Lake Michigan

Disaster Declaration: Federal Help Sought to Fight Lake Michigan Erosion

The proclamations come in response to extensive damage caused by storms on Jan. 10 and 11

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City and state officials have issued state and local disaster proclamations to address erosion and damage caused by near-record lake levels along the Lake Michigan shoreline.

The state disaster proclamation includes more than 30 miles of lakeshore in Lake and Cook counties. Both proclamations, which were issued Thursday, come in response to extensive damage caused by storms on Jan. 10 and 11.

State and local leaders including Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot visited the shoreline Friday to survey the impact of the storms and high water levels.

The higher than normal water levels were caused by heavy precipitation, and warmer than normal temperatures that in turn caused snowpack to melt and resulted in evaporation of the lake, Durbin said.

"We've got to acknowledge this is the challenge of our time," Durbin said. "God blessed us with this great lake, and it means so much to each and every one of us. Now it's up to us and our generation to protect it and pass it along to our kids and grandkids, so they can enjoy it as well."

Residents in Long Beach, Indiana are facing severe erosion as water levels and large waves in Lake Michigan pound the shoreline, causing some seawalls to fail. NBC 5's Chris Hush has the story.

Large boulders that used to block waves along the Rogers Park beach have disappeared, along with iron fencing and a wind screen that were nearly destroyed after last month’s winter storms.

"Changes are taking place which are destroying the shoreline, eliminating beaches and even washing away the roadways," Durbin said. "That's the reality of climate change as it impacts us here. It's terrible."

Emergency funding would likely be used to strengthen the shoreline along Lake Michigan with large rocks, and would add concrete barriers to major arteries, including Lake Shore Drive and Sheridan Road.

The sense of urgency is only heightened by the record-setting water levels along the lake, which the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration believes will continue well into 2020.

Video captured from Chicago’s Museum campus shows high waves and dangerous water conditions from strong winds along the lakefront as Lake Michigan waters continue to reach record levels.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office announced that the governor is seeking additional time from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to document information needed to support a federal disaster declaration. It remains uncertain if the uneasy relationship between President Trump and Chicago play a role in whether the federal funds are approved.

"There's some concern of course," said Mayor Lightfoot. "The entire population that touches Lake Michigan, which encompasses several states, is touched by this... I think that we're going to be able to build some synergies by coming together as a Lake Michigan community to be able to address these issues."

In the community of Long Beach, Indiana, high water levels caused damage to sea walls protecting homes along the lakefront.

Col. Aaron Reisinger from the Chicago office of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers stated temporary fixes were underway, but more must be done to protect the walkway and Lake Shore Drive.

"You watch it happen in front of you," Reisinger said. "There's very few things you can do in a rapid way to defend in an effective way against the power of the lake."

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