MSU surveying erosion damage at lakeshore

Rising Waters

PORT SHELDON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — A researcher from Michigan State University is working to chronicle erosion damage at lakefront properties in West Michigan.

Liz Spitzer is with the university’s coastal lab in its geography department. She says her research will serve as a follow up to a lakeshore study done by MSU scientists in the 1970s.

“We’re not really sure how to predict how the coast will respond to high lake levels and storm events. So, just gathering this kind of data and trying to link it to the causes of that erosion, we might be able to create some kind of probabilistic model in the future,” said Spitzer.

Thursday, Spitzer spent the afternoon taking measurements of sand dunes on West Olive lakefront properties. She says the damage is clear to visitors.

“At certain locations, you can see the failure. You can see trees that have fallen in. You can see people trying to protect their shoreline,” she said as she described the damage.

Nancy Zamiara, who lives at one of the properties being surveyed, says she has noticed a drastic change in the 10 years she’s lived there.

“This is absolutely our slice of heaven. I grew up in West Michigan and raised my family in the Lansing area, but our hearts are here,” said Zamiara.

She says at one point they had at least 50 feet of beach in front of their cottage. Thursday, only a few feet separated Lake Michigan and a nearly 90-degree sand dune at the edge of the property.

“It’s scary at times. We’re holding off. We don’t want to put in the (sea) walls if we don’t have to,” said Zamiara. “It is kind of scary to think a big storm could blow up, and you don’t know how much (land) you could lose.”

The research done by the MSU will quantify property loss along the Lake Michigan coastline in the lower portion of the state. The data collection process is happening in several communities, including West Olive and Fennville.

Spitzer says she uses a real-time kinematic GPS to take measurements of the properties. She says she is also using aerial maps. She says later she will compare the new measurements to the 50-year-old study.

Spitzer says having the numbers can help scientists determine the future of the lake and shoreline.

“If you can identify and predict where it will erode, that will definitely influence how people build and where they build,” said Spitzer.

The researchers say they have 20 more homes to survey. They’re hoping to finish the measurement portion of the study in September.

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