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City taking a beating

Water, winds, waves hurting city parks

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz A combination of high water levels, winds, and waves has damaged city parks and infrastructure, officials said, including this collapsed sidewalk seen on Thursday near the breakwall in Alpena, as well as at Blair Street Park. City officials are fearful the more serious damage will occur from ice this winter.

ALPENA –Near-record high water levels, wind, and high surf are continuing their assault on waterfront properties and infrastructure in Alpena, and the amount of damage is starting to climb.

Damage from large waves on Thunder Bay have caused sidewalks at area parks to collapse, property to be eroded, and damage to docks and piers.

City Engineer Rich Sullenger said the gusty winds that have come through Northeast Michigan have caused large waves to swell and breech barriers designed to protect land and structures. He said the sidewalk near the breakwall in the Alpena harbor gave way because of water coming through and over the protective boulders and made its way beneath the concrete, which caused sections of it to collapse.

Sullenger said the same is happening at Blair Street Park and Starlite Beach.

“The sidewalk failed,” Sullenger said. “The water washed the fill material that was under it. We’re looking at getting that fixed and (the Alpena Department of Public Works) has added more armor stone to try to protect the sidewalk. We have had some boards blow loose on Blair Street dock and the high water level and wave action have been a detriment.”

Most of the repairs are temporary, for now.

Sullenger said the city has spent more than $12,000 to clean up fallen branches and other debris and repair infrastructure. That amount, he said, is well above normal.

“The costs are pretty healthy from all of this, and we’re still not done,” he said. “We’ve spent a lot of time at Starlite Beach cleaning sand off the walkway, trying to keep it open and passable. The wave action has been pushing it up there. We’ll also have to go back in the spring and clean the sand out of the lawn and planter areas. We also had debris all the way up to the tennis courts at Bay View (Park).”

Sullenger said the worst may be still to come. He said the city is concerned the combination of high water levels and ice this winter could cause more destruction.

“I’m very concerned over what winter and the ice can do,” Sullenger said. “It could potentially crush the seating wall at Starlite Beach, the railing at Blair Street Park, and the walkway at the breakwall. There are a lot of areas out there that we have some pretty grave concerns about.”

A few years ago, waves and wake penetrated the riprap protecting North Riverfront Park and caused a large section of the boardwalk to collapse. Sullenger said the new design used in the rebuild has held firm, and he expects that to continue.

The repairs of the boardwalk cost the city about $250,000, because the city’s insurance did not cover it.

If there is heavy and expensive damage done this winter, the city still doesn’t know what will be covered and what won’t. Sullenger said most of the city’s infrastructure is well above the high-water mark, and that’s where they plan to build in the future.

“The improvements we plan to make at Mich-e-ke-wis would all be designed above the current high-water marks, so we wouldn’t be in the flood prone area from the wind-driven waves,” he said.

Steve Schulwitz can be reached at 989-358-5689 at sschulwitz@thealpenanews.com. Follow him on Twitter @ss_alpenanews.com.