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Seawall study expected to be addressed at January Shores City Council meeting

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published January 7, 2020

GROSSE POINTE SHORES — The crumbling seawall along Lake St. Clair in Grosse Pointe Farms and Shores may be the subject of an upcoming study.

Shores officials said that Wayne County would like the Farms and Shores to undertake a study that would include core samples. Shores Mayor Ted Kedzierski said during a Dec. 17 Shores City Council meeting that the Shores cost for the study is not to exceed $18,000.

The study still doesn’t resolve the issue of who would ultimately pay for a new seawall, however. The Farms and Shores contend that the seawall is the responsibility of Wayne County, and point to the fact that it was the county, not the cities, that built it in the first place.

In the 1930s, Wayne County expanded Lake Shore Road to four lanes with a median and installed a seawall to protect the road from high water levels and wave action.

Wayne County Commissioner Tim Killeen, D-Detroit — whose district includes the Farms and Shores — told Shores officials last year that some county officials believe that maintaining the seawall is the responsibility of property owners on or facing the water, which is the case for lakefront property owners up north.

Shores City Councilman Matthew Seely said he doesn’t feel the study is necessary.

“There’s two ways to solve this problem — one is cement and the other is steel,” Seely said, noting that core samples are only needed to determine how deep the seawall needs to go down into the ground to sustain it, which he said isn’t an issue with the fix he suggested in 2019. “Really, I think this is just a way of (the county) buying time.”

Because Lake St. Clair borders Canada as well as the United States, Kedzierski said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers “ultimately has jurisdiction” over this matter, and the federal government would need to be involved. It wasn’t known, at press time, whether any federal funding might be available for this project.

At a meeting of officials including the Environmental Protection Agency in early 2019, Seely said the county told them it would cost between $28 million and $30 million to remove the existing concrete seawall and install a new one between the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club in the Shores and Crescent Sail Yacht Club in Grosse Pointe Farms, a stretch of roughly 3 miles.

Seely, who runs a manufacturing business, came up with a far less costly proposal that he believes would be just as effective. For about $5 million, Seely’s proposal would leave the old seawall in place and drive a new steel seawall in front of it, putting crushed rock behind the steel seawall and raising the height of the wall by approximately 3 feet to prevent lake water from splashing over the wall and onto the roadway on windy days. With lake levels expected to be at or above record highs again this year, that’s a valid concern.

Even though they would be raising the seawall’s height, Seely said it still wouldn’t be visible to motorists, so views of the scenic waterfront should stay pristine.

Kedzierski said the Farms and Shores could sue Wayne County over a 1920s agreement from the county that the county would “maintain that seawall in perpetuity,” but that isn’t necessarily their best option to fix the seawall, which, in its deteriorating state, is hazardous for pedestrians walking along the lake and motorists on Lake Shore Road, as the seawall’s poor condition is believed to be undermining the adjacent roadway, potentially leading to sinkholes and road collapse.

The Shores even put up yellow caution tape at some spots along the shoreline to discourage pedestrians from venturing into those areas.

“That’s one of our options, but it’s not inexpensive,” Kedzierski said of suing Wayne County.

Because of division over this issue, the council voted 3-3 on reimbursing the Farms up to $18,000 for the seawall study, with Kedzierski and City Council members Danielle Gehlert and Robert Barrette voting in favor of the reimbursement, and Seely and City Council members Doug Kucyk and John Seago voting against it.

After the meeting, Barrette explained that he voted in favor of reimbursing study funds because this study was mandated by federal officials.

“You can’t go against the Corps of Engineers,” Barrette said. “They insist on core drilling, whether (the seawall) is steel or concrete.”

Kedzierski said the issue of the study will be revisited during the council’s January meeting. At press time, that meeting was slated to take place at 7 p.m. Jan. 21 at Shores City Hall.