SOUTH HAVEN, Mich. (WOOD) — The historically high waters of Lake Michigan are drawing lawmakers from Washington to the lakeshore.

On Thursday, Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow and Republican U.S. Rep. Fred Upton toured the shrunken lakeshore beaches and waterlogged marinas of South Haven with Assistant City Manager Kate Hosier where water-related activities are an $80 million industry.

But as the lawmakers travelled along the now-mostly empty vacation areas, they saw the erosion on the beaches, the water swamping docks and boat slips.

They heard the dangers posed by waters as it reaches electrical outlets and flows, into water retention areas contaminating sewers and drinking water lines.

Local officials estimate the cost of remediating the damage and preventing future impact will be between 11 and $20 million dollars.

The lawmakers stressed that the federal government’s assistance is a slow process that is unlikely to make an immediate impact.

Upton said the International Joint Committee has pledged a total of $3 million to study possibilities like reducing the flow of rivers to the Great Lakes.

“They are also looking at increasing the flow through the St. Lawrence River and that’s one of the things that’s been under discussion before,” Upton said.

Stabenow met with city, county, state and federal officials at South Haven City Hall to discuss the range of options available to help address the water issues.

She said resources include Federal Emergency Management Agency grants, Department of Agricultural loans and $70 million in Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s climate infrastructure expenditures.

U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow meeting with city, county, state and federal officials at South Haven City Hall. (Feb. 20, 2020)

Stabenow said she believes that the evidence of what is happening before our eyes on the Great Lakes is putting an end to climate change skepticism and moving forward with real solutions.

“I think we’re still at the beginning and it’s going to be really important that we as a bipartisan delegation in Michigan come in together and we have a tradition of working together on Great Lakes issues and I would anticipate the same kind of bipartisan support,” Stebenow said.

Upton said that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are aware of the crisis and are working to make sure that the government is getting out of the way of the state and local efforts.

But the federal government is not going to save the day.

“In terms of federal relief, the feds aren’t going to be building the breakwaters. That’s always been an individual responsibility,” Upton said.

However, both Stabenow and Upton say that Washington is getting the message and they are hopeful that the rarest of sights in today’s fractured political climate will take place: True bi-partisan action to save the Great Lakes shores.

“They are very interested in casting the net for more Republicans and Democrats to co-sponsor bills and we’re going to try and make this a policy discussion when Congress comes back into session and see if we can’t really drive bills forward and I’m encouraged,” Upton said.


Rising Waters