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Roadways along Lake Michigan crumble into high waters

Jerry Fetty
Star Line Mackinac Island Ferry
A road partially collapsed on Mackinac Island due to extreme weather, including high waves.

A road collapses into the water in Oceana County. A riverwalk disappears into the Manistee river channel. Lakeshore sidewalks buckle in Ludington.

Credit City of Manistee
The city of Manistee posted photos on Facebook showing the damage of Lake Michigan's high waters.

  Erosion caused by high water levels is plaguing several communities in northern Michigan.

In the last two years, the city of Manistee has dealt with $2.5 million worth of damage to public infrastructure caused by high water levels. 

City Manager Thad Taylor says in the last few weeks, high winds and the resulting waves destabilized land along the river channel. 

“Within the last two weeks we’ve had another section of river walk, approximately 300 feet, that was taken down by high waves as well as the results of shoreline erosion,” he says.

The river channel connects Lake Michigan to Manistee Lake.

Taylor says significant erosion has also compromised a city parking area that overlooks the channel.

He met with the city’s insurance adjustor last week to see what they could do to fix the damage.


“It’s a constant battle (to protect public structures) and as we always say Mother Nature’s going to win,” Taylor says.

Pushing back against high waters

Fast action on Old Mission Peninsula protected an unstable road that was becoming saturated with water. 

Ludington's Views and Vistas and Moods posted a photo of damage to sidewalks.

In October, residents called the county road commission complaining that pieces of land beneath Peninsula Drive washed away. 

“Once water infiltrates the soil, the soil becomes like a muddy soup. As that destabilizes you’ll have sections of the soil just splitting off. That’s what a lot of people were seeing,” Grand Traverse County Road Commission Superintendent Dan Chrisco says.

Chrisco says workers closed down a section of the road for a few days to install large rocks on the shoreline to absorb the waves.

He says the rocks are a permanent solution. He says they paid for it using the road commission’s emergency response funds.



Erosion happening at a fast pace

Erosion in some places has occurred so quickly that communites don’t respond in time.

In Oceana County, a stretch of road fell into Lake Michigan last week, cutting off access to a few summer cottages. 

High waves eroded the sandy bluff to the point that the gravel road crumbled into the water. It is the only road that leads to the cottages, effectively stranding them. 

Golden Township Treasurer Connie Cargill says public access to the homes is doomed.

“I just don’t know when they could fix it and I don’t know how they could fix it,” she says.

Cargill says the erosion intensified into a serious problem this summer. She says the township trying to quickly approve many home moving requests from lakeside residents.


Taylor Wizner covers heath, tourism and other news for Interlochen Public Radio.