MEARS, Mich. (WOOD) — People are scrambling to protect their homes as high lake levels cause extensive erosion along Lake Michigan.

From May 2019 to June 2019, a spokesperson for the state Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy says, homeowners requested 179 permits to install shoreline protections on their property. During the same period in 2020, EGLE says it received more than 700 permit requests.

“It’s heartbreaking to see what’s going on along the entire coast of Michigan,” said homeowner Gail Siegers, who had a rock revetment installed just days ago.

A rock revetment meant to protect the Siegers’ Lake Michigan shoreline property from erosion. (July 15, 2020)

She and her husband Garrett Siegers say they have been keeping track of the loss of land at their beachfront property in Mears for 15 years. By their measurements, they’ve lost about 200 feet.

“It’s never been even close to being this high or this close to the house,” Garrett Siegers said of the water.

The two say the property was originally purchased by Gail Siegers’ family in 1965 and a home was built on the plot in 1971. She said she recalls the water had already started rising then and the problem worsened by the 1980s.

“These beachfront lots should never have been sold and built but that’s easy to say after the fact,” Gail Siegers said. “Nothing stops water. It is a powerful force that needs to be respected.”

Local contractors say the erosion damage had led to more calls for shoreline protection work than they can keep up with.

“We’ve had multiple people reach out to us. Unfortunately though, we’re a small crew,” said Justin Meyers of Justin Meyers Builders. “Right now we’re in the process of moving three (homes) back and we have two (homes) that we’re lifting out of the water.”

Meyers and a crew from Deitz House Movers spent Wednesday afternoon prepping a home in Montague for a move.

“It’s a lot of heartache for people who have spent their life savings to have these homes and they’re losing them,” Meyers said.

Contractors say homeowners also have the options of installing a sea wall or rock wall to protect their home from further loss of land.

“As we start getting fall storms, heavy wind, these lakes and waves are going to get taller and the lake levels are near the highest ever recorded so it’s not going to get any better until the lake recedes,” said Dan Gorenflo of Hallack Contracting Inc.

Gorenflo says over the last year, his team completed more than 50 shoreline protection projects.

He and a crew are now working to fill sand dunes in front of seven homes in a Mears neighborhood to slow erosion. He estimated the dune in front of each home will be filled with 16 truckloads of rocks, which he says is equivalent to about 2,000 tons in total.

Contractors say while they’re working to help as many shoreline homeowners as quickly as possible, the future on the lake is still uncertain.

“We hope it lasts a long time, possibly forever, but we can’t predict really what Lake Michigan is going to do to us,” Gorenflo said.