GRAND HAVEN, Mich. (WOOD) — Near record-high water levels are leading to concerns for boaters and tourists trying to access boat launches and piers along Lake Michigan.
In Grand Haven, some of those structures have already been affected. Derek Gajdos of the Department of Public Works said the Harbor Island Boat Launch was closed for nearly two days because of high water. Most of the parking lot was still soaked when it was reopened Wednesday.
“We want to make sure that people know that it’s open for use, just to be careful with the high water levels,” Gajdos said. “We carefully delineated areas of high water that flow directly into the river so boaters can see and don’t accidentally drive their cars into the river while launching.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says Lake Michigan has risen 11 inches in the past year. The current high water mark is only two inches away from a record set in 1986.
Gajdos said the city hopes water levels will soon recede so the boat launch, fixed docks and pier can be used throughout the summer.
“It’s been a long time since Grand Haven public safety has closed the pier, but these are unusual circumstances this year,” Gajdos said. “I’ve never seen (Lake Michigan) this high and I’ve lived here all my life. And to think, six years ago we were experiencing record lows.”
Grand Haven’s South Pier is at the tail end of a restoration project, with crews working to reinstall the iconic catwalk. The rising water could threaten that effort.
Rising waves even threaten the catwalk restoration project on the pier. The dept. of public works says crews need dry conditions, not only for safety but also for the equipment they’re using to work effectively. @WOODTV pic.twitter.com/VozXVKVNbC — Justin Kollar (@kollarjustin) May 29, 2019
Despite popular use, the pier wasn’t designed for foot traffic.
“Just watch yourself as you transverse that pier or the boardwalk. Those levels are coming close to the edge of the boardwalk as well,” Gajdos said. “In bad weather or as wind picks up, just keep your balance and if it looks are appears unsafe, don’t traverse those areas, especially those covered in algae.”
Vicki Cech says the high water and waves bring back painful memories.
“I lost my son Andy to a rip current in this lake 16 years ago,” Cech said. “It still hurts today, and as far as rip currents, I mean those are going to be worse this year because of all the high water level.”
A picture of Cech’s son and another young man who lost his life off the pier used to be posted on a placard at the base of the pier. The placard is barren now but Cech explained it will be replaced when construction of the pier is finished.
“It’s important that we’re getting this sign restored because there’s such good information on there,” Cech said. “They see the pictures of the boys and they stop and think. Nobody needs to go through this pain. There’s so much we can do to prevent it now … and I just I hope people will heed the warning.”
Gajdos said the city is watching water levels and will close areas if they are deemed unsafe.