As shoreline property owners scramble to save eroding shorelines, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is making it easier for them to take emergency protection measures.
The DNR has created a self-certification tool for homeowners to help protect their property without the usual time-consuming permitting process.
“We have heard from homeowners up and down the shoreline that they are losing valuable real estate to erosion, and each day that passes is one step closer to catastrophe,” said Amanda Minks, the DNR’s wetland and waterway section chief.
The new tool is designed to inform the DNR of the strategy to protect a property and move forward with this critical work as soon as the form is submitted.
“Homeowners no longer have to wait for us to approve their work plan before moving forward,” Minks said. “Instead, we will work with property owners on long-term permitting needs once their property is stabilized and the emergency event has subsided.”
However, engineers who perform erosion-mitigation work said the change could cause unintended issues.
“It’s good in that you can act much faster,” said Sarah Kellner of Miller Engineers and Scientists, a Sheboygan firm that has done work with homeowners and municipal governments in Door County. “The bad thing is that the permitting process requires that you have an engineering design, and without that, it’s possible to just hire a contractor to dump stones that may not actually provide the protection that you need.”
Engineer Mike Kahr has been building docks, dredging harbors and repairing breakwalls in Door County for decades. He said it’s a good idea to offer the streamlined process for shoreline protection, but the DNR needs to have more control.
“If someone objects to it after the fact, the DNR and the landowner are on the hook, and I’m on the hook,” Kahr said. “They should at least do a general permit. The DNR should have some control over it – especially in a sensitive area. Right now any ding-dong can get a permit. There are people who aren’t ethical or don’t know what they’re doing.”
Kahr said he’s working six or seven days a week to help property owners save shorelines, homes and docks.
“My answering machine is full right now,” he said.
The ice forming on the bay side of the peninsula has relieved some of the pressure from storm surges, buying time to perform work, but the wave action on the lake side continues.
“The thing with this is the water never went down this fall,” Kahr said. “Back in September, I was telling people to wait to see if the water went down because I don’t like to waste people’s money. But it never went down.”
Installing riprap – such as large boulders like those protecting piers at marinas – to break up wave action can be extremely costly. It depends on the span, depth of water and ease of access to the shoreline, but costs can run well into the tens of thousands of dollars for the owner of a small property.
Kahr said he doesn’t put a lot of faith in projections from the Army Corps of Engineers.
“They didn’t predict the low water, and they didn’t predict this high water,” he said. But right now he agrees with projections that the water will continue to go up next spring. Current projections put the May water level just inches below the all-time Lake Michigan high reached in October of 1986.
Late fall and spring bring the strongest storms, so property owners could experience more erosion in March and April.
“People and municipalities have to at least be thinking about what they’re going to do next year,” Kahr said. That could be raising docks where possible, or reengineering piers in line for upgrades and repairs.
“I don’t have all the answers,” Kahr said. “I’m trying to come up with some relatively inexpensive fixes.”
Find the DNR’s self-certification form at dnr.wi.gov/topic/waterways/shoreline/greatLakesErosionControl.html.