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Published: Wednesday, 10/11/2006

Evaluation is set for dikes on shoreline

BY BENJAMIN ALEXANDER-BLOCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

MONROE - Resort communities worth some $40 million along the shoreline of Lake Erie in Frenchtown Charter Township are protected by a hodgepodge of modified, mixed-use dikes that officials have been saying for years are vulnerable to flooding.

The Frenchtown Charter Township Resort District Authority, created by a state act in 1986, has fielded two separate studies to look into better protecting the waterfront subdivisions from Lake Erie's rising waters.

While the township and the authority are two separate entities, the township approves the authority's annual budget, the hiring of the authority's director, and the appointment of its board members.

The authority expects to pay the Mannik & Smith engineering firm $12,000 to $14,000 for a comprehensive evaluation of the shoreline dike system and any deterioration. The report is expected by December.

Jim Spas, director of the resort authority, said complete replacement of the dike system could cost about $22.1 million, but the board is also considering repairs that would cost about $6 million.

The resort board has the authority to tax district property owners up to three mills per year, which would bring in about $1.7 million annually. Mr. Spas said the board might sell bonds to fund the rest.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Detroit office has been studying the flood-protection barrier along the resort district's largest subdivision, Detroit Beach, since 2001. The $250,000 study is expected to be completed in December, 2007.

Through a cost-sharing program with the Corps, the resort authority will have to pay only about $75,000 toward that study, said Lynn Duerod, a Corps spokesman.

Building a new dike for Detroit Beach would cost about $7.3 million, but Ms. Duerod said the existing dike may need substantial repairs only in certain sections instead of a complete overall.

Together, these projects would protect the 42 miles of newly paved roads and estimated 7,000 residents within the resort district.

While the Corps is consulting with Mannik & Smith on the larger project covering the entire resort area outside Detroit Beach, the engineering firm will take the lead and the resort authority will likely have to pick up the full tab.

Barry Buschmann, senior vice-president of Mannik & Smith and the project director, said there does not appear to be grant money available to help the authority.

Mannik & Smith completed an original assessment study of the entire dike system in 2002 that identified about 95 "deficiencies," areas that because of low elevation or problems with structural integrity could be subject to failure.

"Nothing has been done to the dike for so long, and the result is that people have modified their dikes to the extent that some of them are no more than earthen mounds or rock filled cages and obviously they are in various states of disrepair," said Mr. Buschmann. "These modifications have also lowered the dike's elevation enough so that there could be potential flooding."

Some residents have modified their dikes with broken pieces of concrete found on construction sites, while others have mixed wood scraps with concrete, hoping this might protect them from substantial flooding like that which occurred in the 1970s.

"I lived here when we had the last big flood, and a lot of those homes didn't get repaired for years," said Kraig Yoas, 47, a resort authority board member who lives on the waterfront. "And something like that brings the whole area down. ... I do not want to see that happen again."

The resort authority board is considering establishing an ordinance that would require a fixed height and elevation for all dikes along the shoreline, Mr. Spas said. But many residents worry that higher dike walls could hurt aesthetics and property values by blocking views.

"It's a big project, and, of course, a lot of people don't want to see a large seawall in their backyard," said Frenchtown Charter Township Supervisor James McDevitt.

The resort authority and residents are trying to reach a balance between barriers high enough to prevent flooding but not so high they alter property aesthetics. Once plans are firmed up, Mr. Spas said the authority will hold public meetings.

Contact Benjamin Alexander-Bloch

at babloch@theblade.com

or 419-724-6050.



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