LELAND — Nels Carlson, owner of Carlson’s Fishery in Fishtown, was working last week when a seiche pushed the waters of Lake Michigan up over its dock and nearly into the shanty.
“It was right up to the lip of our backdoor,” Carlson said.
Across the Leland River the Morris shanty, which is used for storage, did not fare so well as nearly a foot of water rose up inside.
Seiches are pretty regular occurrences in Fishtown.
“But when the water’s this high, people take notice a little bit,” Carlson said.
That water has come up about 6 feet in the last seven years, he said, pointing to pictures on the wall of the shanty showing the Joy and Janice Sue fishing tugs well below the level of the dock. Those boats now sit so high the crew needs a set of steps to get into them.
Seiches take place in large partially- or fully-enclosed bays and lakes, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). They are caused by strong winds and rapid changes in atmospheric pressure that push water from one end of the bay to the other. The”standing wave” then sloshes back and forth, lasting for several hours or even days, according to NOAA.
In Northport the seiche did some damage to one of two dinghy docks for smaller boats at the Northport marina, pulling some of its boards off. The other dock, which is used by the youth sailing school, was quite a sight, said Northport resident Tom Wetherbee.
“The whole thing picked up like it was on a hinge,” Wetherbee said. “All of a sudden it was a raft rather than a deck.”
Wetherbee, an avid sailor, said smaller seiches are pretty common. Thursday’s was a big one, he said, lasting about four hours and made more noticeable because the water levels are already so high.
The older docks at the marina are fixed, meaning they are bolted down and don’t move. The water is now lapping at their edges.
The newer docks are floating, but have hit their upper limits, Wetherbee said.
“They have floated so high ladders have exceeded their range,” he said.
Boaters now have to climb up to get into their vessels, compared to several years ago when lake levels were low and they had to climb down, he said.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently released a report that shows the Great Lakes water levels will rise higher than expected this year due to heavy snowfall over the winter. Records that were set in the early 1950s and the mid-1980s are expected to be broken.
That doesn’t bode well for Fishtown.
The Fishtown Preservation Society (FPS) is in the midst of a campaign to raise money for some long-awaited work to the Village Cheese Shanty, the Morris shanty and the fishery, as well as infrastructure work that is needed to take care of rain runoff, which also sometimes finds its way into the shanties.
All three shanties will also get new docks.
“Last year the water started going up a lot and we started watching the docks deteriorate faster,” said Amanda Holmes, executive director of FPS.
Two sections of the Morris shanty’s dock have already disappeared. The shanties themselves are also rotting from constantly being wet, and the Cheese Shanty is actually sinking, Holmes said.
“Wet from the river, wet from the rain, wet from the runoff,” she said.
Holmes said about $1.6 million is needed for the project. So far, about $450,000 has been raised.
Work on Carlson’s fishery will start in October, with the portion of the shanty facing the dock being totally rebuilt. The building will also be placed on a cement slab, Holmes said.
“The fishery is in serious condition and needs renovated in order to conduct its business,” she said.
The Morris shanty has more than one section, with the oldest built in 1903. Carlson’s was built in 1926 and the Cheese Shanty was built in 1958. FPS is working with preservation architects to make sure the upgrades fit in with the historic nature of the buildings.