Algoma’s Lake Michigan beach areas suffered severe damage from last week’s winds, waves
ALGOMA – The high Lake Michigan water levels were bad enough. Then came the wind and waves.
Steady wind speeds of between 20 and 30 mph, with gusts over 40, struck the Algoma shoreline from the east and southeast Oct. 21, creating high, powerful waves that battered Crescent Beach.
While the winds lessened a little the next day, they still remained strong — above 20 mph — and out of the east/southeast, sending more lake waves crashing onto the beach.
The result is major damage from increased erosion and the sheer force of the waves. The shore was already dealing with erosion from the high waters, but the heavy winds made the situation worse.
"(The weather Oct. 21 and 22) did the most damage I've seen since I've worked here," said Sara Robertson, director of the city's Parks & Recreation Department. "And I have some (staffers) who've lived here all their lives, and they said they'd never seen waves the way they were."
Tons of debris was thrown onto the beach that needed to be cleaned up, and several significant spots on the public lakeshore suffered heavy damage.
"These are issues we've never had before," Algoma Mayor Wayne Schmidt said. "The water's never been this high before. You couldn't keep the beach clean with all these east winds."
The Algoma Area Chamber of Commerce building is perched on a rise above the south end of the beach, off Lake Street (State 42). The waves carved out a hollow more than six feet high that comes within about three feet of the back of the building. Riprap — a wall of stone pilings that is supposed to slow or prevent erosion — was built in front of the hollow late last week as an emergency precaution.
"Behind the Chamber of Commerce building is where it took the hardest hit," said Algoma Public Works Director Matt Murphy. "I think (the riprap) will end up being a permanent fix."
Another hard-hit site is Christmas Tree Ship Point, a historical marker at the end of Steele Street to commemorate 52 vessels that brought trees for the holidays from the Northwoods to Chicago, including the famed Rouse Simmons, which sank in 1912 with Algoma native Herman Scheunemann as captain.
Under the direction of the Parks & Recreation Department, and with a grant from the Door County Board of Realtors, the point was upgraded this summer with stone walkways, new plaques, two benches and native plants. It was re-dedicated about a month ago.
Now, it's devastated after the hammering it took from the waves. Rocky rubble lies where the grasses and plants were, and a trench was carved out behind the riprap.
"It looked so nice, and it's just been totally damaged," Robertson said. "It washed rocks the size of small pumpkins about halfway out. It just was heartbreaking to see. We knew we would have some washout, but … nothing like this."
"It looks like a bomb hit it," Schmidt said.
Murphy said about 90% of the work that was completed there was washed out and there are no plans yet to renovate the site.
"It will be left the way it is," Murphy said. "It will have to be re-evaluated how we're going to move forward. Some of the plantings held, but most were washed out."
Meanwhile, the South Pier, the causeway running from the beach to Algoma Pierhead Lighthouse, is closed because of erosion damage to a 25-foot section of it, along with a section of a nearby sidewalk from the beach to its parking lot.
The lighthouse is operated by the U.S. Coast Guard, so Schmidt said the city is asking the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to help fix it at least temporarily before winter sets in. Robertson said the sidewalk is a different matter.
"The sidewalk section is totally hollowed out underneath," Robertson said. "You can't just put dirt under it because it'll wash out again. We have to come up with an action plan."
As for the beach itself, Murphy said his three-man crew used front-end loaders and a dump truck to pile up, then haul away 12 loads of driftwood, rocks and other debris.
"(The clean-up) is about two-thirds done. The rest will stay there through the winter," he said.
Murphy also said more than 20 old tires washed up onto the shore, which has been an unusual problem for the city this summer. Schmidt said more than 100 have ended up coming in from the lake this year and it's not clear from where they're coming. Robertson said she called city employees in Kewaunee and Two Rivers to ask if they had the same problem and was told they weren't. Of course, they need to be picked up and disposed, and the disposal rate is $10 per tire.
Murphy said the work last week cost the city about $20,000, with the rock wall for the Chamber of Commerce building accounting for about $15,000 and beach cleanup about $5,000. He said it didn't create extra work hours for his staff but noted the time spent on the shore took away from time that otherwise might have been used for regular work such as leaf pickup.
The next challenge for the shore and beach is getting through the upcoming winter and getting ready for 2020. Robertson said about 30 people came out Oct. 26, to help the parks department and Friends of Crescent Beach volunteer support group plant native grasses which, among other things, can slow erosion.
"Unfortunately, this is the time when you get a lot of east-southeast winds," Murphy said. "We're just going to take it as it comes and deal with it."
"It doesn't sound like the water is going to recede any time soon. That's a big problem," Schmidt said.
"We're just going to keep a close eye on things," Robertson said, "make sure things don't further erode and come up with a plan for next year."
Contact Christopher Clough at 920-741-7952, 920-562-8900 or [email protected].
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This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: Algoma's Lake Michigan beach areas suffered severe damage from last week's winds, waves