Indiana urged to help fight Lake Michigan erosion

By The Associated Press

BEVERLY SHORES — Leaders of several communities along Indiana’s Lake Michigan shoreline are calling on Gov. Eric Holcomb to declare a state of emergency and help with funding to fight erosion as near-record high water levels continue sweeping away beaches important to tourism.

Beverly Shores, a town of 613, has already drained its reserves, spending nearly $365,000 on sandbags that have since washed away. Beverly Shores Town Council President Geof Benson said efforts to fix the road and other problems will cost millions more.

“Erosion is not new, but with the severity and speed of it, this is different,” Benson, who has lived there for 31 years, told The Indianapolis Star. “One more storm, and that road could be at the bottom of the lake.”

In Ogden Dunes, which is just west of Burns Waterway Harbor, vast amounts of sand have disappeared from the beach, said Rodger Howell, chairman of the town’s Beach Nourishment and Preservation Committee.

Adding to the trouble is that part of the town’s protective system, a steel wall bordering the shoreline, recently failed by collapsing under the pressure of surging water.

Without assistance, Howell said the town’s infrastructure and more than 600 homes are in danger.

But Indiana Dunes National Park and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have opposed a permit to add more stone reinforcement. Ogden Dunes residents sued the two entities in early March, accusing them of interfering with shoreline protection.

Holcomb signed an executive order last month acknowledging the high water levels on Lake Michigan. He directed state agencies to gather information on damages that could provide support for an emergency declaration.

Holcomb's office said the governor will declare a disaster if the damage on the lake's shoreline meets criteria laid out by the federal government.

Some of the Indiana communities along the lake hit hard by erosion have fewer than 1,000 residents. However, area officials noted the impact of erosion extends much further.

Indiana Dunes National Park, which includes 15 miles (24 kilometers) of shoreline, is one of the top 10 most bio-diverse national parks in America, said Colin Deverell, program manager of the National Parks Conservation Association’s Midwest Office. The 15,000-acre (6,070-hectare) park along Lake Michigan's southern shore became the state's first national park in 2019.

“The erosion of the Indiana Dunes beaches is a serious problem that if left unchecked, could destroy the region’s natural resources and damage the economy,” Deverell said.

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