Residents revisiting the erosion issue in St. Joseph Michigan in light of high winds

High wind and waves on Silver Beach Wednesday brought lots of wave-watchers. Many even got their vehicles stuck in sand, simply trying to pull in the parking lot.

"It's really nice it's so peaceful," said Adriana Lennen, who said she always comes to the lake for her lunch break.

Many sightseers were blown away by the 6 to 10-foot-tall waves.

"We just wanted to see the waves and all the wind," said another man.

But the beautiful waves can be a beast.

Wednesday's strong wind brought attention to something that's been a problem in St. Joseph, Michigan for years: Erosion. Now residents are taking steps to help the city track the issue.

On Old Lakeshore Rd. neighbors say they're starting to worry about a bluff just beyond their street, where train tracks lay below.

"I just went out by the lake in August and look down through there and said 'We've lost some trees,'" said Mary Jane Waldenmaier.

She said she's lived along Old Lakeshore Rd. for 40 years.

She's taken an interest in trying to protect the bluff across the street from her house, flagging trees and branches with red ties so she knows if more shrubbery falls in.

"If we bring in stone right now, with heavy rains coming in the spring, then will prevent more dirt washing," she said.

Matt Warner is a coastal hazard specialist with the Michigan Coastal Zone Management Program. He spoke to WSBT 22 news on the phone saying it's been at least ten years since the state conducted an erosion study, but he says the city of St. Joe has been filling the void.

As a result of an ordinance the city put in place several years ago, they conducted an erosion study in 2012.

Now there's new info online at the Great Lakes Coastal Resilience Planning Guide.

"In the three years since the City of St. Joseph, MI adopted a "no-build" zoning ordinance requiring approximately a 200-foot building set-back from the water's edge, the average water level for Lake Michigan has risen more than 3 feet. Given this dramatic change, questions arise as to how effective the ordinance has been in regard to proposed new and existing structures near the shore? "

The city plans to do an updated study this year according to Warner. He said his organization is pitching in $20,000 for the study, and the city plans to match the $20,000 grant.

In an e-mail Warner said, "The update study currently being funded by the Michigan Coastal Zone Management Program is intended to update the underlying engineering analysis so the city can determine if the existing setback requirements within the local ordinance remain appropriate given the recent rise in Lake Michigan water levels and associated coastal changes."

He said that study will have to be completed in December 2017.

We reached out to the city manager's office for details, but they did not return our calls Wednesday. We also reached out to the railroad company, CSX, who owns the tracks off of Old Lakeshore Rd. They too, did not return our call. In a statement to WSBT 22 in January, they said this;

"CSX is aware of the issue and our engineering team frequently inspects the tracks in the area to ensure the safety of our operations. We will continue communicating with local officials and the community as we assess and monitor the area. Safety is CSX’s highest priority – the safety of communities, employees, the environment."

For Waldenmaier, she hopes to preserve what she loves most about her home, and her city.

"You will not find a better place along here on sunsets and sunrises," she said, "people sitting here and watching, sitting on the bluff, and just watching the lake, they can't believe it's a lake!"

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