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State bill would make it easier to get erosion control permits

News Photo by Julie Riddle Alpena resident Chuck Herring gestures to the high waters of Thunder Bay that have shortened his Partridge Point yard over the past two years.

ALPENA — Chuck Herring lost a chunk of his back yard when it slid into Thunder Bay, beaten by wind at waves near the tip of Partridge Point in Alpena Township.

He’s not planning an aggressive assault to stop the process — after all, he said, “you can’t fight Mother Nature. You’re not going to win.”

His neighbors need to consider some erosion control, though, he said, eyeing a nearby home only yards from the cliff that’s been clawed and smashed by abnormally high waters for the past two years.

A bill currently being evaluated by a state House committee would make it easier for homeowners to apply for permits to protect their property from high water on the Great Lakes.

The bill makes opponents nervous, because it would expand the state’s jurisdiction past the current high-water mark — for Lake Huron, that’s 580 feet above sea level.

If the lake rises higher than that, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy could approve permits for erosion control as high as the surface of the lake when water is calm — which, for some local residents, has been nearly up to their back doors at some points in the last two years.

Still, the bill, if passed, would simplify and speed up the application process that could help lakeside Northeast Michiganders save their property.

Last year, Herring had to fork over several thousand dollars to remove two decks and a set of stairs being decimated by high waters. Wind-whipped waves have shortened his back yard, toppling trees and sweeping piles of slate onto a neighboring property.

His sprinkler system ended up in a neighbor’s yard five or six doors down, Herring said.

Other homeowners on his street have had water sweep into their boat houses and dig pools in their yards.

Residents who want to shore up property that falls within the state’s domain below the high-water mark currently have to get permits from both the state and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, according to Don Gilmet, Alpena building official.

State regulators have been permissive about the permits this year, understanding homeowners’ urgent need to take action and the lake’s tendency to do whatever it wants without waiting for state permission, Gilmet said.

A few houses down from Herring’ house, Maureen Sweet’s property used to back up to a beach.

Now, she has piles of rocks, Sweet said.

She’s philosophical about the changes to her property caused by rollicking waves, noting that the resultant rock piles might protect the coastline from more erosion.

As to whether it’s a concern that the state may have more say-so when it comes to her back yard, Sweet said she hasn’t made up her mind.

“I guess I’d have to learn more about it before I could say for sure,” said Sweet, who said residents need to be informed about the legislative decisions that impact their lives. “We can certainly hope, right?”

Lakes Michigan and Huron, measured as one body of water because they connect in the Straits of Mackinac, have gone down 3 inches in the last month and are 6 inches lower than the same time last year, according to a weekly update by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

By this time next month, it should have inched an inch lower, according to the update.

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