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U.S. Congressman says lakeshore erosion is an ‘emergency’ after helicopter tour

By Anya van Wagtendonk |

January 24, 2020

MUSKEGON, MI – U.S. Representative Bill Huizenga toured the coastline of West Michigan on Friday morning to witness the effects of erosion across his district, and called on the state of Michigan to declare a state of emergency in order to free up federal resources for affected property owners.

Huizena was accompanied by members of the U.S. Coast Guard in a helicopter that departed from the Muskegon County Airport on Friday. Huizenga viewed a chunk of coastline, from just north of Saugatuck to Ludington, parts of which he said are experiencing “dramatic” erosion.

“It seems to me that the state should declare a state of emergency on that, that will then at least help us make the argument with the Army Corps [of Engineers] and FEMA and others, that we need their attention,” he said.

Huizenga, R-Zeeland, represents Michigan’s 2nd district, which stretches across Muskegon, Ottawa, Oceana, Lake and Newaygo counties. He is a Republican chair of the bipartisan Great Lakes Task Force and recently sponsored legislation that will earmark for the Great Lakes region $5 million in erosion-related federal funding.

He described passing houses that dangled on the edge of cliffs, and active work going on in the day’s relatively calm waters.

“It was pretty stark,” Huizenga said. “There is a lot of areas where it was dramatic. There were some spots south of Ludington, where it was hundreds of feet high, the dunes, and it was just cliffs.”

Huizenga said his team has met with federal agencies, including FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers, but that there’s currently no federal program targeting a slow-burning issue like erosion.

“It’s not one specific event, like a frost or a hailstorm,” he said, likening the effects of erosion to that of drought. “[I]t’s not something that is necessarily tied to one event that’s causing a major failure, but a whole series of them, and we know what happens when one storm comes in. We can see some major, major damage all in a short period of time.”

He said that government can work to make the process of remediation “more flexible” for property owners.

In late October, EGLE announced that it would expedite permits for shoreline protection work. About 65 percent of permits are now processed within five days, according to an EGLE spokesperson.

But time is of the essence, he added.

“We know that one storm can wipe out tens of feet of material. For a number of those houses that are literally right on the edge, that could mean whether they stay up or whether they go into the lake.”

That’s not an abstract threat to lakeshore homeowners: on New Year’s Eve, a Muskegon County home fell off a bluff. Elsewhere, in Ottawa County and, on Monday, in Allegan County, homes have been demolished before they could face such a fate.

He also spoke about the financial hurdles that homeowners face in trying to rectify the situation they find themselves in. Some people inherited homes that they already could not afford property taxes on, he said, which they now they must pay to repair, move, or knock down.

“It’s easy to kind of characterize this as wealthy property owners along the lakeshore, but that’s just not the reality, necessarily, of what we see out there,” he said.

Asked about the effects of climate change on this year’s near-record lake levels, Huizenga declined to assign responsibility to larger climate patterns.

Read more:

Erosion claims home on Lake Michigan despite owner’s attempts to save it

Cleanup completed on collapsed Lake Michigan cottage before big storm hits

Home on edge of Lake Michigan bluff demolished to avoid collapse

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