Applications for shoreline protection permits tripled this year compared to last, according to Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy.
The department granted 2,284 permits in the year ending September 30, compared to 730 permits the previous year. Most of those permits went to residential property owners wanting to protect their homes from rising water levels.
Often those permits allow the construction of rock walls as a barricade against encroaching waves.
Jerrod Sanders, the assistant director of EGLE’s water resources division, says some weather emergencies in 2019, concentrated along the southern Lower Peninsula’s west coast, required immediate construction to save roads and buildings from flooding and collapse.
“In some circumstances, we even used what we call discretion and said, nope, get your trucks out there right now, and get us an application next week,” he said.
But in most situations, Sanders says it’s better for the health of the lakeshore to move the endangered structure than build a wall.
“For a lot of people, and for the Great Lakes, whenever it was possible to do so … the best thing they can do is move the structures back,” he said.
He says rock walls aren’t a fail-safe and typically just divert the eroding forces to another part of the coast.
Water levels in the Great Lakes have reached record levels in recent years, with the Army Corps of Engineers recording the largest 24-month rise since it started collecting that data more than 120 years ago.
Last week, the Michigan House committee on Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation advanced a bill that would simplify the permitting process for property owners threatened by high water.
Already passed by the Senate, SB 714 will now go to the House’s Ways and Means committee.