NEW BUFFALO — The New Buffalo Shoreline Alliance announced during an Oct. 3 webinar that it plans to take legal action against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in an attempt to restore and nourish beaches located south of the New Buffalo harbor breakwall.
New Buffalo Shoreline Alliance President Ted Grzywacz announced that the non-profit organization "has determined that our best cause of action is a takings lawsuit against the Army Corps of Engineers."
He said the case "will more than likely be resolved in two years, and it will get us the money we need to implement our solution to this problem."
Grzywacz said "it is not right to have those who did not cause the problem to be responsible for a financially burdensome number."
Before announcing the lawsuit, Grzywacz said, "Our problem is large, and getting larger due to high water. That problem has been exacerbates and become monumental."
He said over the past two years the shore has experienced damage "never seen before."
"Please remember our problem will not go away when the water levels drop. We need protection and sand. Without the sand and protection there will be no beach."
Grzywacz said the quest for a solution began about six years ago in October "after one of the most damaging Halloween storms on record."
"Since then we have worked endlessly on seeking a solution and funding for this solution (which he said the Corps of Engineers recommended to the Village of Grand Beach in 2009).
Grzywacz said the plan (reviewed by the Alliance's engineering consultants, Edgewood Resources), to combine a series of breakwaters along with beach nourishment would "produce and protect our beaches."
He said a Section 111 study completed in 1999 by the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) for the City of St. Joseph "speaks of the need for continual nourishment of the New Buffalo harbor."
"Even with this knowledge we have not been able to get the ACOE to fix the problem. The standard operating answer has been 'we have no money.'"
He said the Village of Grand Beach has applied for a new Section 111 study on the Shoreline Alliance's behalf in an attempt to initiate the process of having the ACOE study the issue and come up with a solution.
Grzywacz said the Shoreline Alliance has worked with elected officials ranging from Congressman Fred Upton and Michigan's U.S. Senators to state and local representatives (including New Buffalo Township Supervisor Michelle Heit, New Buffalo Mayor Lou O'Donnell IV, and Grand Beach Village President Deborah Lindley). He said the officials have appealed to the Army Corps of Engineers "with the same results as we have received."
Grzywacz said representatives of the Shoreline Alliance have visited Washington, D.C., twice and have hired consultants to assist in seeking funding, "to no avail." He said they also have applied for numerous grants, "but it appears that without cooperation from the Army Corps of Engineers they are impossible to got."
Grzywacz said the Shoreline Alliance is currently awaiting a meeting with Michigan's attorney general "to appeal for their joining into our lawsuit."
"The more plaintiffs we have, the greater our claim and the more likely we will be able to either settle or succeed in getting a favorable judgment," he said. "We need your support that will enable us to get the solution we need to restore and nourish our beaches."
He added that such a solution will "give appreciation to our property values" and "benefit future generations."
Grzywacz said the New Buffalo Shoreline Alliance was started "for the purpose of preserving and protecting the beaches and shoreline of Lake Michigan in the southwest communities of New Buffalo, New Buffalo Township and Grand Beach."
He added that active membership exceeds 500 with board members – including Grzywacz, Acting Vice President Mike Misk; Treasurer Brian Byrnes; Secretary Ron Watson; at-large members Ed Oldis, Joe Galetto, Paul Johnson Jr., Mark Schulte, and Steve Slater.
Shoreline Alliance Secretary Ron Watson talked about the history of the harbor and the approaches the Army Corps of Engineers has taken to it blocking sand and causing erosion for two to three miles to the south.
During the period of 1975 to 1994 he said the Army Corps trucked in sand and took sand from the harbor channel and outside the harbor, totaling a reported 549,000 cubic yards (which Watson later noted was just a portion of the blocked said). He also said the harbor was improperly designed.
"During that time when the beaches were properly nourished we had relatively healthy beaches, even with record high water in 1986."
But the artificial nourishment plan ended in 1994 due to a loss of fundng, and Watson said severe erosion resulted.
From 1995 to the present time he said erosion around the city's pump house caused the Army Corps to remove the existing stone revetment and build a much larger one in 1998 (which continues to be fortified).
Watson said the Michigan DEQ identified three places in the southwest Lake Michigan area as being at high risk of erosion — Sunset Shores, Warwick Shores and Forest Beach.
"The Army Corps of engineers recommended that nourishment restart and offshore breakwaters be installed, but they would not fund it."
Steve Slater (a Grand Beach Village Council member) said property values for all with deeded beach rights have been challenged due to the Army Corps not living up to their responsibilities.
He said the lawsuit against the ACOE is based on the claim that government cannot take physical property (sand on the lakeshore and property value) without compensating property values for their loss.
"Our goal is to get 100 percent of lakefront property owners, HOAs, and villages to join in the suit to bring the strongest possible claim and highest level of political pressure to bear on the ACOE," he said.
Slater said the lawsuit (to be handled by the Chicago-based law firm O'Hagan Meyer with legal fees capped at $400,000) is "our last and best alternative to generate the $75 million or more needed to build breakwaters, nourish the beaches and create a true long-term solution."
During a question-and-answer session, the answer given to a query of how much has been spent on revetments was In excess of $20,000,000.