Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore Working To Battle Lake Michigan's Erosion Of Beaches

Beach erosion isn't limited to the national seashores. Indeed, Lake Michigan at times has a personality that rivals the oceans', and beach erosion along Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is no small problem. But seashore officials are working with other public agencies to counter that erosion.

The evolving plan is outlined in the lakeshore's draft environmental impact statement for shoreline restoration. Funded through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, in collaboration with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers, the Park Service has prepared the draft document to examine various approaches towards restoring the lakeshore’s eroding beaches.

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore includes most of the beaches along Indiana’s shoreline from Trail Creek in Michigan City to U.S. Steel in Gary, Indiana.

"The shoreline in this area suffers from erosion that threatens national park resources, recreation opportunities, homes, industry, and businesses. The erosion is largely due to the natural movement of sand being obstructed by navigational harbors and shoreline structures, resulting in sand accretion (too much sand) in some areas and sand starvation (too little sand) in others," seashore officials say. "Sand dredging and artificial beach nourishment operations have been used as stop-gap measures, but this process is not sustainable and does not address the long-term problem of protecting this valuable shoreline."

To address the problem, seashore officials split the shoreline into four sections, or "reaches," based on how Lake Michigan is affecting them.

Maps and photographs contained within the DEIS show just how substantially the beaches have been altered down through the decades, either through erosion or by accretion. In some cases, individual beaches have averaged an annual loss of more than 4 feet of beachfront to the lake since 1950, while some beaches have grown by nearly 8 feet a year, according to the document.

The end goal of the DEIS is to come up with a workable plan to prevent long-term erosion of the beaches, allow creation of sand dunes running parallel to the beach, reclaim habitat needed by threatened and endangered species, and improve habitat for aquatic species native to the lakeshore's ecosystems.

In areas where beaches have eroded away, lakeshore staff are considering mechanical means, such as trucking and dredging, to rebuild the beaches.

"The DEIS evaluates seven possible alternatives for reaches 1 and 2, extending from Crescent Dune to Willow Lane, including a no-action alternative. For reaches 3 and 4, extending from Willow Lane to the City of Gary’s US Steel breakwater, four alternatives were evaluated, including a no-action alternative. All alternatives meet park purposes and objectives while protecting park resources by minimizing impacts, and are consistent with the legislative intent of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, applicable NPS laws, policies, and regulations," a park release explained.

You can review these alternatives either on-line, by requesting a CD from the lakeshore by calling 219-395-1547, or by reading hard copies at the Indiana Dunes Visitor Center at 1215 North State Road 49 in Porter, Indiana, or at the lakeshore's headquarters at 1100 North Mineral Springs Road in Porter, Indiana.

A 60-day comment period on the alternatives runs through November 13. If you can't comment at the on-line site, you may mail or drop off a hard copy comment form and/or letter to: Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Attention: Charles Morris, Environmental Protection Specialist, 1100 North Mineral Springs Road, Porter, Indiana 46304-1299

Comments

This is not a Dale Carnegie how-to-win-friends letter nor should it be. Perhaps, however, it may influence the staff to raise its sights to target a better solution.

To date, there has been only one successful, environmentally sound and sustainable method of erosion mitigation and shoreline restoration deployed on the Great Lakes: Holmberg Technologies (www.erosion.com). That the Park Service is not aware of or not already employing this method should be an embarrassment to its staff. It most certainly is more than that to the Corps which has fought this option for years in favor of its close friends in the coastal consultant and dredging industries.

Holmberg's passive, permanent systems are successful by reducing wave/current energies to induce the accretion of indigenous sediments. The shoreface widens and elevates as the nearshore shallows and backshore dunes/bluffs grow. This occurs without causing further erosion, the bane of traditonally engineered methods and the heavily marketed (and hightly profitable) beach "nourishment" (in truth, a starvation diet) schemes.

Holmberg has 30 years of credible documentation to prove this success in saving shorelines including university research, numerous professional monitoring reports and the empirical evidence. Given that the methods currently favored by government agancies also have considerable documentation --especially of the empirical kind-- of failure, it is an indictment of these agencies competence and integrity not employ such proven methods as Holmberg's.

Of course, it could just be what that great Southern philosopher Forrest Gump observed, "Stupid is as stupid does."

Jerry, not sure if you've read the DEIS, but one of the preferred alternatives would be to use a submerged cobble berm intended to reduce erosion by breaking down "wave energy near shore." That sounds similar to what you outline, no?

No, it is not. The proposed berm is the same as an offshore submerged reef or breakwater. While providing some protection for the shoreline in the "shadow" of these structures (while these last), these also accelerate and redirect currents causing further erosion, especially downcurrent. For the most part, it appears that this is just another attempt by the Corps to continue to provide profitable dredging projects for its consultants/contractors.

It is commendable that the NPS has acknowledgeable that much of our coastal erosion is the direct result of other navigational and sand mining projects of the Corps who usually utilizes these same contractors to "fix" it. The further acknowledgement that beach nourishment projects are not sustainable should be a clue to why we must immediately implement methods proven to be sustainable and environmentally sound.

An activist group’s website in Florida, www.saveflaglersbeach.com, has a excellent review of Holmberg and why it has supported the city’s unanimous decision to go forward with this method after careful consideration of all the alternatives (including submerged offshore reefs/breakwaters).

If you wish to provided me with space here or an e-mail address, I’ll send you my essay, "Beach Nourishment: A Starvation Diet". While several years old, it remains as current as today’s many dredging projects causing and "fixing" erosion.