Mother Nature leaves us $10K bill

Water, wind continues to pound shoreline, damage infrastructure

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz The large berm designed to protect the volleyball courts in Alpena, seen here on Thursday collapsed and underwater at right, stood little chance against the high winds and powerful waves that have pounded Northeast Michigan beaches earlier this week. A large portion of it, along with dozens of sand bags, were washed away, which allowed the surf to damage the courts. The courts are just one of several areas that have seen significant erosion and damage.

ALPENA –The latest wind storm in Alpena, which brought waves up to seven feet tall, has added to the list of repairs and maintenance that will need to be done by city crews.

The powerful easterly winds earlier this week caused more of the sidewalks near the Lake Huron shoreline to collapse and also caused significant damage to the volleyball courts at Mich-e-ke-wis Park.

City Engineer Rich Sullenger said that, before the storm this week, the city had already spent about $10,000, and that figure will climb as more work is done.

“That is also something we are going to have to keep an eye on, as well,” Sullenger said.

A tall berm constructed to protect the courts had large sections of it washed away, leaving the court vulnerable to the incoming whitecaps. The sand courts are now littered with the debris from the vegetation from the berm, its sand pushed well inshore, and one of the poles for the netting now sits in the water.

The sidewalk damage near the breakwall at Bay View Park also continues to expand, as well as areas behind the city water plant, Starlite Beach, and Blair Street Park.

Sullenger said the city is doing everything it can, but officials are limited in what steps it can take, especially as winter nears.

He said some areas already have rocks protecting the shore and more rocks have been added, but the city is not allowed to add rip-rap, which is a wall of large boulders, without the appropriate permission and permits from the state. Sullenger said that is something that will be considered next year.

“Anytime you want to do work within 500 feet of the Great Lakes shoreline, you have to get a permit, including private property owners,” Sullenger said. “We can maintain what we have, but can’t do new work without the permit. We just can’t go in and start doing work, and there is only so much we can do to protect what we have in place.”

The current rip-rap and stone barriers were designed years ago to sit above the ordinary high-water mark, Sullenger said. Since then, the lakes have seen near historic low levels and, now, historic highs.

“You build for what you anticipate, and you can’t build for the worst-case scenario, otherwise, you would have to build the whole town six feet higher than what it is,” Sullenger said.

Portions of the sidewalks will need to be replaced in the spring, and it is likely the volleyball courts will need to be moved back from the water’s edge.

Sullenger added the city is bracing for additional damage late in the fall and throughout the winter.

Still, Sullenger said, there is really little the city can do to the shoreline that can guarantee more erosion and damage won’t occur.

“We’ll be watching closely this winter,” he said. “If we get ice buildup and it gets pushed by the wind onto shore, what damage might we encounter? I have always said, ‘You can’t bet against Mother Nature, because you’re going to lose.’ All we can do now is monitor the situation and take the steps we need to, when we are able to.”

Of course, repairs and precautions cost money.

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


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