During the past few years our firm has been a team member in designing and building revetments and retaining walls along the shoreline of Lake Michigan. With over 40 years of experience as a landscape architect and the former owner of a design build landscape company we have never seen this type of devastation Lake Michigan has wrought upon the western shoreline. The bluffs are falling down!
In my professional opinion there are numerous reasons why the Bluffs are failing. The most obvious is the historic Lake levels of Lake MI. For many years, the existing revetments were able to handle the fierce storms that come out of the northeast. However, with higher lake levels the existing revetments and armor built years ago is being overtopped by the waves and undermining the toe of the Bluff or the tableland.
Another subtle but major contributing factor for the failure of Bluffs during periods of high Lake levels or not, is the drainage around the building, bluff or ravine. Very few homeowners yearly inspect their sub-surface drainage system; making sure the drainage lines are clear and flowing. Our design philosophy is to capture as much water on the tableland as possible and redirect to the revetment via a direction bore. This enable us to manage the stormwater before going over the bluff or ravine. In almost every project we investigate, a major factor in the failure of the Bluff and tableland is deteriorated, clogged and settled drainage.
Each property along the Lake is not its own island. Signs of future failures can be seen with very simple geotechnical observations of the soil and land. When we are preparing an investigation into a site we try to determine the neighbors Bluff condition. Construction at a neighbor’s property, poor drainage or their revetment is failing will impact your property. You might be building a new revetment along your property; however, if the revetment is not able to anchor both sides of your property your site may still be undermined and possibly fail.
Beach front property along Lake Michigan, less the beach, is not what it used to be. Our suggestion for weathering the high lake levels is to be proactive in inspecting your site, analyze the drainage and make repairs if possible and plan ahead. The design, permitting and then hiring the right team takes time, but is well worth the investment on Lake Michigan.