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Our view: Impressive effort to save the Kenosha Dunes faces deadline, merits funding

Our view: Impressive effort to save the Kenosha Dunes faces deadline, merits funding

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Dunes  feb 7.jpg

This photo of the Kenosha Dunes was taken Friday.

It’s a great disappearing act that no one wants to see.

The Kenosha Dunes, part of the Chiwaukee Prairie, is losing ground, or better put, its sand into Lake Michigan. High lake water levels and strong storms are eroding the sand and washing it into the lake.

Jim Killian, a water resource management specialist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, said in our recent report that the speed of erosion since 2015 is staggering.

“Assuming water levels stay high, and right now we don’t have any climate indications that the water levels will drop any time soon, I agree (with the estimate) that the dunes will be gone in four to five years,” he said.

Dr. Chin Wu, who has studied the dunes since 2015, echoes Killian’s assessment.

“Once it is eroded it will not come back,” he said. “Based on my estimation, there will be no Kenosha dunes in five years if nothing is done.”

Fortunately something is being done. Scientists from two universities, state and federal authorities and conservation groups have a plan.

That plan would use a unique artificial reef structure offshore to reduce the impact of waves on the shore while still maintaining a natural shoreline to provide habitat for coastal wildlife.

Since Wu started studying the dunes, 100 feet of shoreline has been swallowed up by wind and waves, 20 feet of it just from the Jan.11 storm.

Unlike active sand dunes elsewhere along the lake, the Kenosha dunes is glacial till, a stabilized ecosystem left behind by the retreat of glaciers thousands of years ago.

The Chiwaukee Prairie is a unique natural area with dunes, coastal wetlands and the largest prairie complexes in the state, and home to a host of rare plant and animal species, according to the DNR. It is also considered a critical rest stop for migrating birds.

Grant-funded engineering on the dunes project is currently underway, and the partners hope to begin some work on the first phase this summer.

The most common way to address erosion along the Lake Michigan shoreline has been to pile up huge rocks on the shore as a protection. While it can be effective, Wu said, it destroys the natural link between the water and the shore that fish, wildlife and plant species depend on.

The proposed plan is to build underwater sills using the revetment that began failing in 2015 first.

Camille Zanoni, of the Natural Resources Foundation, said its foundation has made the Chiwaukee Prairie a priority. Its status is elevated, she said, “because of its extraordinary high biological significance and the fact that it is public land.”

Killian placed the entire project cost is between $9 million to $11 million, and securing the funds will be difficult.

We’re impressed by the organizations and individuals working hard to save the dunes. We encourage those who approve such projects to see the value of this effort.

Lake Michigan storms have caused infrastructure damage in the millions just last month but that can be repaired.

If we lose the dunes, they will be gone forever.


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