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Can retired Christmas trees be used to prevent lakeshore erosion?

State and local officials weigh in.

OTTAWA COUNTY, Mich. — As West Michiganders get ready to part with their Christmas trees, several people on social media are asking the question: Can my tree be used to fight erosion?

The concept is not new. Thousands of Christmas trees were placed along Long Beach in New York in 2013 to promote dune restoration after Hurricane Sandy, according to The New York Times

While the idea comes from a good place, it likely wouldn't work in Ottawa County, said Water Resources Commissioner Joe Bush. 

"What are you going to disturb to make the tree work?" Bush said. "You don't want to disturb any more sand to make it work. Eventually, those trees are going to end up in the same place the stairway and decks are – in the lake somewhere."

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy is opposed to using Christmas trees to prevent beach erosion, said spokesperson Jill Greenberg

"We encourage residents to go through the permit process for approval of anti-erosion methods," Greenberg said. 

Placing the trees on the lakeshore would exacerbate Ottawa County's debris management problem, said Nick Bonstell, director of emergency management. 

"It has the potential to get washed away and be collected either in a boat or jet ski [and] hurt someone once it gets off of that lakeshore," Bonstell said. 

Ottawa doesn't currently have the equipment to remove all of the free-floating debris accumulating from the erosion. Officials are working with the EGLE and Michigan State Police to create a collection plan. 

"We're trying to get our arms around what that looks like," Bonstell said. "It's going to look different for each jurisdiction. It's going to be more coordination from a level a bit higher than us at the county to come up with a debris management plan before the spring and summertime get here."

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