Erosion claiming homes, threatens Michigan's economy

Published: Jan. 30, 2020 at 7:07 PM EST
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As erosion continues to wreak havoc along the Lake Michigan shoreline, more and more homes are being threatened.

A portion of a Stevensville home has already fallen in, and now it will have to be torn down to avoid disaster

"This is one of the nicer homes that I've done. I'm proud of it, I'm happy to have done this house, but … it's going to go in the lake," Bruce Smothers said.

Debris from Smothers' back porch could be seen near the water Thursday. The erosion is obviously creeping in on his Stevensville home of 15 years.

"So when it starts caving in from the lake side, there's really nothing you can do about it," he said.

So he decided to tear it down now to avoid an even more costly eventuality: pay a hefty price dragging it out of the unpredictable Lake Michigan waters when it drops

"I can't let it drag down my retirement," he said. "If I lose this house, I'm losing the money, I'm losing the equity in this house."

It's a problem that affects more than homeowners and could take a chunk out of the Mitten State's tourism dollars.

"It's an $18 billion industry for the state of Michigan a year. If people don't have the beaches to come to, to go to the lake, then they're going to schedule their vacation somewhere else," Berrien County Commissioner Ezra Scott said in a phone interview.

Scott is pushing for federal funds to help fight erosion. Some who live near the lake aren't sure remedies will help.

"There is no solution, but I believe that climate change has had a definite effect," lifelong lakeshore resident Judi Greene said. "We used to have a definite summer, definite fall. Winter, everything was frozen, and now that doesn't happen."

While the lakeshore continues to creep in on homeowners, longtime residents reflect on the drastic changes they've seen over time.

"[In] 2004-2005 the lake was 6 1/2 feet lower," Smothers said. "… I had beach that would head out probably 100 feet or so."

Smothers says he's not sure if he'll stay in the area but mentioned his next home is not going to be along the lakeshore.