SAUGATUCK TOWNSHIP, Mich. - Leaders on the lakeshore are considering relocating a shoreline road that's been plagued by sinkholes over the last 40 years, including one that appeared a couple of months ago.
"There are about 12 property owners with limited-to-no access to their property right now," said Saugatuck Township Manager Griffin Graham.
The sinkhole, which started as the size of a manhole cover, is now 10 feet wide on Lakeshore Drive near M-89. The road is closed for safety reasons.
The hole formed after high waters eroded the lakeside bluff, pulling an underground pipe away from a rainwater catch basin. Refilling the hole would likely create more of a problem, Graham said.
"If there was an easy fix we probably would've done it already because of the number of times the township has had to go through this," he said.
The Township cannot provide shoreline protection, which is up to each property owner to handle. The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy began expediting the permitting process for protective measures last fall.
Bluff protection is only truly effective if every property owner participates, said Ethan Altaratz. He recently started using caged rocks, known as gabion baskets, to protect his bluff.
"Once the erosion gets through it, it can start eating around from the side, especially with storms and winds that come in at angles," Altaratz said.
The Township is considering alternative access to Lakeshore Drive, as well as bumping out the road beside the sinkhole. That would require the approval of private property owners.
"We have property owners willing to work with the township and county, but it's also their private property," Graham said. "Understandably, that creates difficulties when it comes to giving up access."
The most realistic long-term fix would be relocating Lakeshore Drive, Graham said. The process could take years and cost millions.
"Our goal is to figure out a short-term and a long-term solution," he said.
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