NEW BUFFALO — Southwest Michigan leaders aren’t treading water when it comes to combating the growing problem of erosion along the lakeshore.
This week U.S. Rep. Fred Upton sent a letter asking for the Army Corps of Engineers to include $2.4 million in its 2020 budget to add 120,000 cubic yards of sand to replace materials lost south of the New Buffalo pier.
The request came as Upton met in Washington, D.C. with Berrien County Commissioner Ezra Scott, of New Buffalo, and members of the New Buffalo Shoreline Alliance, including New Buffalo Township Supervisor Michelle Heit.
New Buffalo is among the areas hard hit by rising waters and heavy waves along the shore, that is worsening erosion and threatening homes, beaches and infrastructure, such as the New Buffalo water plant. Sidewalks at Lions Beach Park and Silver Beach in St. Joseph were damaged by storms last week, and Bridgman officials asked residents to fill sandbags today to protect the beach house at Weko Beach.
In his letter to R.D. James, assistant secretary of the U.S. Army (Civil Division) Upton pointed out that for 20 years the Corps of Engineers had replaced sand lost due to the construction of the New Buffalo pier, but stopped short of its 50-year commitment to mitigate the erosion. A 2009 plan recommended replacing the 120,000 cubic yards of sand at the Warwick Shores/Sunset Shores location, Upton wrote.
The members of the New Buffalo alliance have been working to get the Corps of Engineers to restore the beach and install structures that would reduce erosion.
Last month, Scott introduced a resolution, passed by the Berrien County Board of Commissioners, asking Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to declare a state of disaster along the 3,400-mile Michigan shoreline, as a step toward seeking federal aid. While in Washington, he was planning to meet with White House contacts to make the case for the needed aid.
State legislators are taking up that call, as well.
Rep. Brad Paquette, R-78, announced that he and others, including Speaker of the House Lee Chatfield and Rep. Pauline Wendzel, R-Watervilet, also have made a request for a disaster declaration from the governor.
“Tremendous damage has been done not only in my community, but along the entirety of the Lake Michigan shoreline,” said Paquette, of Niles, in a news release. “I’m proud to join my colleagues in the fight to address this devastation by allowing the impacted areas to qualify for additional financial help.”
By issuing a state of emergency, the governor would be able to designate more resources to respond to the erosion along the Lake Michigan shoreline, the release explains. A state of emergency declaration would also allow the state to petition the federal government to do the same, activating additional resources to assist impacted communities and property owners.
The letter mentions how the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy has been helpful in speeding up the permitting process and reducing regulatory hurdles to address potential future impacts,
But it also notes that much of the damage has already been done, “leaving residents and business owners to pick up the pieces.”
Contact: jmatuszak@TheHP.com, 932-0360, Twitter: @HPMatuszak