High water woes continue into fall

Deborah Prescott | Daily Press The impact of Little Bay de Noc’s high water levels is shown at the Gladstone Yacht Club recently. Record high water levels are continuing to cause problems for Gladstone Parks and Recreation Director Nicole Sanderson. Concerns about water levels in the harbor, on the boardwalk, beach, volleyball, skateboard, and camping areas have Gladstone officials reevaluating plans.

ESCANABA — Lake Michigan water levels were at an all time high through the summer months, causing some problems along the coastline and inland. No one knows this more than Gladstone Parks and Recreation Director Nicole Sanderson and her team. They are reviewing areas affected by the high water levels that are continuing into October.

“We are reevaluating everything,” Sanderson said. “The boardwalk from the Gladstone Wastewater Plant to Saunders Point has been completely destroyed. It’ll have to be raised and a total rebuild.”

The boardwalk has become a popular feature in the area, according to Sanderson, and she knows it will be missed until it is reconstructed.

“We’re going to have to get a grant for the boardwalk,” she said. “It’ll take about $80,000 to rebuild it.”

Sanderson said this isn’t the first time water levels have been high. The last time the water levels were recorded this high was in 1986, but since then there have been many added features to the area. In addition to the boardwalk, other features surrounding Van Cleve Park have been impacted by the constant high water levels of Little Bay de Noc, according to Sanderson. The beach, volleyball and skateboarding areas were recently covered in water again, Sanderson said.

“Someone sent me photos from Saturday and the pictures showed water coming right in again,” she said. “When the wind is right, the bay comes over the road into our lagoon.”

Reeds are growing where grass is dying on the baseball field along the shoreline. Some people camping with tents at the Gladstone Campground had to move to another campsite when sites became covered with water. In July, boardwalks were closed due to water lapping over the walk, creating a safety hazard from algae accumulating and causing slippery conditions in some areas.

Escanaba Recreation Director Kim Peterson is still waiting for the basement flooding at the Catherine Bonifas Civic Center to be fixed since reporting it in June.

“Civic center basement flooding will be fixed November-December,” said Peterson. “We are on the list of repairs, but the company performing the work has a long list … So we are getting by for now.”

The basement has been pumped out once. Peterson said the basement was dry in the summer but the recent rain has brought the problem back.

“It was dry a few weeks ago, then wet ever since due to rain,” she said.

Peterson opened the Escanaba Municipal Beach the end of June and had some grass removed and sand pushed back to make more of a beach area, but the high water levels left the beach a narrow strip of land.

“We did create some additional sand space at the beach this past summer. The difficult part is that there is a berm between the beach and parking lot that was created for erosion purposes so we don’t have anymore room to go,” Peterson said.

The Escanaba Yacht Club (EYC) and its members have been impacted by the high water levels in a couple of ways. High water levels have flushed logs and debris into Little Bay de Noc, causing potential hazards to all boaters, fishermen, and anyone who enjoys being on the water.

The EYC’s race stand at the point of the harbor entrance was moved in fear of water eroding the land it stood on and possibly damaging the stand.

“The rising water levels at the harbor entrance necessitated moving the race start stand,” said Vice Commodore-Sail John Anthony. “The high water levels caused wave action, erosion … The stand was moved further away from the waters edge.”

Not all issues with the high water posed a problem.

“The high water levels provided the advantage of increased water depth,” said Anthony. “…helped boats, especially sailboats that require up to six feet for the keel, navigate the shallower portions of Bay De Noc.”

Marquette National Weather Service Meteorologist Jacob Horton said the whole Upper Peninsula was wet in May, kicking off the summer.

“In May precipitation was way over the average of 2.94 inches. Escanaba had 5.61 inches of rain. The whole U.P. was wet in late spring,” said Horton.

Though the months of June through August recorded the highest water levels in Lake Michigan, precipitation was on an average below normal.

“Escanaba had 1.6 inches of rain in June, 3.6 inches in July, and 2.39 in August,” Horton said. “June and August were below normal, whereas July was average. September was wet, precipitation was measured at 6.85 inches.”

Horton says the fall prediction is the typical fall pattern of temperatures in the 50s and 60s with periods of rain and stretches of dry weather.

“After this weekend, there will be a period with no rain,” said Horton.

According to the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL) of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) the water levels of Lakes Michigan-Huron, as measured from the Harbor Beach, Mich. office, were at record highs June through August.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) has been impacted by high water levels in the parks and recreation division.

“We have had campsites closed at times, flooded boating access sites, some closed all season, beach areas disappeared and access for park visitors curtailed, events postponed or cancelled, bad shore erosion limiting access, plus added costs to armor shorelines. For example, County Road 107, leading to Lake of the Clouds at Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park,” said MDNR Parks and Recreation Division Chief Ron Olson. “… extensive trail damage in areas like Houghton, where a year after two significant summer flooding events there are areas still not open with millions of dollars in repairs to be made.”

Escanaba Harbor Master Larry Gravatt wasn’t bothered too much with the higher water levels through the season, as all but one of the docks in the marina float.

“Water levels didn’t give us too many issues due to the fact we have mostly floating docks,” said Gravatt. “The new dock is done and is great.”

Gravatt is speaking about the replacement of L Dock, the only stationary dock that was left in the marina at the beginning of the season. Before the construction of a new floating dock system, Gravatt had to close L Dock and have the boats assigned to the boat slips on the dock moved and reassigned to other boat slips. In June, water was high enough to flow over the stationary dock, due to safety concerns the dock was closed at that time. Gravatt did have the fuel platform raised.

Sanderson will be talking with others who have had to work through similar problems she has had in Gladstone to get advice on how to go forward.

“We’re worried about our harbor, what the water level is doing to it,” said Sanderson. “The mouth of the harbor is under water and the water is flowing under into the backside of the sheet piling … we’re concerned about the ice and what will happen when the water freezes.”