Shoreline emergency needs state and federal attention

SEVERE EROSION undermines the edge of the Huron Sunrise Trail pavement, and approaches the road bed of U.S.-23 Highway just south of P.H. Hoeft State Park. (Photo by Mary Ann Heidemann)
SEVERE EROSION undermines the edge of the Huron Sunrise Trail pavement, and approaches the road bed of U.S.-23 Highway just south of P.H. Hoeft State Park. (Photo by Mary Ann Heidemann)

Sarah Melching, the Presque Isle County emergency services coordinator, attended the Nov. 27 Presque Isle County Board of Commissioners’ meeting to deliver an important message to Lake Huron shoreline residents. Melching has been in touch with the Department of Homeland Security Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), that is asking for people to come forward and contact her regarding coastal flooding along Lake Huron.
“With Michigan being hit harder,” said Melching, “there are residential homes on the brink of falling in.” With the weather moving in, FEMA contacted Melcher. “They are wanting residents to contact me so I can go out and take pictures of anybody who is at risk with their property and their homestead,” said Melcher. Her contact phone number is 989-590-7811, or by email at
Public infrastructure continues to take a beating along the shoreline, with a 700-foot-long segment of the Huron Sunrise Trail closed south of P.H. Hoeft State Park. This segment is immediately adjacent to U.S.-23 Highway so erosion is threatening the highway’s stability as well. The Advance published a story last August on the major erosion problems already apparent in this section, along with the Michigan Department of Transportation’s (MDOT’s) proposed solution. From August to December, no repair or protection work has been accomplished, but the water level rise and storm activity has brought further damage.
Garrett Dawe is the manager of MDOT’s regional Transportation Service Center in Alpena covering Presque Isle County. Dawe assumed his new position in October, and was welcomed with a wealth of weather and erosion-related issues. Regarding the trouble spot on U.S.-23 Highway in Presque Isle County, Dawe says, “We plan to install some sizable toe stone, backfilled by medium-sized stone.” The explanation for the delay, according to Dawe, is that “We don’t have environmental permits from EGLE (Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy) or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.”
Regarding scheduling, Dawe said, “We don’t have firm dates but we anticipate getting permits sometime during January,” with construction to follow immediately in late January or February 2020. A quick start on construction is possible because the contracting will go through the Presque Isle County Road Commission, with bidding advertised locally. Work will include repair of the bike trail, but the asphalt portion will need to wait until warmer weather in the spring.
Presque Isle County is not alone in facing critical infrastructure damage. Last September, Beach Drive near Harbor Springs was closed due to erosion-related failure, but quick replacement of riprap along the shore allowed the road to re-open in October. In late October, high water levels washed out a 3-mile section of M-185, the state road that encircles Mackinac Island, which remains closed.
Given the fact that no relief is in sight for lake level rise, Dawe was asked if any consideration has been given to moving U.S. Highway 23 landward, in areas where MDOT has adequate right of way. “No, not at this time,” said Dawe, acknowledging that project would be a massive undertaking. But according to Dawe, “Knowing that lake levels are higher, we are proactively identifying areas where we may have problems in the future.”