TRAVERSE CITY — If Gordon Lightfoot called and asked for his November back, the lakeshore property owners crowded into Peninsula Township Hall seemed more than ready to hand it over.
“Put on your seatbelts,” said Mark Breederland, extension educator with Michigan Sea Grant. “Lake Superior broke high records in May, June, July and then tied in August. So that’s what’s coming at us.”
Breederland channeled the popular singer’s “gloomy” November gales Monday night. He predicted water levels may not go down much, or at all, or may even rise through 2020.
He explained that lake levels here are the result of precipitation, evaporation, and runoff, and Lakes Michigan and Huron are downstream from Lake Superior.
Breederland directed the audience to monitor data collected on the Detroit District Corp of Engineers, updated monthly and published on their website.
“I’ve looked at that and I can tell you, there’s way more opportunity for it (lake levels) to go up than there is for it to come down,” he said. “At least in the short term. It could be another high year.”
The presentation was held at Peninsula Township Hall, capacity 100, and zoning administrator Christina Deeren said the event drew overflow levels of attendees and she had to turn people away.
A door was propped open for part of the program and some people stood outside in the rain and listened.
An irony not lost on Monnie Peters, who introduced Breederland and the second speaker, Watershed Center Baykeeper, Heather Smith.
“It’s a hot topic,” Peters said. “Or, more like a wet topic.”
It was one of the only moments of levity in a room where property worried about storms, high water and erosion wanted answers and few were on offer.
“We’re here because we’re losing shoreline,” said Mark Ohlmann, who lives on Wrightwood Terrace. “We’re looking for solutions.”
Smith counseled people to “ride it out” if they can, and instead of having turfgrass planted all the way to the water’s edge, to use natural plantings.
Several people in the audience complained about the practice of clear-cutting a lot prior to building, instead of retaining the trees and native plants.
Both she and Breederland said impervious structures like seawalls can cause as many problems as they solve.
“Impervious materials are not good at trapping the wave energy” of storms, rogue waves and high water, she said. Instead, they dissipate it to adjacent shorelines, something Ohlmann said he has experienced.
Ohlmann does not have a seawall, some of his neighbors do, and he said he believes waves coming off their walls have exacerbated erosion at his property.
“It’s not their fault, they did what they thought was right, but I need solutions,” he said.
Anything permanent, like a retaining wall, requires a permit from the Army Corp of Engineers, Smith said.
Len Allgaier, president of Peninsula Pavers, a company that installs retaining walls said he’s been working on Old Mission Peninsula for years and has never see water levels so high.
“You can accept it, or you can combat it,” Allgaier said.
Another forum is scheduled for sometime in May, though because of the crowd size Peters said she’d check into moving the presentation to the Peninsula Township Library.