SPRING LAKE, Mich. (WOOD) — Frustrated with the long permitting process, homeowners living along North Shore Estates in Spring Lake have decided it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission.
“We felt after the night before Thanksgiving, when the big storm hit that we lost about 30 feet of dune in one evening, and we felt we could no longer wait to protect our home,” Pam Stille said Friday as she watched crews move huge rocks into place to protect about a dozen homes along the beach from aggressive erosion linked to high water levels.
The time it takes to get permission to do the work from the state has been a point of frustration for homeowners trying to protect their beach and, in many cases, their homes from erosion.
U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland, took to the air in a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter Friday to survey the damage.
“It was pretty stark,” Huizenga said. “There were some spots kind of south of Ludington where it was hundreds of feet high … and it was just cliffs going down.”
The question remains what the government can and should do.
Huizenga said the federal and state governments have worked to relax some of the rules regarding permitting processes for buffer work and that talk continues on ways Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster funds could be used. One idea would be to allow FEMA to implement the model it uses to provide relief to farmers during long dry spells.
“What I’ve been trying to talk to legislative leaders about is what can we do to have them view it more like a drought situation as they do with the Department of Ag,” Huizenga said.
There are other issues that could affect taxpayers who don’t live near the water.
“We’re in a crisis, and it’s not just about people living along here,” Stille, the North Shore Estates homeowner, said. “The cities are going to be in trouble.”
The high water has threatened — and in some cases damaged — roads, water lines and other infrastructure used by the general public, plus public beaches and docks that attract tourists. Huizenga suggested the state has come up short in its response to those areas.
“Seems to me that the state should declare a state of emergency on that,” Huizenga said. “That will then at least help us make the argument with the Army Corps (of Engineers) and with FEMA and others that we need their attention.”
In a Friday email to News 8, State Emergency Management, Homeland Security Division spokesman Dale George said the state is aware some city and county boards have passed resolutions calling for a declaration.
“To date, the only requests from local emergency managers has been for aviation and mapping support,” he stated. “Aviation and mapping support are resources that are routinely provided to local jurisdictions and do not require an emergency declaration.”
Whether or not a disaster declaration is the answer, residents who have watched their beaches vanish say they’re worried about an even larger impact.
“Really, the west coast, this side of the state relies on tourism,” North Shore Estate resident James Byrum said.