Lakefront losing land - and value

Erosion has caused significant damage to Lincoln Township Beach, pictured earlier this summer. Homeowners with properties based along Lake Michigan have also seen a drop in taxable value to their land since 2013.

STEVENSVILLE — Like other lakeshore communities in Southwest Michigan, Lincoln Township is getting hit hard with erosion.

With beaches disappearing, township Assessor John Baumann crunched the numbers and noticed a drop in property values among the township’s lakeshore neighborhoods.

When he compared property values from 2013 to this year, Baumann said he discovered the township lost about $90,000 in taxable value for properties that line Lake Michigan.

“We’ve lost a ton of assessed value and I see that being the case even more so in the next year or two with how much erosion has occurred,” he said.

Baumann’s finds come after he compiled a net loss comparison over a six-year period on just lakefront properties. He didn’t include properties that were near the lake – only ones that directly border it.

He said the biggest drop for those properties’ taxable value occurred between 2016 and 2017.

Despite erosion eating away at lakeshore property, Baumann said the township’s overall taxable value hasn’t taken a hit, as the township has seen a 2 percent growth over the same period.

“The township is still growing in taxable value with several projects that have taken place the past couple years,” Baumann said. “It’s covering what we’re losing on the lakefront.”

Oddly enough, Baumann looked into the drop in property values after a group of Lakeshore High School students visited his office and asked about it for a school project.

“They came in to ask about the effects on what erosion is doing to the local economy,” Baumann said. “I emailed them the data once I found out.”

Afterward, Baumann also sent his findings to Supervisor Dick Stauffer.

Stauffer promptly asked Baumann to present his findings to trustees at Tuesday night’s board meeting.

“We’re fortunate we have enough growth in the rest of the township to offset those declines along the lake,” Stauffer said. “As (erosion) persists, it becomes such a significant issue that homeowners are forced to spend a lot of money to protect their home.”

Among those protections Stauffer has seen implemented over the years has ranged from adding steel sheeting to placing large rocks along the lake as barriers to crashing waves.

Baumann said even if a lakefront property owner spends thousands of dollars to add rocks for protection, there is no taxable value added to the land.

“Realistically, it’s not going to impact the taxable value. Those rocks aren’t seen as an added improvement, but maintenance,” Baumann said. “We don’t look at it as an extension of the house.”

With nearly six miles of the township bordering Lake Michigan, Baumann said what is most alarming about the trend is there doesn’t seem to be any indication of when lake levels will recede.

“What’s scary is being near the lake isn’t a benefit right now,” Baumann said. “Someone buying that property is looking at it as if they also have to spend a little extra to retain their investment.”

Contact: twittkowski@TheHP.com, 932-0358, Twitter: @TonyWittkowski