Lake Michigan Shoreline Erosion: Rising Water Levels Wreaking Havoc

08.16.19   Robert C. Rabeler, PE | More by this Author, Jeffery M. Krusinga, PE, GE | More by this Author

Lake Michigan Shoreline Erosion: Rising Water Levels Wreaking Havoc

The water level in Lake Michigan is near all-time high levels right now. The rise to current lake levels over the last several years has led to significant erosion of the Lake Michigan shoreline. Unfortunately, this loss of ground has resulted in failure of shoreline structures including stairways, decks, and even total loss of houses.

Protecting shoreline real estate from the havoc caused by erosion is challenging and expensive. It is particularly risky when plans for protective improvements are implemented without proper evaluation and engineering. Owners on the shoreline facing damage from erosion and shoreline retreat should be wary of contracting firms providing design services without input from a Professional Engineer (PE) familiar and experienced with Lake Michigan shoreline erosion and protection. Designing structures to withstand the risks of erosion requires relevant experience in coastal engineering, along with the credentials of a PE.

The following examples demonstrate what can happen without proper engineering.

In one case, a homeowner hired a contractor to install an elaborate decking and stairway system so the homeowner could enjoy access and viewing of Lake Michigan. Unfortunately, the design by the contractor did not adequately address protection of the shoreline, and the entire decking system and stairway failed due to undermining and erosion by Lake Michigan waters.

Failed lakeside decking and stairway.

In another case, an entire home was at stake. A homeowner paid a contractor about $75,000 in 2016 to protect their shoreline from erosion to save their house. Unfortunately, the shoreline protection was not properly engineered. The erosion and loss of ground (i.e., bluff retreat) continued at a rapid rate after the “solution” was implemented, resulting in total loss of the house. The homeowner recovered only a portion of their investment after suing the contractor – and worse yet, they lost their home.

House after the "fix" but before failure (2017).

Google Earth aerial image of house showing shoreline erosion and impending failure of house (2019).

SME’s geotechnical/civil engineers have extensive experience with shoreline protection. SME has west Michigan offices in Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids, and Traverse City. For more information regarding Lake Michigan shoreline protection, contact Bob Rabeler, PE or Jeff Krusinga, PE, GE. And, stay tuned for a future post suggesting steps for shoreline protection along Lake Michigan using a proper engineering approach.

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