NEW BUFFALO — Remaining steadfast in its goal to preserve the area’s beaches, shoreline and recreation-based economy, the New Buffalo Shoreline Alliance (NBSA) shared its latest hope for funding a pilot program during its third annual meeting on Saturday, Sept. 1, inside a nearly full New Buffalo High School Performing Arts Center.
Word is expected in October on NBSA’s application for a Great Lakes Fishery and Ecosystem Restoration Grant to help fund a pilot project of submerged breakwaters from Forest Beach to Sunset Shores. It's believed the environmentally friendly solution would not only help build the beaches by trapping the sand in front of the barriers, but also would help preserve and protect the indigenous fish population and ecosystem.
In the meantime, the Alliance is applying for permits from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to start the regulatory review process and keep the ball rolling.
The underwater reefs, estimated to cost $9 million for the pilot project, are a proposed long-term solution to the ongoing beach erosion which has occurred since construction of the New Buffalo breakwater by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1974. Since money ran out in 1995 for the original plan to use sand dredged from the harbor to replenish beaches south of the breakwater, the shoreline has suffered severe erosion and most beaches have disappeared.
The proposed underwater barrier project is intended to create a long-term natural solution that works with lake currents to continually nourish the beaches south of the breakwater, according to Greg Weykamp, president of Edgewater Resources, planners and designers of waterfront communities who developed the proposal for NBSA.
In the meantime, the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) has budgeted $275,000 to dredge the federal channel in the New Buffalo harbor with up to 60,000 cubic feet of the dredged sand to be used to replenish beaches south of the breakwater. This work is expected too be done in the spring of 2019.
Moderated by NBSA President Ted Grzywacz of Sunset Shores, the Sept. 1 meeting was also filled with updates on efforts being made to secure funding and establish partnerships.
New Buffalo Mayor Lou O’Donnell said the opening paragraph of the city’s master plan begins with a statement noting the importance of the beaches. He also emphasized the importance of protecting the city’s pump house which supplies water to not only the city but as back-up to surrounding communities.
O’Donnell said the city remains strongly committed to solving the beach erosion problem. He recapped an Aug. 2 meeting hosted by the city with state and federal officials and shared letters he sent seeking support to Governor Rick Snyder and ACE’s Detroit District.
New Buffalo Township Supervisor Michelle Heit noted the economic importance of tourism to the area, adding, “One of the great drivers of tourism is the beaches. That is why protecting them is so important to the township.”
Heit said the township had been unsuccessful in seeking a FEMA Pre-Disaster Mitigation grant, but continues seeking the help and support of state and federal officials and is hopeful that the GLFER grant will be awarded for the NBSA project.
Mike Ryan of Congressman Fred Upton’s Office said Upton continues to lend his support to the effort since first becoming involved with the New Buffalo erosion problem in 1997 when he secured $500,000 from ACE to shore up the pump house. Upton has written many letters to federal officials, the most recently to Budget Director Mick Mulvaney seeking funding for beach nourishment in the 2019 budget.
County Commissioner Ezra Scott recounted the may contacts and communications he has had following his trip to the Michigan County Commissioners White House Conference in August 2017, including Brigadier General Mark Toy, ACE Commanding General for the Great Lakes. At a recent Michigan Township Association meeting, Scott said he solicited the help of Mark Miller of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources who backs the efforts to secure the GLFET Grant.
“We’re moving in the right direction with the right people involved. Now we are environmentalists but we’re going for the same thing, not really changing anything,” Scott said and credited the openness of the current White House administration.
“Without beaches, our property values, taxes and economy would be worse,” Grzywacz said as he ended the meeting noting that all NBSA expenses so far have been paid through member contributions. He asked everyone to donate $1,000, or as much as they can, by making tax deductible contributions payable to New Buffalo Shoreline Alliance and mailed to P.O. Box 425, New Buffalo, MI, 49117.
In addition to Grzywacz, NBSA officers include: Joe Galetto of Warwick Shores, vice president; Jim Cash of Warwick Shores, secretary; Mark Shulte of Forest Beach Villas, treasurer; Ed Oldis of Sunset Shores, founding member; Mike Miske, Forest Beach Estates; Ron Watson, Sunset Shores; Bryan Burns, Grand Beach; Cindy Denning, Grand Beach, and Ken Purze, Michiana.