallow Draft Harbor maintenance (dredging). Between 1975 and 1995, the harbor dredging was financed by USACE funds and the spoils (sand) was used to nourish the beaches south of the harbor, as promised by the USACE when the break wall was constructed.
Upton stated at the April meeting, “Since 1999, Congress no longer has money for ‘earmarks,’ or the ability to direct spending to specific projects.” All federal money is allocated and controlled by the Appropriations Committee, he said.
“We don’t have a single member on the Appropriations Committee from Michigan,” he added.
Oldis said the NBSA organization was established following the 2014 Halloween storm, which produced the second highest waves ever recorded by a weather buoy in Lake Michigan. That storm eroded his next door neighbor’s beach revetment, approximately 8,000 cubic yards of bluff and her decking. Wave action continued to damage the property, which was set high upon the dune. The City eventually condemned the home at 1450 Shore Drive, in the end removing it completely before it fell into the lake.
Oldis said he had been interested in the erosion issues since attending USACE meetings beginning in 2002. He presented data from a 2009, 85-page engineering report that covered shoreline dynamics from Grand Beach to just north of the harbor. He stated that previous reports indicated the erosion was caused by the construction of the City break wall, or jetty, by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) in 1975. Prior to the construction, beaches south of the jetty often were 200 feet wide. Today, they are gone completely and filled with rock revetment. The jetty, as predicted prior to construction, blocks the natural flow of sand to the southern shore. The USACE predicted that the sand would flow around the jetty and eventually be deposited on the southern beaches; however, that has not happened. As a result of the break wall construction, southern beaches have shrunk to nonexistent, and the beaches north of the break wall have grown substantially.
It was stated in a court deposition by a USACE engineer, “100,000 Cubic Yards of sand are transported by littoral drift past New Buffalo each year (and past the southern beachfronts).” It was originally recommended by the USACE that 120,000 cubic yards of sand be replenished annually to the south beaches, which the Corps did over a 20-year period, from 1975 until 1995. The 2009 study stated that with the recommended beach nourishment, the beaches would increase to 150 to 200 feet in width. The 2009 study found that beaches north of the break wall had grown beyond what was predicted. In 1980, the northerly beach surface was 256,000 square feet; by 2002, the area had grown to 1,385,617 square feet. The 2009 study predicted it would reach 1,722,000 square feet of surface area or the size of approximately 35 football fields, which is about two miles long by 160 feet wide. Arial photographs also indicate the growth of the north beaches and the shrinkage of the south beaches.
Oldis reported that the State of Michigan claims the lake provides 823,00 jobs for the state, $12.8 billion to the travel industry, $21 million to the charter boat industry and $2 billion to the harbors and marinas from recreational boating. No dollar amount was given for the local economic impact; however, if the beaches vanish, it is predicted that the economy will surely be effected. He said that the property values of homes with and without beaches, or beach access, is a dramatic difference. He said real estate data shows that homes with beaches had a greater selling price than homes that did not have beaches.
“As beaches vanish property values decline,” he said.
In addition to the loss of property values, Oldis stated that the continual erosion of the beaches has an adverse effect on tourism and could have a long-term negative impact on the overall economy. The high water and threats of severe storms could also prove to be a threat to the City of New Buffalo pump house, all of which, he stated, effects the health, safety and well-being of the entire community. Much has been written regarding the threats to the pump house and recommendations by the DEQ. In 1998, the pump house received a major revetment installation by the USACE after being damaged by a storm, and revetment repairs were made following the 2014 Halloween storm.
Following the meeting Oldis said, “The City has asked us for a plan, they have been pro-active on this matter. We hope to have a plan for short and long term solutions, along with a funding plan by this fall. We are asking people to join the New Buffalo Shoreline Alliance by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.”
The NBSA will host a public meeting this fall to bring everyone up-to-date on the issues, progress and remedies.
NBSA board members are: President Ted Grzywacz, Vice President Joe Galetto of Warwick Shores HOA., Treasurer Mark Schulte of Forest Beach Villas and Secretary Mike Miske of Forest Beach Estates. Board members at-large are: Ed Oldis, Sunset Shores; Ron Watson, President of Sunset Shores HOA; Jim Cash, Warwick Shores; Jim Carlson, Warwick Shores and Doug Vander Linde, Forest Beach Estates. The board members are looking for a couple of dedicated people to join the existing board. Those who are interested should contact any member or send an email.