St. Joseph to form shoreline protection committee

Private property owners install steel revetments earlier this year on their property south of Silver Beach to combat erosion.

ST. JOSEPH — St. Joseph officials are looking for a way to get everyone rowing in the same direction when it comes to fighting erosion along the lakeshore.

On Monday, City Manager John Hodgson proposed to commissioners creating a group that would include the owners of 22 properties along Lake Michigan, from Park Street to Lions Park, to discuss a solution to the growing problem of high water and waves eating away at the shore and adjacent land.

The suggestion came from a resident in the neighborhood, Hodgson said.

Lakeside residents said they have lost 15 feet or more of land since September, and further storms would likely worsen the situation.

Last month, at the request of residents, the city attorney drafted a license agreement that would allow owners to construct temporary shoreline protections on public land. Some homeowners opted to sign the agreement, while others argued that provisions such as having to remove temporary structures within a year were unfair and unnecessary.

City Attorney Laurie Schmidt maintained that protections from legal liability have to be included in any agreement to use city property. She added that temporary structures, such as rock walls, might be part of a permanent solution and could be kept in place.

Hodgson said that coming up with a coordinated solution had the best chance of “doing the most good and least potential harm.”

One resident said he wants to install metal sheeting, and doesn’t want to remove it in a year.

Schmidt said that wouldn’t require an agreement with the city if the barriers are on private property.

Hodgson said that shoreline protection was first installed in the 1940s through a special assessment levied on property owners.

They considered a smaller group, but decided that all affected property owners should have the opportunity to participate, Hodgson said.

Along with the city manager and residents, participants would include the city’s engineer and attorney, directors of public works and parks and recreation, a representative of Abonmarche as the city’s engineering firm, and representatives of the Planning Commission and Parks Advisory Board. A city commissioner could be included, along with an official from Berrien County because of the proximity of Silver Beach.

The city hopes to have its first meeting shortly after the Thanksgiving holiday.

Erosion is in a crisis stage all along the Great Lakes, which are experiencing record-high levels and increasingly powerful storms. Without beaches to buffer the waves, the water batters the shoreline. Berrien County commissioners have asked for a statewide emergency declaration that could leverage federal assistance.

Infrastructure, from roads to water plants, has also been threatened by the erosion. St. Joseph will be undertaking some repairs to the top of the rock wall that protects the water plant south of Lions Park Beach. At the same time, they want to take a look at the underwater portion of the wall and the land bottom.

Seaworks Group of Benton Harbor will perform a bathymetric survey to provide a three-dimensional high-resolution image of all underwater structures and the topography of the lake bottom. The cost is $18,340, to come from the water fund.  They also will perform similar work in the lake off Lions Park Beach and the lakeshore, continuing north to Park Street, at an additional cost of $18,435, to come from the capital improvements fund.

Greg Alimenti, superintendent of the water plant, said the work would be valuable in several respects. In the short term, it would confirm the condition of the lake bottom near existing structures and point out any repairs that are needed. In the mid-term, it could provide information needed when working with federal and state agencies on overall coastal management practices, and help demonstrate the urgency and volume of potentially placing material along the shoreline.

Contact: jmatuszak@TheHP.com, 932-0360, Twitter: @HPMatuszak