Recent photos taken by Hubbell, Roth & Clark Inc. staff show the serious level of deterioration that exists for the seawall along Lake St. Clair in Grosse Pointe Farms and Shores.

Recent photos taken by Hubbell, Roth & Clark Inc. staff show the serious level of deterioration that exists for the seawall along Lake St. Clair in Grosse Pointe Farms and Shores.

Photo provided by Hubbell, Roth & Clark Inc.

Grosse Pointe Farms, Shores seek federal aid to replace deteriorating Lake St. Clair seawall

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published March 10, 2021


GROSSE POINTE FARMS/SHORES — Federal aid, if it can be approved, could end up paving the way for desperately needed repair to the crumbling Lake St. Clair seawall in Grosse Pointe Farms and Grosse Pointe Shores.

Edward Zmich, manager of the civil department with Hubbell, Roth & Clark Inc. — Grosse Pointe Farms’ engineering firm — presented findings from a recent study of the seawall to the Farms City Council during a work session Jan. 25 by Zoom. Farms City Manager Shane Reeside said HRC undertook soil borings and a topographic survey of the area.

Zmich said they drilled 30 feet to 36 feet down for the borings, discovering that, “overall, the depth of clay and types of clay (in the soil) varied.” That would need to be taken into account with regard to the seawall design, he said.

“We cannot just put up the same type of seawall” along the roughly 3-mile-long stretch between the Shores and the Farms, Zmich said. He said they would need to look at the area further and come up with detailed cross-sections for the seawall, which will vary by embedment depth and whether or not there’s an outfall that has to be built around. Zmich said engineers estimated the seawall would consist of about 25 sections as a result of these types of differences. They will also need to work with officials from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, or EGLE.

Zmich said they estimate the cost of the project — including engineering contingencies — is about $23.8 million, but “this is a preliminary number. … This number could change.”

Concrete, which is what’s there now, would be too expensive, so Zmich said the engineers are recommending steel sheeting instead.

“There are some pretty good, cost-effective ways to deal with the problem… but we all know what you need out there is a new seawall,” Zmich said.

On Feb. 4, officials from Grosse Pointe Farms and Shores met with officials from Wayne County, along with representatives from the offices of U.S. Sens. Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow and Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence, to discuss the seawall and see if there might be any federal funds that could be used toward its repair. Although Lake St. Clair isn’t one of the Great Lakes — which do receive federal funding — it is a significant international waterway between the U.S. and Canada. Now that a cost estimate has been prepared, Reeside said federal officials are exploring where federal funds could come from to be applied toward this project.

Shores City Manager Stephen Poloni said the cities have gotten an especially good response from Lawrence’s office.

“She was really pushing to help us on the seawall,” Poloni said of Lawrence during a Shores City Council meeting Feb. 16 by Zoom.

Poloni said significant damage to the seawall and the threat it poses to Lake Shore Road have made this problem a priority for Lawrence. He said Wayne County Executive Warren Evans was also working with the Farms and the Shores on this issue.

Thus far, who’s supposed to pay for the seawall has been the biggest hurdle to getting it fixed. For years, Farms and Shores officials have argued that Wayne County — which built the original seawall and which maintains Lake Shore Road, a county road — should have to cover it. County officials haven’t seen it quite the same way. Now, everyone is hoping that a mixture of funding sources could be combined to make the bill less painful for all parties.

“We recognized that (Wayne) County doesn’t have $24 million (for this project, so) we’ve taken an intergovernmental approach,” Reeside told the Farms City Council Jan. 25. “I assume there’ll be a local portion (for the cities to pay towards this expense).”

Farms City Councilman John Gillooly said that, even though the Farms and Shores have tried to encourage pedestrians to avoid walking along the seawall because of safety concerns, people still do it. Safety — and infrastructure underneath Lake Shore Road such as water and sewer lines — are among the many reasons the seawall needs to be addressed as soon as possible, he said. Concerns about a possible sinkhole opening up on Lake Shore have been raised in recent years by multiple city officials.

“Underneath the road, the infrastructure is definitely being affected,” Gillooly said. “This is a very important issue.”

Farms City Councilwoman Beth Konrad-Wilberding wondered if the project might qualify for federal disaster funds, noting she believed there were “some environmental issues, as well.” Reeside said that’s an avenue they will explore.

Reeside said they hope to meet again with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to go over the proposed seawall solution and discuss permits required for this work from the U.S. Army Corps. In addition, he said officials at the city, county and federal levels hope to have more frequent meetings in the months ahead as they work toward a fix that will ensure the safety of pedestrians and motorists, and will protect Lake Shore Road.

“It is a long process,” Reeside said. “I don’t pretend otherwise.”

He said there are a lot of requirements just to secure federal funding. Reeside said this project would likely take years to fund and complete.

In the interim, Reeside said officials with Wayne County have been in talks with city leaders about temporary remediation to fortify the seawall until it can be replaced. He said the county hopes to fill open voids in the seawall with more substantial bedrock instead of the crushed aggregate that was used before but that got washed away.

“The other thing we have going for us is we’re seeing lake levels drop,” Reeside said.

If that trend continues, Reeside said it could mean reduced seawall deterioration due to wave action.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said former Farms mayor and current City Councilman James Farquhar. “It’s nice to see it coming to fruition.”

Farquhar said he recalled working on the seawall issue when he was first elected mayor in 2003.