Sea Grant Helps Speed up Erosion Solutions for Mt. Pleasant Residents

Lake Michigan water levels rose four feet from 2013 to 2016, and the high water levels eroded coastal bluffs and beaches. Mt. Pleasant, Wis., was a community particularly hard-hit, with one homeowner moving a house and another tearing down the garage before it toppled into the lake. At least a dozen other garages and public utilities were also endangered.

Concerned residents looked for help, and they needed it fast, before the next storm struck and waves did further damage. In response, Gov. Scott Walker asked the Wisconsin Emergency Management (WEM) agency to hold public meetings last spring and summer with residents and local officials to discuss the issue and what measures could be taken.

Among those presenting at the two meetings was Wisconsin Sea Grant’s Coastal Engineer Gene Clark.  Along with representatives from WEM, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Wisconsin Coastal Management Program and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Clark helped explain why the erosion was happening and provided information and resources to the homeowners to help them determine the next steps to protect their properties.

Usually, people who want to take measures to control coastal erosion need to wait a minimum of 30 days before their plans and permits are approved by the DNR. However, before the second meeting, Clark and Martye Griffin with the DNR were able to figure out a way to speed up the process.

“My main work was helping Martye develop a temporary permit that could be issued in 48 hours so that property owners didn’t have to wait for 30 days or more,” Clark said. “The measures allowed under the temporary permit weren’t going to be a cure-all, but at least they were going to slow things down so that homeowners could then get an expert working to design a long-term fix. It gave them hope that they could do something.”

The simplified permit allowed homeowners to place protective rocks at the base of their bluffs to slow down the erosion, with the caveat that they would  work with a professional contractor within the next year or two on a final solution. However, it couldn’t be just any old rock, and the rock couldn’t simply be dumped over the side; it needed to be carefully placed on the bluff. Clark helped the DNR work out those details.

Clark estimates that four out of a dozen homeowners who attended the meetings used the quick permit to save their property. Clark is also working with a group of 14 homeowners in Mequon, Wis., who are facing similar problems. An infusion of $840,000 from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will have many of the same partners working together on Lake Michigan erosion solutions over the next three years.

Eventually, the U.S. Army Corps will get a plan in place for a fix in Mt. Pleasant, but that process alone will probably take two years, Clark said, and then several years after that before protective structures are built.

“I’m really glad we were able to help these folks,” Clark said. “They were in a dire situation, with a vertical bluff face that wasn’t stable at all. It wasn’t going to last much longer.”

Ducking AIS

Last fall, Tim Campbell aimed his aquatic invasive species (AIS) prevention messages at a new audience: Wisconsin’s waterfowl hunters.

“We’re really good at reaching our target audience of recreational boaters,” said Campbell, an outreach specialist with Wisconsin Sea Grant. “What that also means is we’re great at reaching boaters from Memorial Day to Labor Day.”

That’s a good and important thing, since those boaters represent the most common way AIS—from zebra mussels and spiny water fleas to Eurasian milfoil and starry stonewort—can move from one lake to another, facilitating their dangerous and expensive spread.

Yet anglers and recreational boaters aren’t the only ones with the potential to move invasive species. Waterfowl hunters, who tend to come out en masse on Wisconsin’s waters in the months of September and October, when summer boat inspectors have typically gone home for the season, also have a unique set of equipment that presents its own set of risks. Decoys, waders, boots and hunting dogs can all be vectors for AIS.  According to Campbell, every Wisconsin hunting season sees at least a handful of hunters using non-native—and dangerously invasive—phragmites plants as part of their duck blind material.

In 2014, Wisconsin AIS Partnership representatives conducted behavior surveys among more than 400 Wisconsin waterfowl hunters to get a better sense of how they like to hunt and how much they  know about preventing AIS. Among the results: At least 50 percent of duck hunters hunt in more than one body of water.

“Most hunters are aware that AIS is an issue,” said Campbell. “There was a portion for whom it didn’t yet click that it also applied to where they were hunting.”

The behavior surveys indicated that hunters would be willing to scrub and dry their equipment after use and before taking it to a second body of water.

“Basically, most are willing to do anything short of using chemicals,” said Campbell.

Reaching the waterfowl hunters with the classic clean, drain, dry message presents its own set of challenges. Unlike recreational boaters who often begin their fishing trips from easily accessible public boat launches, waterfowl hunters tend to hunt in scattershot locations. Campbell turned to wardens and the water guards with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources who were more familiar with the hunting hotspots.  

Campbell said becoming more responsive to waterfowl hunters’ habits is likely to be part of making sure the AIS message is delivered successfully. For instance, hunters may be more likely to take a hunting trip in the middle of the week than on a weekend to take advantage of ideal weather, and they’re likely to be at access points at different times than recreational boaters. Last year, as part of a UW-Extension-led pilot project, watercraft inspectors learned that talking to hunters as they came off the water in the morning rather than before they left for their trip in the afternoon led to better interactions.

Armed with this information, Campbell will be spearheading a concerted outreach effort to waterfowl hunters the last weekend of September and the third weekend of October, two of the peak times for the fall season.

“Having street cred also helps a lot,” he noted. “Being able to identify a few ducks can go a long ways toward making a connection and sharing our message. Luckily, partners with those skills will actually be at the access points.”  

River Talk Series Enters Fifth Year

The popular talks about the St. Louis River Estuary are entering their fifth season of bringing science out of the university and into the community. The evening monthly talks in Superior, Wis., are the result of a partnership between the Wisconsin and Minnesota Sea Grant programs and the Lake Superior National Estuarine Research Reserve. They are all taking place in the reserve’s new interpretive center on Barker’s Island, called the Estuarium. For the full schedule, please visit seagrant.wisc.edu/Home/Topics/HabitatsandEcosystems/Details.aspx?PostID=1692.

The Aquatic Sciences Center is the administrative home of the
University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute & University of Wisconsin Water Resources Institute.

©2011 University of Wisconsin Board of Regents