Scenic road closure diverts traffic

Chelsea Birdsall

Section of Lakeshore Blvd. closed until further notice

Lakeshore Boulevard has experienced several problems since its temporary closing in August 2014 due to a water main leak, but is facing deeper-rooted problems in the infrastructure from shore erosion.

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Erosion is typically a gradual wear and tear to land from natural elements such as wind and water. According to Robert Regis, Ph.D., a geology professor at NMU, erosion of this particular beach has been a long time coming since the construction of the upper harbor breakwall in 1939 that allowed boats safe passage.

“The breakwall upset the sand budget for this area, and it is widely known that when you put in these structures perpendicular to the shore, the dominant movement of waves and sediments, which is from the north here, gets blocked, and there will be erosion downstream from it,” Regis said.

Waves carry an energy that moves an unstable substance, like sand, around. This allows sand to be moved from beach to beach along coasts. When the wave energy is cut off, major masses are susceptible to erosion because there is no new supply of sand to renourish the beach. Regis said that engineers have done studies and found that the shore is receding by a foot and a half per year.

The city became involved when erosion started to affect Lakeshore Boulevard. A temporary fix to slow the erosion was the implementation of revetement structures placed by the shore. These structures are the boulders that line the shore currently. Regis said that the structures in place now are not working.

“These will slow down erosion but if they’re not constructed properly, they’ll fail pretty quickly,” Regis said. “The structure that is there there now wasn’t done very well, to be honest. It’s causing a lot of wave energy to make it past the rocks and onto the road which we saw with that flooding.”

The flood of Lakeshore Boulevard in September showed the city that the boulders were no longer effective.

“The revetement structure isn’t doing its job anymore,” Regis said. “They need to come up with a solution to fix that problem. We’ll pretty much never be able to have a natural beach anymore; it’s gone.”

Captain of Patrol Operations Blake Reiboldt said the storm created substantial damage to the road and maintaining it was becoming problematic. He also said that in addition to the storm breaking down the already vulnerable vegetation, Lakeshore Boulevard has a high traffic rate and it wasn’t safe to keep it open.

“A few people are upset at the road closing but you have to weigh the cost and benefit ratio,” Reiboldt said. “Until we can assess damage due to the storms, it doesn’t make sense to just open it and put people in harm’s way. ”

The boulevard is closed for the remainder of the season as decisions are made about its future. It was closed off indefinitely from Hawley Street to Wright Street in November but has since then moved to include the section between Wright Street and Fair Avenue, according to Upper Michigan’s Source TV6. The portion of Wright Street that stretches between Lakeshore Boulevard and Presque Isle Avenue has also been closed due to weather.

One of the suggested ideas is moving the road itself off the shore. Reiboldt said many city employees weighed on the idea of relocating the road. The relocation plan consists of building a new road and putting in a bike path and natural sand dunes between it and new revetement structures that take away the shore altogether. In addition, the road would be raised to allow a clear view of Lake Superior as people drive along it.

“They’ve come up with an elaborate reconstruction project that will allow better visibility and better access to vehicles, foot traffic, pedestrian traffic, and bicycle traffic in a manner which you can enjoy that stretch of roadway better than you do now,” Reiboldt said.

Sophomore ecology major Erika Meints said she is unsure about this idea. She said she has often wandered down to the beach as a study break and has seen many other students enjoying the landscape. Meints said she worries about not only the natural beauty but the potential sustainability of the new project.

“Is it going to work for a long time or will they just need to redo it in a few years like they are now? The natural beauty is a big draw to the campus,” Meints said. “A lot of people have chosen NMU for the natural beauty and setting.”

Communication between the city and NMU students is low as Meints said she is left with more questions than answers and has heard hardly anything about the ideas for the project. Public Safety Director Michael Bath said he did not have too much knowledge on the matter other than they were contacted about it being closed.

“They told us they were going to close it so we just made sure that you could still get off Wright Street and head into town,” Bath said. “They just pretty much let us know it was happening and since it has happened before, we didn’t have any objections.”

Regis said there was nothing anybody could do to reverse the erosion here or anywhere this is occurring. The East Coast, specifically North Carolina and New Jersey, are facing similar erosion issues and many coastal cities have banned building on the coast to protect the beaches. Keeping the beaches clean and natural is the only thing that can be done to prevent erosion, Regis said.

“Keep beaches in their natural state. Don’t destroy any vegetation because it accelerates erosion,” Regis said. “Be a good servant of the land and pay attention to maintaining the system without affecting it; leave no trace.”