Army Corps of Engineers to construct sea wall

By: Nick Mordowanec | C&G Newspapers | Published July 17, 2020

File photo by Deb Jacques

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MACOMB COUNTY — The Macomb County Marine Division Boathouse may get some much-needed alleviation this fall.

Due to high water levels on Lake St. Clair, a project is in the works between the county and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to construct about 282 linear feet of sea wall and raise the dock surrounding the boathouse.

According to hydrologists from the USACE, these record water levels likely won’t subside soon, and something must be done before the boathouse incurs further damage.

It would be a cost-match project. Macomb County, as the non-federal project sponsor, would pay 25% of the total approximate $300,000 project cost. If approved within the next couple months, the project is slated to begin this fall, with a spring 2021 completion date.

“Our Marine Division is tasked with patrolling 85 square miles of Lake St. Clair, the one-mile international border with Canada, 30 miles of shoreline, the Clinton River, the Salt River and the Black Creek,” said Macomb County Sheriff Anthony Wickersham in a press release. “These officers perform essential functions that ensure the safety and well-being of our entire community, so the county is taking new steps to protect the Harrison Township boathouse from high water levels and flooding. This work will help our Marine Division carry out its role in a timely and efficient manner.”

The county initially reached out to the state for assistance pursuant to Public Law 84-99, which provides rehabilitation for non-federal flood control projects.

In a July 2 letter from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to USACE Lt. Col. Gregory Turner, Whitmer stated “high water levels on the Great Lakes and their tributaries present a significant threat to the health, safety and property of residents who live in Michigan’s shoreline communities.”

State agencies would also be involved, such as the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, providing watercraft control assets, heavy equipment and operators for the placement of barriers. The Macomb County Department of Corrections, she noted, could provide facilities for staging, labor and equipment in assisting the transportation and placement of such barriers.

“All resources available to respond to the flooding of the boathouse have been exhausted, but the measures taken to date have not been adequate to keep water out of the facility, especially on days where east winds force water over the sandbag barrier. … Should the facility become permanently unusable, Marine Division operations would likely have to be moved to the City of Mount Clemens, causing an increase in emergency response times,” Whitmer stated.

Macomb County Sherriff’s Office Lt. Tina Old said that, for over a year, the boathouse damage has extended to office space, as well as covered wells where boats are stored. Docks are flooded and “underwater,” with conditions so extreme that another dock had to be constructed over an existing one.

The Marine Division has nine boats, and only four or five are being put out on the water, which Old said is a hindrance during large events like Jobbie Nooner or Raft-Off. Outdoor wells are all taken over by vessels.

“We can’t store the boats in (wells) because the water levels are so high with all the equipment on top of our vessels,” she said. “We can’t get the vessels inside because of the garage doors.”

The Macomb County Department of Roads has had to plug drains because, as lake water rises, so too do the drains. They were blocked, and sump pumps have kicked water back into the lake during rain events.

Old said the lake levels are about 3 inches higher this year than at the same point last year. USACE hydrologists expect it to get worse, with an additional 3 or 4 inches anticipated. Even with dry weather spells, she said the water levels aren’t subsiding.

“Right now, we’re going through a cycle we’ve never seen before,” Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel said.

Although about 2,000 sandbags have been placed around the boathouse since April 2019. The county made a good pitch, he said, based on the boathouse being part of state land and as well as being a county-owned building.

“We’ve kind of exhausted all of our efforts and found that the only thing to do is put in a higher sea wall,” Hackel said.

As for residents in shoreline communities, Hackel acknowledged there aren’t federal funds of this sort for them. If there were any available, he said the county would make sure residents knew about them.

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