Grosse Pointe News | February 28th, 2019 | News section
Officials urge, ‘Build the seawall’
By Melissa Walsh
Grosse Pointe Shores — “Let’s get the damn seawall built,” said Wayne County Commissioner Tim Killeen during the Shores city council meeting Tuesday, Feb. 19.
Attending the meeting on another topic, Killeen paused to address the state of the Lakeshore seawall.
Later during the meeting, council put on the floor a formal resolution requesting Wayne County take immediate action to mitigate dangerous conditions along the Lakeshore Road shoreline due to the deteriorating seawall.
Shores and Farms officials cite the maintenance of the county road and the seawall along it as the responsibility of Wayne County road and public works administrators.
The resolution and Killeen’s remarks followed a high-profile meeting on the topic Friday, Feb. 8, when municipal, county, state and federal officials and representatives met to discuss short-term fixes and long-term solutions for shoreline sinkholes and seawall breaches along the 3 1/2-mile stretch of Lakeshore from the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club to Warner Road.
“We’ve got all the people in the room finally to get to work on this,” Killeen said of the Feb. 8 meeting. “So this is going to be the best shot we’re going to have at this in probably 30 years to actually do something.”
In 1974, 45 years ago, high lake levels damaged the seawall, prompting a $250,000 construction project by the Wayne County Road Commission that spring. A news brief in the May 2, 1974, edition of the Grosse Pointe News reported Shores trustees communicated to the county concerns about a newly installed downward concrete slope. They warned that bikers and pedestrians could slip on accumulated “slime and moss from the lake culture” on the concrete and fall into the lake.
On Aug. 16, 1974, the Grosse Pointe News reported Farms officials issued the same complaint, calling for concrete bumper strips to be placed along the sloped concrete.
Today, Shores and Farms officials again are urging the county to respond to outstanding complaints against the county about seawall maintenance, citing exposed rebar, falling concrete and breaches of lake water infiltration and land erosion, and demanding emergency mitigation.
Killeen said, short term, “The seawall’s been like our roads are. We keep patching them, but you keep falling slowly further behind.”
“Patching” work has been filling crushed concrete into sinkholes in the area between the seawall and Lakeshore Road.
Another meeting between city and county officials has not been scheduled yet, Killeen told the Grosse Pointe News on Tuesday.
“It’s not going to be too far down the road,” he said, and will focus on improving communication and response for urgent, short-term fixes.
A long-term solution, Killeen added, will require analysis by county public services and legal personnel. In addition, he said, U.S. Senate and House representatives will seek federal grants and loan options.
“Identifying funding sources. This is where we’re at,” Killeen said.
During the city council meeting, Shores Mayor Ted Kedzierski addressed the urgency of fixing the lake water-infiltration breaches in the seawall.
“It’s going to undermine Lakeshore (Road) and there’s going to be a casualty,” he said.
“From my vantage point as the county commissioner, that’s my road out there,” Killeen said. “I don’t want a chunk of my road washing into Lake St. Clair.”
From a reliability and risk-management perspective, he added, “It’s gotta get done.”
“And that’s the purpose of the resolution,” Kedzierski said. “We don’t want to be held responsible. It could be viewed that we have concurrent jurisdiction here and that we could be somehow at fault.”
“I think that’s been one of the problems here,” Killeen said. “Whose responsibility is it? I think there’s a case to be made here that it’s the property owners along Lakeshore.
“Who owns the property between the road and the lake?” he added.
“It’s complicated by the French deeds that are supposedly outstanding,” said Kedzierski.
According to the April 1929 edition of the Grosse Pointe Civic News, in 1925, Wayne County officials began talks with the Shores and Farms about widening the 18-foot-wide Lakeshore Road to a 120-foot-wide right-of-way to mitigate traffic bottlenecks. A 1926 resolution of the Wayne-Macomb Super-highway Commission supported the widening of Jefferson Avenue and Lakeshore Road, calling for a 120-foot right-of-way from Detroit to New Baltimore “to solve present congestion and to take care of future public demand.”
In the Shores and Farms, there was “much disagreement among property owners,” the publication reported, as lakefront property owners were required to dedicate a portion of land to the Wayne County Road Commission for the roadway and seawall construction.
In July 1929, the publication reported, work was underway for the construction of an 8,000-foot seawall along Lakeshore at a distance of 80 to 100 feet from the shoreline between Vernier and Weir Lane, which was just east of Provencal Road. More than 160,000 cubic yards of land would be dredged from the lake for fill.
Michigan’s McNitt Act of 1932 removed local jurisdiction of main public roads, turning them over to county authority and providing property tax relief in response to the Depression. In 1951, the McNitt Act was incorporated into Public Act 51, which governed the distribution of state revenue for county roads and set up the Michigan Transportation Fund to collect and disburse revenue to maintain them.
Whether the Shores, Farms and Wayne County will share the cost for a new seawall is unknown. If they do, Act 51 would set the criteria for costs shared between the governmental entities.
“Build the wall!” Councilman Bruce Bisballe said in jest.
Prior to the vote on the resolution, Kedzierski said, “It’s reaching a point that not only is it dangerous, the road could collapse. … I’m concerned about our liability. I don’t want to be named as a defendant. We have to force Wayne County’s hand.”
Killeen said he was “delighted” about the resolution as a way “to get everybody’s attention.”