Will shoreline project keep Lake Michigan’s natural fury at bay? – Chicago Tribune newstrendslive

Another attempt to stave off nature’s fury will begin this spring along a portion of Lake Michigan. Perhaps it will be more successful than previous endeavors.

The state will spend $74.5 million to bolster the dwindling sandy shoreline at Illinois Beach State Park near Zion. It may well be the largest capital project in the history of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

Plans announced earlier this month, according to Gavin Good’s page-one story in The News-Sun, call for 250,000 tons of rocks and other material to be dumped over more than 12 acres of Illinois Beach shoreline to form underwater reefs. An additional 430,000 cubic yards of sand also will be in the mix to stabilize the beaches.

A cadre of geologists and scientists hope the planned work will keep the might of Lake Michigan at bay. Those who have observed the lake over the years, and its natural tendencies to exert its power and cause damage, know that is not an easy task. In previous decades, tons of riprap, large boulders placed as breakwaters to stem wave action, failed to stop erosion.

It was just a few short years ago that wave action from a near-high lake level was devastating Lake Michigan beaches from Door County, Wisconsin, to Indiana Dunes National Park, to those along Michigan’s western lakeshore communities. Now, the Big Lake is approaching, or has met its long-term average water level.

Seasonal changes in lake levels have been marked for decades. State geologists point out that from 2012 to 2020, the North Unit of Illinois Beach lost an estimated 670,570 cubic yards of shoreline due to the brutal pounding of ice-laden storms and wind-driven surf.

Taking on the unrelenting waves and saving the park’s beaches is an admirable goal. Yet, Illinois Beach, one of the most-visited state parks, seems to need a face-lift.

Perhaps it was that blustery and cloudy winter’s day giving it that neglected look. Although the same day, in comparison, Winthrop Harbor’s North Point Marina, the largest boat basin on the Great Lakes, had that new-car look.

Losing shoreline to erosion, caused by vacillating water levels and wind-whipped waves, has been a concern for more than 50 years. It is not the only threat to Lake Michigan, which supplies drinking water to most Lake County residents.

There are long-standing ecological problems: Industrial pollution in harbors — which Waukegan is quite familiar with — to invasive species such as zebra and quagga mussels, along with loss of wetlands and other wildlife habitat. Toss in climate change — charging stations for electric watercraft which certainly are coming to move marinas to carbon-neutral planning — and saving infrastructure, or just maintaining the status quo along Lake Michigan, will require mega bucks.

A recent international report on the Great Lakes showed Lake Michigan has a “fair and unchanging” ecosystem. The analysis is conducted once every three years as part of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement between the United States and Canada.

The study noted Lake Michigan has a wide array of plant and animal species, but “invasive species and other stressors continue to affect both water quality and the lake’s food web.” The lake also faces possible pollution from the ash pits along Waukegan’s shoreline, left over from the coal-fired power generation plant along Pershing Road and Greenwood Avenue. It’s just across the street from the Manville Superfund asbestos site.

Also in the background are toxic “forever chemicals” and microplastic pollution. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 10,000 metric tons of plastics enter the Great Lakes each year.

One forever chemical is perfluoroctane sulfonate, manufactured by 3M Co. for decades and found in stain-resistant fabrics and food packaging, among other uses. A front-page story in the Jan. 18 News-Sun warned of eating freshwater fish because PFOS found in them can cause liver damage and cancer in humans.

Shoring up the shoreline at Illinois Beach may help the aesthetics at the state park and protect it from an angry Lake Michigan. Yet there are other dangers to maintaining a healthy ecosystem for the lake’s future.

Charles Selle is a former News-Sun reporter, political editor and editor.


Twitter: @sellenews

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