STATEWIDE CONCERN

Record-high water levels have wreaked havoc on Michigan’s coastal communities – including those in Iosco County – leading to flooding, erosion, infrastructure damage and other concerns. This photo shows some of the damage to Gateway Park in Tawas City after a recent storm and, while such events alone can cause damage, the impact has only been intensified with the rising water levels. Tawas City Council members have approved a resolution which was distributed across the state, seeking to have Michigan’s shoreline declared as a disaster area. 

TAWAS CITY – Tawas City officials are among the supporters of a resolution which aims to have Michigan’s shoreline declared as a disaster area.

The decision to approve the document was made by council members, among other action, at their Dec. 2 meeting.

City Manager Annge Horning advised that units of government along the shoreline of any of the Great Lakes in Michigan are being asked to approve the resolution.

“There’s a lot of damage statewide,” she said, adding that, if the shoreline is declared a disaster area, it will open up funding opportunities to help address the issue.

Throughout 2019, record-high water levels have caused damage, flooding, erosion and other issues for numerous areas across the state, including Iosco County.

Tawas City is one of the municipalities which took quite a hit this year and, during the planning commission meeting on Dec. 3, Horning advised that Gateway Park experienced significant damage – again – following a storm that prior Sunday.

She reminded the group that the city council had Russo Engineering put together plans to raise the deck system of the park, for which a crane would be brought in to lift up and move the decks.

However, “Mother Nature took care of that for us; they’re in sections and pushed way up on the shore,” Horning told commission members, noting that some light poles had to be removed because of this also.

“And Town Square took a beating. The cement wall that’s been there for decades fell apart and it’s severely eroding the lawn now,” she continued.

Horning said cement legos were to be put in, to try to help mitigate that, but she cautioned that winter has only just begun.

Come springtime, she said she thinks the city parks are going to be a big part of the conversation among the various governing bodies, as far as what the plan of attack will be, where it falls in line with other priorities for current city  projects and so on.

Horning remarked that, if everybody adopts the above mention resolution, hopefully there will be some action.

She shared that she doesn’t know if anything is official yet, but she has been hearing rumors that the governor is appointing a committee to be reviewing this.

She also said a Facebook page has been started for waterfront residents to share their photos and videos of what’s happening along the Great Lakes, so that legislators can see everything that’s going on. “It’s a real problem, statewide. It’s pretty significant.”

Additionally, as reported, it was last month when Iosco County Emergency Management Coordinator Ed Rohn helped acquire more than 48,000 sandbags from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, to be used by county residents dealing with coastal flooding from Lake Huron.

Further, it was at the beginning of June when Tawas City’s Department of Public Works (DPW) staff started placing large cement blocks along the beach in Tawas City Shoreline Park, in an effort to prevent erosion from hitting the sidewalk and grass area.

An intense wind storm also faced by the community in August – coupled with the rising water levels – led to significant damage to structures in Shoreline Park, as well as Gateway Park.

“In Gateway Park, the railing along the Lake Huron side of the boardwalk is completely demolished. Two sections of the sidewalk have sank and the grass area is heavily eroded,” Horning told officials at the time. “The rocks that were along the shoreline are scattered all over the lawn.”

Given the change in lake levels – and the related potential for ice damage in the winter months – council members have also been discussing their options for elevating by more than 20 inches the pier system at both Gateway Park and the Tawas City Veteran’s Park and Canoe Launch.

Another example of the issues being faced were brought up during a recent council meeting where officials considered vacating a portion of Oak Street, located south of Lake Street (US-23).

Horning provided the council with a map of the street in question, noting that half of the 60-foot right-of-way is already a part of Lake Huron. She added that, due to erosion, the land is actually even smaller now than what was shown in the map.

According to information from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE), Great Lakes water levels have been rising for the past six years.

EGLE has diverted resources and staff from other programs to assist those affected, and has set up a webpage with resources, information and a link to the MiWaters permitting portal.

Department representatives state that there is no one-size-fits-all answer. They key is to find a solution that works, but one that also minimizes some of the negative impacts that can come with coastal structures. Options include riprap (or loose stone) revetments, seawalls and, in some cases, even moving the home or other structures away from the lake.

To access the webpage, visit Michigan.gov/HighWater. As noted on the site, the Great Lakes are experiencing the highest water levels since 1986, and storms and wave action are causing erosion and flooding of the shoreline.  Water levels on the Great Lakes are cyclical – with periods of low and high water – with each period lasting for several years, depending on the amount of precipitation, runoff and evaporation which occurs. 

It is also stated that, due to the resulting erosion and threat to property that high water levels can cause, property owners are requesting information on permitting and technical resources that are available from EGLE.

The webpage contains details on applying for Shoreline Protection Permits, as well as information on frequently asked questions about shore protection during high waters; protecting investments in shore properties on the Great Lakes; minor project categories; coastal planning information; and links to several other EGLE Great Lakes programs webpages.

Those who have questions or need assistance may contact the Environmental Assistance Center (EAC) at 1-800-662-9278, or EGLE-Assist@Michigan.gov. The EAC is staffed from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and callers are to advise the operator that they are contacting them about shoreline erosion. Callers will then be transferred to a field staff person. After hours, leave a message and the call will be returned the next business day.

In separate matters at their Dec. 2 meeting, Tawas City officials also acted on the following:

• Appointed council members Jon Studley and Jackie Masich to a subcommittee, which will continue discussions with Gwen Hayes on potentially leasing the building in Anchor Park and operating it as a small café. The subcommittee will then bring back a suggestion for the council to consider, as far as a possible lease arrangement with Hayes.

• Accepted the lone, $100 bid from Allan Miller Construction of Tawas City, to purchase the footbridge which spans Dead Creek and is situated near the former Tawas Area Middle School.

As reported, the bridge has been blocked off by the DPW because of its deteriorating condition. If the city were to keep the structure, contractor estimates indicate that the necessary repairs would cost $14,500.

• Approved the 2020 Huron Shore Regional Utility Authority budget. The changes to the figures from the prior year, as well as explanations for same, were summarized in the Nov. 27 edition of the Oscoda Press, and the Nov. 20 edition of the Iosco County News-Herald.

• Set the 2020 meeting schedule for the council, with most of the gatherings to again be held at 7 p.m. on the first and third Monday of each month. Two of the meetings have been rescheduled for Tuesdays, those being Feb. 18 and Sept. 8. The meetings are held in Tawas City Hall, located at 550 W. Lake St. (US-23).

The 2020 schedule also outlines a joint meeting with the planning commission and Downtown Development Authority on Monday, Jan. 13. A budget workshop has been slated, as well, for 6 p.m. on Wednesday, April 15.