GLADSTONE, Mich. (WLUC) - High water levels on Lake Superior tend to dominate the headlines. However, communities along Lake Michigan’s shoreline aren’t without their own problems.
A look at some of the Lake Michigan shoreline in Gladstone. (WLUC Photo)
Nicole Sanderson, Parks and Recreation Director for City of Gladstone, has been busy all summer and fall working on short-term fixes for ongoing problems associated with high water and coastal flooding.
"We’re building boardwalks on top of sidewalks and extending docks, pumping out fueling stations for our harbor, removing our beach. Our skate park is under water, our volleyball courts are under water," Sanderson says.
Parts of the campground are also under water and several campsites are no longer usable.
"We have a beautiful boardwalk that runs adjacent to our campground that's on the lake front. That has been completely destroyed and needs a complete rebuild," Sanderson announced.
All this reconstruction doesn't come cheap.
“You're looking at least $200,000 to $300,000 to replace that," Sanderson calculated.
That's just the boardwalk. Home owners are also dealing with flooded basements. The City of Gladstone has a host of problems you can't see until you get a closer look.
"City water, city waste water our DPW department the parks and rec department; we’re all kind of working together to come up with a cohesive plan because they're all going to need to be addressed," Sanderson declared.
Warning Coordination Meteorologist at the National Weather Service Office in Negaunee Township, Matt Zika says water levels on the Great Lakes are known to fluctuate from month to month and from year to year.
"Now, fortunately, we're in the yearly cycle where we actually see the water levels come down a little bit based off the amount of evaporation occurring within the Great Lakes. So we're going to see a slow trend downward through the remainder of this year," Zika predicted.
However, five years of above normal precipitation has created a new normal for places like Gladstone, according to Sanderson.
“Well if you look back five years ago, we were having the problems that we didn't have enough water. So, we were making adjustments to our lakefront and our shoreline facilities to accommodate for no water. And now, just five short years later, we are really experiencing record levels," Sanderson recalled.
With nearly 20 years of experience with the City of Gladstone, Sanderson can recall previous high water events.
"As it peaked in 1984 and '85 we had some high water, but then it receded pretty quickly. We were hoping that would be the case this year. However our end of September water levels were still very high. They're actually calling for higher levels next year,” Sanderson asserted.
You don't need a college degree to guess where all the snow melt runoff is going to go when spring comes.
"In the spring time, even with just normal precipitation the water levels on Lake Michigan are going to be higher than they were last spring," Zika warned.
That forecast suggests levels on Lake Michigan will set new highs, requiring people like Sanderson to take even more drastic measures. She says a new plan to extend the beach would address some of the issues around Van Cleve Park including moving the skate park and more.
"We were hoping to initiate some of this plan in phases, but with our high water if that's going to be the new normal, we're probably going to have to take an aggressive approach on this and maybe start some of the construction sooner than we thought," Sanderson reasoned. ,"If this is the new normal, there'll have to be some drastic things done."
However, this plan only tackles part of the problem, according to Sanderson.
"It doesn't address some of our other shoreline amenities that we have. We’ll have to rebuild those at a higher level and take some aggressive approach to our harbor by moving gas pumps and fueling stations and redesigning our docking system," Sanderson advised.
Meanwhile, at the National Weather Service, Zika is not confident in any real relief any time soon.
"This isn’t an issue that's going to resolve itself tomorrow or next month. We're going to be dealing with high water levels on the Great Lakes at least for the next year probably 18 months and beyond that. We can't really forecast much beyond there. But it is going to be a continued concern with regards to erosion in areas that are very vulnerable to that erosion with any wind event that we have on the Great Lakes," Zika forecast.
Sanders knows Gladstone isn't alone in this fight. Finding funding to pay for these changes may not be easy.
"It's not little money. It's big money. It's going to be a statewide problem. So we're trying to get our numbers and our fixes into the powers that be as soon as possible, so maybe we'll be up on the list," Sanderson stated.
Sanderson says her department will pair grants together to avoid using taxpayer dollars when securing funding for various upgrades and projects.
"If those grants aren't available, those projects won't be done. It's as simple as that. There's not enough money to build new facilities for parks and rec when our streets need to be done, our infrastructure needs to be addressed," Sanderson concluded.