ELK RAPIDS — Elk Rapids has joined the ranks of Michigan’s shoreline communities that asked Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and state legislators to declare Great Lakes shorelines a disaster area because of elevated water levels.
Village trustees this week unanimously approved a resolution that called on Whitmer and state lawmakers to make the declaration and seek financial assistance from Congress and President Donald Trump. Other towns have also asked, including Pentwater, Rogers City and Petoskey.
“There is shoreline disaster all around Michigan,” said Caroline Kennedy, assistant village manager.
Elevated Great Lakes water levels are even having impacts on inland lakes that connect to the bigger lakes, she said.
When suggested resolutions come in to village offices from other communities, Kennedy said she isn’t a fan of “jumping on every bandwagon.” But this issue seems to have merit, she said.
“It’s already getting some traction,” Kennedy told village trustees during Monday’s meeting.
Elk Rapids has experienced some erosion problems because of elevated Great Lakes water levels. Last month village trustees authorized $20,000 in repairs to the rip-rap at the River and Oak streets intersection.
Marcus Evans, village Department of Public Works superintendent, said the high water levels damaged the intersection and the repairs will be done to the existing rip-rap, along with adding about 50 additional feet to the north.
Officials are also keeping an eye on both the Dexter and Cedar streets’ spillways from the Elk River, hoping high water levels don’t cause damage there too, Evans said.
These types of erosion and damage monitoring sites are a common story around the lakeshore these days.
Evans suggested Elk Rapids is somewhat protected by Old Mission Peninsula from damaging westerly winds off of Lake Michigan, unlike other communities that seem inordinately affected, like Manistee on Lower Michigan’s western shoreline. Jeff Dontz, chairman of the Manistee County Board, said the “drip, drip effect” of the high water levels have daily impacts not only for private property but also for public lands and infrastructure.
Septic systems don’t work right when saturated with groundwater, infrastructure lines such as sanitary and storm sewers become exposed and communities are experiencing multiple of these types of system failures as a direct result of the high Great Lakes water right now, Dontz said.
“This is definitely a disaster across the entire Great Lakes, not just here in Manistee,” he said. “There’s no question it’s going to be a continuing problem. The status quo isn’t working.”
Herasanna Richards, legislative associate with the Michigan Municipal League, said even more communities are considering similar resolutions seeking an emergency declaration by Whitmer. Some towns have had bridges wash away, others have inundated wastewater treatment plants not properly functioning and other high water-related impacts.
“These are not inexpensive endeavors. That’s why we have this urgency,” Richards said.
State Sen. Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City, was among a group of state senators and representatives who signed letters asking for the emergency declaration along the entire lakeshore. He worries repair costs associated with high water levels will only grow this winter with the arrival of ice floes.
“If we can declare this as an emergency, a disaster area, there are funds we can tap into to help,” Schmidt said.
Ezra Scott, a Berrien County commissioner, said he has been lobbying officials in Washington, D.C., to help Michigan and other Great Lakes states with emergency relief dollars to help cover repair costs. It seems to be a non-partisan issue, he said.
But Scott said he’s afraid Whitmer won’t declare the shorelines a disaster area, at least not until communities across the state spend down their own reserve funds first.
“The governor could come out of this like a rose,” Scott said. “Why she wouldn’t be doing it, I don’t know.”
Dale George, spokesman for Michigan State Police’s division of emergency management and homeland security, said state officials want locals to coordinate with their county-based emergency managers. That way they can determine whether they need state resources or if local coffers can cover the bills, he said.
“There’s no one way to ask but we typically see these come through the emergency managers and that process,” George said. “That’s how the process typically works.”
“We’ve seen no requests from emergency managers,” he said.
Deanna Apps, physical scientist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Detroit District, said Great Lakes water levels are expected to remain elevated for quite some time.
“It is likely we are going to be at high water for the foreseeable future,” Apps said.
Recent Corps projections call for Lakes Michigan and Huron to bust through record high water levels as early as next month and stay at uncharted heights through spring, according to recently released statistics.
That expectation is bolstered by current climate forecasts that show this winter is expected to be wetter than normal, Apps said, further promoting elevated Great Lakes water levels into 2020.