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Lack of ice shelf along Lake Michigan shoreline may be worsening beach erosion

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Several vehicles parked to watch Lake Michigan's large waves. (WWMT/Haenni)

Wind and waves flooded sidewalks and parking lots Thursday in South Haven along the Lake Michigan shoreline.

Lakeshore flooding and erosion is a problem that feels like a broken record for many lakeshore communities thanks to high water levels, but the mild winter may also be at least partially to blame. With a lack of ice buildup along West Michigan’s beaches and bluffs, land has been left unprotected from waves crashing on shore.

“It has not iced over substantially here like it had last year,” South Haven Assistant City Manager and Harbormaster Kate Hoiser said. “I’m going to guess because there’s not that sheet of ice, that layering of ice, the banks and the bluffs are exposed to wind and waves so you are going to see more erosion than if there were ice out there.”

That means some property owners have had to keep up with Mother Nature.

According to the Great Lakes Environmental Research Agency, Lake Michigan has just under 10% of its surface covered in ice. Most of that was farther north, in places like Green Bay. Last year, the ice coverage was around 35% at this point in the season, with some of that being along West Michigan’s beaches.

Hoiser said current forecasts from the Army Corps of Engineers call for water levels to rise another 8 inches by July.

“If that does indeed take place, we might not be able to open our marinas this year," she said.

Water levels have risen about five and a half feet since Lake Michigan saw record low water levels back in 2013.

The lack of ice may have an upside though. Hoiser said a lack of ice buildup in the Black River channel limits damage to docks and infrastructure.

Temperatures are expected to drop Thursday night and the plows are on standby to treat the roads if it gets too cold.

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