Berrien Co. commissioner takes shoreline erosion issue to Washington

Published: Dec. 2, 2019 at 6:24 PM EST
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The towering waves crashing against the New Buffalo shoreline might be ideal for summer surfers, but not for the Shannon family, who lives in town year-round.

"A lot of the neighbors' hills are going," Mike Shannon said. "It's actually a bit of a catastrophe."

Berrien County Commissioner Ezra Scott, R-District 9, would agree -- so much so that he authored a resolution that passed unanimously in November that asks the Michigan Legislature and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to enact a disaster declaration for 3,288 miles of shoreline on all sides of the state.

"A lot of this can't be done on a local level. This has to be a federal disaster," Scott said. "Our biggest problem is we're losing homes."

Scott cited the example of people abandoning a New Buffalo condominium in Warwick Shores. Nearby shoreline has eroded 75 feet since a storm that happened around Halloween.

With Federal Emergency Management Agency money, Scott said homeowners could obtain low-interest loans that help pay for shoreline barriers. Otherwise, people in Warwick Shores will have to mortgage their property in New Buffalo (or where they might have second homes) to use as collateral to get the money to protect the coast. This would cost $4.5 million to fix one bluff area.

"I'm begging the governor to declare this a disaster and put it before the president of the United States and get FEMA involved, just like in Puerto Rico when a hurricane hit," Scott pleaded.

He said additional federal aid could build rock reefs to slow the impact of waves. He also thinks the International Joint Commission, or IJC, should lower water levels in the Great Lakes to reduce erosion.

Families such as the Shannons, who own lakefront property, are considering a move out of town.

"Yeah," Helen and Mike said. "Hello, Hawaii, Maui."

Despite preconceived notions, Scott says the coastal erosion issue doesn't just affect people who might have a lot of money. He reports receiving calls from property owners in Holland, Manistee and Pentwater who are living on fixed incomes in homes that have been in their families since the 1940s.

"They don't have hundreds of thousands of dollars to put rock revetments on their property," he said.

This week, Scott is meeting with officials at the White House, Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security to make them aware of the Michigan erosion problem, particularly in the event Whitmer declares a disaster.

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