ST. JOSEPH — High waves and winds continue to batter the Lake Michigan shoreline, leaving destruction and debris in their wake.
“Mother Nature is winning the battle right now,” conceded Greg Grothous, superintendent of St. Joseph’s parks, after surveying the damage wrought at Lions Park Beach from storms that started last Wednesday and continued through the weekend.
Waves as high as 15 feet, driven by 60-mile-per-hour winds, hammered the coastline on Wednesday and continued overnight. The water carried away sand underneath a concrete walkway at Lions Beach, installed in 2013, causing it to buckle underneath two benches.
The concrete pad surrounds an emergency call box, which Grothous said would be removed “so it doesn’t disappear.”
The water threw debris past the Lions Beach playground, and large pieces of driftwood and even a section of a telephone pole now litter the beach. Grothous doesn’t expect that crews will do much cleaning up before spring.
“It’s a mess,” he said.
The playground equipment has been inundated, as well, but it appears secure for the time being, Grothous said.
Grothous gave a rough estimate of $10,000 to repair the damage and replace the materials already lost.
One reassuring note: the lion statue installed by the St. Joseph Lions Club did not drift away, as it is kept in storage during the winter.
Farther down the beach, near the water plant, piles of rocks that had previously been covered with sand were completely exposed. Part of the fencing at the water plant also appeared to be damaged.
Silver Beach County Park took a shellacking, as well.
A section of the dune walk, near the South Pier, was damaged after the sand barrier was eroded away and rushing water undermined the sidewalk. The walk was installed in 2015.
“It continues to get worse,” observed Brian Bailey, parks director for Berrien County. He expects that the cement will be removed in the spring and a temporary walkway installed farther inland.
“People love that dune walk,” Bailey said. “They love being able to see the lake and the piers, and the boats and the fishermen.”
Based on the cost of cement work done at other parks, Bailey estimated the cost of the damage at between $15,000 and $20,000.
At the south end of the beach, near Park Street, sand had been washed away from beneath a picnic pavilion. Sections of snow fencing fell as the sand around it disappeared.
Bailey said they are closely watching conditions along the shore. “It’s almost day to day.”
There has been no infrastructure damage due to weather at Rocky Gap Park, Bailey said.
Homeowners along the shore continue to work to put up barriers to hold off further damage to their properties. The city of St. Joseph is creating a committee of residents and staff members to find a permanent solution to the erosion crisis.
Right now, one thing could spare the shoreline from further damage.
“We need ice in a hurry,” to hold off the waves, Grothous said.
Contact: jmatuszak@TheHP.com, 932-0360, Twitter: @HPMatuszak