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‘Catastrophic’ beach erosion in New Buffalo worsens

NEW BUFFALO, Mich. -- As homes and the city’s water system inch closer and closer to falling into Lake Michigan, Congressman Fred Upton is getting involved to try to help New Buffalo.

“We’re one storm away from having our water supply…taken out because of the erosion, as well as homes from [New Buffalo Harbor] down to Grand Beach being put into the lake,” said Ted Grzywacz.

Grzywacz is president of the New Buffalo Shoreline Alliance – a group formed earlier this year to fight the erosion problem head on.

Down the road from his home on Shore Drive sits an empty property that once had a home on it.

After a big storm on Halloween Day 2014 destroyed a retaining wall protecting the property, the home’s foundation became exposed. It had to be torn down before it literally fell into Lake Michigan.

Grzywacz has lived in his home, just up the road, since 1989.

His backyard used to be a beachfront property, but now there is no more beach.

Grzywacz said over the years, about 100 feet of sand has been swallowed up by the lake water.

His property used to gradually decline into the beach, but now there’s a sharp drop-off filled with about 3 feet of water.

He said if you go out about 10 feet into the lake, the water is 10 feet deep.

New Buffalo residents say the root of their problem is the New Buffalo Harbor.

It was built by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1975.

When the stone walls went up, Grzywacz said the flow of sand changed direction, diverting it north of the harbor – where beaches still stand – and neglecting the beaches south, which have been swallowed.

The Corps said it would re-nourish the beaches south of the harbor, but that stopped in 1995 because funding ran out.

“It’s basically a 4-month town,” said Berrien County Commissioner and lifelong New Buffalo resident Ezra Scott. “We rely on the tourism. If the beaches aren’t here, the people don’t want to come here.”

The New Buffalo Shoreline Alliance hired an engineer who says to fix the problem, the Corps needs to start nourishing the shoreline again, and stone walls called breakwaters need to be built in.

“When the water would come over the breakwater, it would deposit the sand and slowly cause the beach to be rebuilt,” Grzywacz said.

But homes are not the only concern.

Below and to the right of the property where that house had to be torn down sits the city of New Buffalo’s pump house for its water system.

The brick structure is mere feet away from the water.

If something isn’t done, erosion will likely eat away at its foundation and plunge it into the lake, prompting a water outage for city and township residents.

Congressman Fred Upton got involved on Tuesday.

He said he recently wrote a letter to an Army secretary who oversees the Corps of Engineers.

Part of the letter says the erosion is “due to the failure of the Army Corps of Engineers to maintain the beach nourishment plan as agreed to.”

Upton also wrote “the continued destruction of this Michigan shoreline and the potential destruction of a public utility cannot be allowed.”

The Corps did a study in 2009 that said what needs to happen is exactly what the Shoreline Alliance wants.

“I don’t understand why the township, the city or the county or the state should really kick in a lot of funds, if any at all, for a problem that was caused by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,” Scott said.

Residents are waiting to hear if Upton’s letter to the Corps will generate any type of response.

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