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Aerial video captures dramatic erosion of Lake Michigan shoreline

A white house sinks down a sand dune into Lake Michigan
Dustin Dwyer
Michigan Radio
Late last year, a Muskegon home fell into Lake Michigan after erosion destabilized the sandy bluff underneath it.

Record high water levels in the Great Lakes are wreaking havoc on Michigan’s shorelines. Dramatic erosion along the shore has put both private homes and public infrastructure at risk. Randy Claypool, aerial videographer and owner of Truly Michigan Aerial, captured footage that shows just how severe erosion is along Lake Michigan.

“We’re actually recording history because the water level has exceeded record levels, so we are experiencing something people have never seen,” Claypool said.


Claypool and his team flew from the St. Joseph area all the way up the Lake Michigan shoreline on June 5, 2019 to capture video of the eroded shoreline. Six months later, they flew back over the same route. Claypool said it was clear on the second trip that the erosion had worsened.

“The erosion was dramatic and the most dramatic areas, of course, were the high bluffs where the waves could eat at the bottom and create the erosion," Claypool said. "And we saw houses on the edge of the hills and whole trees that have fallen from the cliffs.”

Late last year, a house in Muskegon fell into Lake Michigan after erosion destabilized the sandy bluff on which it sat. Many neighboring houses were also teetering on the edge of the bluff. The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) has expedited permit approval for projects like seawalls to help mitigate the erosion.

It isn't just private homes that are feeling the impact of erosion. On Monday, Michigan lawmakers joined officials from several state departments,  the U.S. Coast Guard, and the Army Corps of Engineers in Lansing to talk about options for tackling the erosion’s impact on public infrastructure. The Michigan Department of Transportation is currently tracking 40 sites that have been compromised in some way by erosion.

According to Brad Wieferich, director of the Bureau of Development for MDOT, erosion is causing costly and unexpected issues for the department. The damage to roads varies; some are inundated with water from high water levels, while erosion of the ground underneath is causing others to slope. In the most severe cases, sections of road have actually collapased.

“We just don’t know if it’s the new normal. We have to plan for cases that we otherwise had not been planning for,” said Wieferich. 

Conservative estimates put the cost at $5 million to make the roads passable and long term costs could surpass $100 million, said Wieferich. But he cautioned that these are early estimates, which could change as water levels continue to rise.

This post was written by Stateside production assistant Olive Scott. 

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