Local government officials assessed damages on Monday — as lakefront homeowners picked up the pieces — in the aftermath of Saturday’s powerful winter storm.
A combination of near-record-high Lake Michigan water levels and 55 mph wind gusts proved to be a recipe for disaster as massive waves attacked the area’s eroding shoreline, flooded residential streets, tore up city walkways and ran roughshod through a Pleasant Prairie home.
“It’s not like we haven’t had big storms like this in the past,” Mayor John Antaramian said. “The difference is our lake levels. They’re higher than ever before.”
Lake Michigan is 3 feet above average and is expected to keep rising, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Water levels are 16 inches higher than a year ago due to a mild December, which increased runoff and created less evaporation.
Experts believe water levels are only halfway to the peak of their cyclical pattern.
“People now understand why we’ve been pushing so hard to get revetment walls repaired,” Antaramian said. “You have to look at the total ecosystem of all of the Great Lakes.
“You can call it whatever you want, but there has definitely been a weather pattern change in this region. It’s happened, and it’s definitely creating a problem in the Great Lakes.
“It’s not that you won’t see the up-and-down (levels); it just means you’re going to see higher highs and lower lows.”
Fave Five: Reporter Jeffrey Zampanti
As the year draws to a close, the Kenosha News is taking a look back on 2019 and sharing the favorite five stories that each of our reporters has written this year.
These are the Five Five stories of Kenosha News reporter Jeffrey Zampanti.
Saturday’s storm caused more damage to a failing retaining wall at Southport Park, flooding at Simmons Island and uprooted dozens of bricks along the HarborPark promenade.
A Carol Beach home at 8615 Lakeshore Drive was deemed unlivable on Saturday by Pleasant Prairie officials. We Energies disabled gas and electricity at the property, where erosion had eaten away the ground under the home and winds lashed the damaged structure.
Pleasant Prairie’s Building Inspection Department was looking into several other homes with erosion concerns, according to Pleasant Prairie communication manager Steven Linn.
A Somers property, previously located at 609 17th St., gained national attention as it dangled off the side of a Lake Michigan bluff just north of Carthage College late last year. The three-bedroom home was recently razed, succumbing to its nearly two-year battle with erosion.
Help for homeowners
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources released a Great Lakes Emergency Erosion Control Self-Certification form for state residents living on Lake Michigan, Lake Superior and Green Bay.
Homeowners who meet a series of professional standards are allowed to submit a one-page document with the understanding they will eventually apply for a proper work permit.
While the self-certification form lets property owners begin repairs immediately, it offers no financial relief in doing so. Lakefront revetment and seawall construction can be expensive, with costs typically starting well into six figures.
‘We can’t afford not to fix it’
Local municipalities have also been on their own without state or federal funding.
A nearly $8 million lakefront infrastructure project in Kennedy Park is nearing completion. A similar $5 million project will soon begin at Southport Park.
“We caught Kennedy Park just in time,” Antaramian said. “If this storm had happened and we had not been rebuilding it, the road would’ve been gone, the sewer lines would’ve been exposed and the old dump would’ve been in the lake. That would’ve been a horrible disaster. We caught that in the nick of time.
“This is a perfect example of the federal and state government basically walking away. We had to make a decision. We’re going to spend the money to fix this because we can’t afford not to fix it.”