Faster permits aim to curb erosion threat to homes

Rising Waters

PARK TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — The federal government is speeding up its processes to allow homeowners along the lakeshore to combat erosion more quickly.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has committed to a 24-hour turnaround time on permit requests for things like sea wall repairs and other changes to save homes threatened by erosion along Lake Michigan.

“It allows homeowners to do these emergency repairs fast,” Nick Bonstell, the director of emergency management for Ottawa County, explained Thursday.

Normally to get a permit, lakeshore have to get permission from their neighbors and go through a monthslong process. But the Army Corps has acknowledged that this is an emergency.

“I don’t think there is any question of the severity of what we have going on,” Bonstell said.

Bonstell says he and other officials have been working diligently to contact people to go over plans to save their homes. Some are moving their homes farther away from the lake onto new foundations and others are building sea walls. Some are dangling dangerously close to the edge of bluffs.

“If we do end up having to retrieve it from Lake Michigan, that’s a pretty costly process and that’s why we are really trying to work with homeowners to make sure they are getting it taken care of,” Bonstell said.

With waters rising and beaches narrowing, there are no signs of the issue getting any better. Officials say that historically, November and December mean storms and that means more erosion.

“The rapid rate of erosions is really what’s catching a homeowners and a lot of people off guard,” Bonstell said.

1986 was the last time we saw such a substantial loss along the lakeshore. Officials says this time, the erosion could affect utilities and septic system.

“If you have a gas line that starts to pull away, you could damage the entire infrastructure of that service,” Bonstell said of homes falling into Lake Michigan.

Sparse, sandy beaches mean a decline in tourism dollars.

“For Ottawa County, obviously the visitors and the tourism that we see as a county is a pretty large portion of what we do here,” he said.

Emergency officials stressed that people shouldn’t take trips to the lakeshore simply to view the erosion. The sand is fragile and any additional weight and or movement could be dangerous.

Bonstell’s department is planning another flyover of the lakeshore in the coming days to get an updated assessment of the damage.

“It’s something that we will continue to watch. Obviously, we will get through it and find a way to respond to it and deal with it,” Bonstell said.

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