Two of the docks at New Buffalo’s municipal harbor that are now on dry land until the end of winter. - photo by David Johnson

NEW BUFFALO — Due to historically high waters levels on Lake Michigan, the city of New Buffalo has taken action to remove docks at its municipal marina to avoid damage over the winter.

The docks could not be raised above the water level, which left them exposed to potential damage from freezing waters this winter.

“The community made an investment in the marina that we felt needed to be protected and it was decided removing docks for the winter was the most prudent course of action,” New Buffalo Mayor Lou O’Donnell IV said in a news release. “This will also allow us to perform additional maintenance on the docks that would not have been possible if they remained in the water.”

City Manager David Richards said work began Monday, Jan. 6, and was finished two days later.

“We pulled them out and stacked them on the ground so we can clean them up and paint them,” Richards said Friday. “This is the first time we’ve ever had to pull the docks out.”

To remove the docks, Richards said it cost the city $130,000. The city paid for the expense through its general fund.

A team from Abonmarche, the city’s engineer-of-record, and King Co. – a general contractor out of Holland – developed a plan to remove the docks and reinstall them for the 2020 boating season.

When reinstalled in the spring, the docks will be at an appropriate level in relation to the projected water levels.

“By taking this action with the docks, our marina will be better positioned to meet the expectations of boaters during the upcoming boating season,” O’Donnell said in the release. “For most of the last season, our docks were at or under water negatively impacting their availability. Next year, boaters will be able to use and enjoy the marina as they were able to in previous years.”

Near record water levels on Lake Michigan have been a challenge to lake Michigan communities for the past year.

Numerous marinas had to disconnect power systems to docks when they ended up underwater, many marina slips became unusable, and property owners along the coast have had to armor their shoreline to protect homes.

High water levels are expected to remain and be a challenge to coastal communities throughout 2020.

Dune Walk gets grant

New Buffalo’s Dune Walk at the public beach will see a significant investment during the upcoming fiscal year.

The city was recently notified it was selected to receive a $220,000 grant from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Land and Water Conservation Fund. The grant will be matched by $220,000 in local resources resulting in a $440,000 project.

The Dune Walk is considered an iconic part of the community and has been home to countless senior class pictures, wedding proposals and other memories for local residents and visitors.

The funding comes as the existing Dune Walk was nearing the end of its functional lifecycle.

“The timing on this grant was perfect,” O’Donnell said. “Not only will we be able to renovate and improve the existing Dune Walk, but we also will be constructing a second ADA accessible walkway into the dunes so that people of all abilities can enjoy the dunes and their sweeping views of Lake Michigan.”

Other project elements will include planting dune grasses to protect the dune area as well as installing educational signage to inform people on the importance of dunes and their unique ecosystems.

Abonmarche helped the city develop a funding application that was ranked seventh overall from all applications submitted to the state.

City officials expect to get its final grant agreement in mid-2020 at which point the design and construction process will begin.

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