HARBERT — Members of the Chikaming Township Board on Feb. 4 listened to more than two hours of comments from 60-plus members of the public on a draft version of an ordinance that would prohibit the installation and maintenance of hardened shoreline armoring that “interfere with and degrade the natural and and dynamic characteristics of the Lake Michigan Shoreline” before deciding to make some changes based on what they had heard during the special meeting.
The draft proposal (which can be viewed in its entirety at www.chikamingtownship.org) defines shoreline armoring as “armoring comprised of concrete boulders, stone, gravel, steel, iron, timber, or other similar materials” and later states it includes (but is not limited to) the placement of seawalls, bulkheads, riprap, revetments, groins, breakwaters, geotubes and sandbags” but does not include a sand fence.
The draft ordinance would allow for the installation or placement of sandbags or larger geotubes if “primary Shoreland structures” (not including “accessory Shoreland structures alone”) are in “imminent danger of substantial damage from high-energy wave action or inundation based on the analysis and conclusion of an engineer or other qualified expert retained by the Township and said for by the property owner and/or permit applicant.”
Later in the draft ordinance the permitting of sandbags or geotubes is said to be valid for a period up to one calendar year from the date issued and that longest they can be in place is three years from the date the permit was issued.
Many of those making comments on the draft ordinance expressed either support or opposition, with some proposing changes related to the length of time sandbags and geotubes can remain in place, the process and requirements to get such protections OK’d, and other details in the proposal.
Township Supervisor David Bunte began the Feb. 4 special meeting by stating: “For the past year the township and its residents have experienced the highest water levels recorded on Lake Michigan, eclipsing the last high-water event in 1986. The resulting damage to private and public property has been extreme, and the concern for every person who utilizes or lives on the shoreline has grown.”
“Throughout the course of the year numerous permit applications for revetments have been submitted to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy by property owners on the lakefront. The majority of those permits have been approved, and subsequent armoring structures have been installed.”
Bunte said as more revetments were installed members of the public began to voice their concerns over the future of the shoreline and their ability to access it.
He said the Township Board began to investigate what options were available “to achieve a balance between property owners’ rights to protect their property, potential long-term damage to neighboring parcels, effects on the natural, littoral movement of the lake, the environmental impact, the public’s right to access, and the legal courses of action that were available.”
Bunte said in October 2020 the board adopted a resolution promoting the physical and mental health benefits of access to the Lake Michigan shoreline and passage along that shoreline below the ordinary high-water mark, and opposing any barrier or interference with public access or passage. Following a webinar hosted by the township in November of 2020, he said officials agreed to hire an environmental attorney to assist in developing an ordinance that would protect the shoreline from hard armoring and offer environmentally friendly options to protect properties.
Bunte said the Feb. 6 meeting was an opportunity to take public comments (see below in this article) on the first draft version of the ordinance and have the board discuss the proposal.
Scott Howard, an environmental attorney who assisted in drafting the ordinance, said three issues that seemed to come out repeatedly during public comment to change or improve the draft ordinance were: 1. Keep in mind innovative, non-armoring solutions that may be different than sandbags and geotubes (if there’s some other great technology out there, or one gets developed, we don’t want to exclude that); 2. If the time period for sandbags and geotubes permits should be extended: 3. What level of administrative requirements should be in place for people to use sandbags or geotubes.
Trustee Rich Sullivan said he wrote down the same issues as Howard.
“I am 100-percent on the same page of al three of those issues.”
Sullivan said the perception that sandbags and geotubes are only allowed as a last resort needs to be clarified — “It shouldn’t be as a last resort.”
He also said the township need to be sensitive to allowing steps to protect things such as septic systems and swimming pools as well as houses in the ordinance.
Board member Liz Rettig noted that she also wrote down the three things that Howard did and said she doesn’t want protective measures to be allowed only as a last resort.
“I agree that we need to double check and possibly change a few things,” said Clerk Paula Dudiak
Board member Bill Marske said he would be in favor of maybe reducing the steps it takes to apply and get permission to protect properties.
Bunte said township officials also need to clarify where EGLE and the Township stand in the approval process.
Sullivan said when there are emergency situations the township needs to be able to move quickly.
Bunte said the ordinance also should make an allowance for alternative/new technologies such as Hesko bags currently being used to protect Silver Beach in St. Joseph and other bio-engineered technologies such as core logs “as other environmentally friendly options become available.”
Sullivan suggested that the time period for permitting sandbags and geotubes be five years instead of three years.
Bunte said he doesn’t want to press for a quick turn-around, instead wanting the process of updating the draft ordinance to be as thorough as possible. The consensus was to have Howard make changes based on public comments and board discussion from the Feb. 4 meeting, with the revised document likely to be presented at a yet-to-be-scheduled special meeting (the Township Board’s next regular meeting is set for Feb. 11). The board voted 5-0 to table the draft ordinance pending revisions and the next meeting properly noticed for the public.
Bunte said there were about 260 people on the Zoom meeting at one point.
Among the many public comments made during the session were:
Charles Shabica said a presentation by Guy Meadows during the webinar was “taken out of context” to “paint all shore protection with the same paintbrush” and should not be used as a basis for this legislation (which he later said would have serious negative impact and unintended consequences for the entire community).
Shabica (who said he is a coastal scientist with a PhD from the University of Chicago who has studied the evolution of the Great Lakes for 50 years) said Michigan’s lakeshore is evolving and climate change is making lake storms more intense.
He said it is is his opinion that a proposed “gentle slope, single-layer armor stone revetment constructed more than 10 feet landward of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ ordinary high-water mark with a toe excavated approximately six feet into the existing lake bed will have no negative impact on the adjacent properties or the littoral drift system.”
Rich Ham, a lakefront owner in Chikaming Township, said he and some of his neighbors are applicants “for an application for a permit for the right to install a stone revetment go protect our homes.”
“I think the ordinance as proposed is an abomination on may levels” and he mentioned a “shocking disregard for lakefront homeowners and the brazen taking of private property this ordinance represents,” the possibility of the dramatic loss of property values along the lake and “years, and perhaps decades of costly legal battles.”
Nick Bogert said he is 68, and when he was a baby there was only a tiny beach in Lakeside and stairs leading up from it had to be replaced with a ladder. “Within a few years you had to bring a towel with you when you went to the beach so you could drop it down and get your feet off the scorching sand as you crossed the wide beach get to the water.”
In 1986 he said a neighbor lost two houses to erosion that ate away the bluff beneath them and his family put in a small lumber retaining wall.
“The sand comes and goes … that’s a natural cycle.”
Bogert said Chikaming Township is one of the few places along the Lake Michigan Shoreline where long-term erosion does not occur — “The bluff line of a couple years ago is the same as the bluff line in 1938.”
But he said hard armoring could change that, and he urged the board to pass the ordinance.
Allison Stites said the township has chosen the most radical path forward “that tramples property rights” and “destroys the property value of over 300 homeowners in this township” by taking away their ability to protect their homes.
Alan Wenstrand spoke in favor of the ordinance, saying he feels the Lake Michigan shore is the backbone of the community and should be for everyone.
John Immel, president of the Wildwood Homeowners Association in Bridgman, said, “We strongly embrace and support the Chikaming Township ordinance being discussed here tonight,” adding he hopes is becomes a model for Lake Township and other lakefront municipalities.
Michael Sheehan said he is in favor of the ordinance and thinks the science is there and it is legally sound.
“Let’s avoid irreparable harm to our beautiful lake and our beautiful beaches. Let’s pass this ordinance.”
Gene Schoon, president of the Woodland Shores Beach Association, said “we are in support of the actions being taken by Chikaming Township.”
“We fought this battle here ... done a great job of balancing those private, kind of immediate interests against the long-term consequences that can result from the building of revetments — hard armoring.”
Ellen Reagan, a member of Lakefront Preservation Group, aid she supports “Chikaming’s effort to protect the area beaches from structures that science has shown will destroy them in time.”
Dan Coffey said the right to walk on the property below the natural, ordinary high-water mark does not require private property owners to provide walking space on sand.
He later said, “Private property owners do not have to create public beaches, they do not have to give up the sand they own any more than a homeowner is to fill in a hole in the road in front of her house. They have a right to protect the structures and septics and other improvements on their private property.”
Coffey said in his “biased opinion” the preamble to the proposed ordinance contains “poorly stated, misleading half-truths.” such as armoring always results in loss of beach — “Obviously you have not watched what happened in Michiana over the years … most revetments have no impact on littoral drift of sand along the shore.”
He also predicted the ordinance would reduce the amount of property tax dollars going to the schools.
Julie Glavin said the township has a fiduciary duty to the public interest, adding that it is in that interest to maintain the township beaches. “Destroy the beaches and our visitors will go elsewhere with their money.”
Stephen Leonard said the most important thing is “the science is not clear on this.”
He said they should be having a debate amongst the scientists and listen to what they have to say.
Rob Guilfoyle, a Bridgman lakefront property owner whose family has owned property there for six-plus generations, said he supports the ordinance and called negative affects on neighbors who don’t install hardcore armoring “reckless disregard.”
Bob Jank asked “where is the science?,” and questioned the draft ordinance’s time limit of three years for protecting properties with temporary solution and allowance of sand bags and geotube sand bags but not the Hesko sand bag system being used in St. Joseph and South Haven.
“Also where is the science that says you will prevent new protection construction but not require the removal of existing protections … that are actually hastening the deterioration, in some cases if they weren’t done properly, on properties south of them.”
Bennett Stein said the new rock and metal structures are at risk of ruining Cherry Beach for his family. Short of reclaiming the land where lakefront homes are located, Stein said he supports the ordinance.
Jack Murchie of Sawyer, part of a beach association consisting of 30 to 40 homeowners, said, In the past year a solid, continuous armored revetment from Pier Street on the north all the way to our beach was created — “over 1,600 feet of continuous boulders and concrete.”
“The sand is gone in front of those revetments and our beach has been scoured away at the very tail end of these revetments.”
Murchie said he is proud that the trustees are taking leadership on a matter that has statewide importance and he supports the adoption of the proposed ordinance.
David Price, whose family has had a house in Lakeside for many, many decades said he is in favor of the ordinance because he feels it will support future generations’ use of the beach.
Angel Cook — over the summer took a boat ride north of the Cook Plant where she said it is “all revetments.”
“People can’t walk that beach … We would see people up on top of the revetments sitting in their chairs hundreds of feet above the water.”
Sally Bogert urged people to watch a webinar on coastline erosion posted on the Chikaming Township website.
“It is informative, science-based, and makes it abundantly clear that hard armoring leads to the destruction of the natural beach.”
Steve Stein said he is concerned about senior citizens losing exercise opportunities along the shoreline
John Trinta said professionals aren’t in agreement on the issue and urged officials to try and build consensus for a win-win solution.
“This kind of feels like … a rush to judgment.”
“Having the township step in the shoes of EGLE and be the final arbitrator on whatever protection is allowed … creates huge risk to the township.”
Claudia Parishm who owns a home in Harbert, said she wholeheartedly supports the ordinance and the protection of “our most valuable asset — the beaches.”
“A few hundred people own beachfront property, but tens of thousands use the beaches each year, and that supports our community.”
George Webb said he is against the ordinance, saying each individual site must be looked at instead of taking a “broad brush” approach.
In the 1980s he said the township worked with landowners to build revetments for protection.
“Those structures were built, and the beach survived, the beach did well.”
Cindy Ellis of Shorewood Hills said she wants to preserve the pristine beach in that community and the entire township.
“I applaud the township’s effort to protect what we have, and I think the ordinance does provide some good measures for homeowners to protect their property during times of high water.”
Dan Glavin said his family has had property in the township since the late 1800s and he is a former lakefront property owner. He said the risk of causing damage to Cherry Beach is “pretty high stakes to gamble with.”
“Don’t forget all these people who donated money to expand Cherry Beach.”
Olga Georgiev said she has seen the beaches come and go, and revetments that have been put down in the past have come up and been buried again.
“But when they come up, for example at Pier Street, its’ actually ruined that beach for a long time.”
Chris Reagan said he grew up on the shore of Lake Erie in Ohio‚ the state with the most heavily armored shore in the Great Lakes.
“Consequently there are no beaches on the shore of Lake Erie anymore. They disappeared long ago. One need only look north to Stevensville and Shorewood to see the destructive effect of armoring in our area.”
Katie Fox, a homeowner along the lake in Lakeside, said she supports ordinance.
“If we lose the beach … we will lose the economy, we will lose everything that makes the area what it is.”
Lance Feis, a lakefront owner, said he is against the ordinance which he said is being done as “a police action.” Feis also said based his experience in South Haven when a property isn’t protected “first the bluff goes, and when that happens all of the trees tumbling down. You end up with a wall of sand … it just keeps going and going … at some point the wall becomes vertical, and then even concave … what happens is the tableland will fall into the lake in order to create a slope again.”
In the case of Cherry Beach he said the parking lot “is going to start to go.”
“My suggestion would be to put geotubes at the base of Cherry Beach … to protect yourselves. It happens very, very fast. All it takes is one storm.”
Susan Phelan said she is a strong proponent the proposed ordinance for reasons including her belief that it takes into account the needs of property owners and the community at large; and that it recognizes that “forever is a very long time.”
Nina Russell, a homeowner in Lakeside and member of a five-generation family, said she is strongly in favor of the ordinance.
“One of the reasons why I’m particularly comfortable with the ordinance is the allowance for flexible solutions and temporary solutions such as sandbags and geotubes.”
She suggested extending the sandbag/geotube permitting timeline from three to five years and noted that temporary protections “we don’t even know about yet” could be an option in the near future.
Ben Albert said he is not in favor of the ordinance as it’s currently written.
He suggested officials look at all solutions and consider allowing protections for secondary properties nearer to the lake than the main residence.
Torrey Foster, president of the Highland Shores Homeowners Association in Sawyer, , said he is against hard armoring due to the risk of permanent damage downstream, but said the current wording sub-optimal as it relates to temporary protections and has many arbitrary elements members of the association would like to see changed before the ordinance is approved.
“We would recommend you re-visit, with lakefront owner input, how to optimize the ordinance’s temporary components. What materials can be used, for what amount of time — three years strikes us as arbitrary and not need-based necessarily. The approval hoops seem quite late in stage.”
John Hollenbeck said “all I ask is you work with the ‘300’ (lakefront property owners) to figure out soft solutions that might create a ‘win-win’ answer for everyone.”
Amy Mader said this is not a popularity contest, and not about who loves the beach more. She said the “police ordinance” would prohibit “long-established, state-approved revetments on private property.”
“I just implore the board to work with the private property owners,” she said.
Sarah Schrup said some of the most vocal advocates of the “pro-boulder group” bought homes on a critical dune during the highest lake levels in recent memory.
She said the proposed ordinance would protect the rights of the general citizenry.
Mac Sims when the state of Michigan approves a project they already have taken protecting the beach and leaving space for walking into consideration.
“This needs more discussion with the homeowners … why do we feel the township has got more ability to make good decisions?”
Eliza Stein, 25, said she 100-percent supports the ordinance so Cherry Beach can be protected for her generation and generations to come.
Michelle Donnelly said she is a lakefront homeowner and his very much in support of protecting the lakefront and the ability to walk on the beach. She noted that while she favors regulating hard armoring, the proposed ordinance puts too many limits on and hurdles in the way of using sandbags until a home is on the verge of falling into the lake.
“Work with us, make it possible for us to save our own home and at the same time keep the lakeshore, preserve the beach.”
Ian Ram of Harbert said he supports the draft ordinance which he called a reasonable compromise based on science and public interest. “It’s not overreach.”
Douglas Greef said the draft ordinance is very well written and designed to meet the particular needs of Chikaming — where he said a “huge, super majority” of residents want to protect our beaches and support the plan.
“In government you are the exception, tackling our issues and providing value-added solutions. You truly are exceptional and stand out as leaders.”
Jim Parsons said the most important thing is to to prevent any more hard armoring along the lakeshore “because there is a lot of evidence that it does tremendous damage to neighboring properties.”
Cliff Beckman, who owns lakefront property in Harbert that has been in the family for 60 years, said he opposes the ordinance which he said “makes it illegal for lakefront property owners to protect their property from the erosive effects of high water and waves of Lake Michigan.”
Steven Chudik said he thinks the ordinance has come a very long way.
“We’re close, we’re very, very close, but we’re just not quite there … and I think it will be worth the effort to go a little extra mile to try to make everyone happy.”
Mary Kay, a Bridgman resident, said the ordinance is very important for the entire lakeshore.
“From the Cook Nuclear Plant north is a disaster. From the Cook Nuclear Plant south has hope. So I am looking to Chikaming Township for hope.”
ill Underhill, a former member of the Park Board, said “the Township Board is not rushing anything.”
“This has been very carefully thought about … we have to protect the shoreline and prohibit the hard armoring.”
Also on Feb. 4, the Township Board approved a wide-ranging Lakefront Resiliency Plan & Program “for the long-term viability and benefit of the community and its constituents.”
Bunte said the plan has been developed over the last few months with the assistance of a number of different people in the community with input from the University of Michigan and Michigan State University. He said Doug Dow has accepted the project manager role.
“What we’re trying to do is make sure all of our master plan … and our zoning ordinance … everything works in concert and it’s a long-term, sustainable plan,” Bunte said.
The plan can be viewed at www.chikamingtownship.org