ST. JOSEPH — St Joseph resident Al DiBrito has enjoyed his home along the St. Joseph River for 22 years.
But he has never seen the water levels as high as they are now.
“It’s nice being along the water, but you have to keep an eye on it,” DiBrito observed.
What he and his neighbors are seeing lately is a steady erosion of the riverbank, caused by near-record water levels and speeding boats that create waves that eat into the banks.
That’s why he has been approaching elected officials and boaters, to encourage them to promote a voluntary no-wake zone along the river.
“I’m a boater. I get it. It’s fun” to race along in a boat, DiBrito said. But it’s also doing a lot of damage.
DiBrito’s boathouse, which sits on a bluff above the river, is about five feet closer to the water than it was a few years ago. Following rains last weekend that softened the banks, he lost another six to eight inches, DiBrito said.
Trees near his home are close to falling into the river, which would create hazards for boaters.
Across the river on the St. Joseph Township side, the water is encroaching on several properties due to erosion and high water. DiBrito said a neighbor’s jet ski launch used to be five feet from the river, but now rests in the currents.
Even part of the foundation of the Napier Avenue bridge over the river appears to be buckled due to pressure from the water.
DiBrito spoke to St. Joseph officials this week, and received their endorsement and offer to spread the word as summer approaches.
Christopher Quattrin, Berrien County’s drain commissioner, attended the meeting Monday. He said the waves are like a 55-pound block of cement being thrown into the bank, loosening the soil.
With Lake Michigan at a very high level, the river has nowhere to go and backs up when it rains, Quattrin added.
DiBrito said he also received support from St. Joseph Township officials. He spoke to the board of the St. Joseph River Yacht Club, who promised to get the word out.
“They’re boaters, and they understand the environment,” DiBrito said.
DiBrito would like to get signs printed that can be posted along the river, along with fliers that can be distributed around marinas and other places where boaters gather. He is looking for donations from area printers to offset the cost.
He is choosing to go the voluntary route because getting a no-wake zone approved or extended is a lengthy process. In 2016 the Riverview Marina Condominium Association submitted a petition asking that no-wake zone buoys be moved 176 yards upriver, to the tip of Marina Island. They complained that speeding boats were creating wakes that damaged property and caused injuries.
It took two years of meetings before the Michigan Department of Transportation approved the request. A 1997 request to extend the no-wake zone from Marina Island to the Napier Avenue bridge was rejected.
The Army Corps of Engineers reported this month that Lake Michigan water levels were three feet above sea level in April, two feet above average, and that they are expected to be four feet above seal level by July.
Contact: jmatuszak@TheHP.com, 932-0360, Twitter: @HPMatuszak