Residents in Paradise, Michigan are worried their homes may be slipping into Lake Superior. High water levels have washed away large chunks of shoreline and left some homeowners scrambling to keep their houses intact.
Higher than average water levels in Lake superior have left Chippewa county residents in the small town of Paradise to make peace with mother nature.
Jennifer Guidebeck lives in Paradise with a home on Lake Superior. She moved up from Grand Rapids with her husband in 2008.
“We’d been coming up to Paradise to snowmobile and… well it’s paradise, you enjoy it all seasons.”
Lake Superior has never been known for its tranquility, this is after all the same lake that took down the Edmund Fitzgerald but for Jennifer it was their own slice of personal paradise.
Then, in 2014, things took a turn for the worse.
The water had been unusually high that year, neighbors on either side of her lost close to 45 feet of beach to erosion. Jennifer says normally, the biggest waves would break on a sandbar out in the lake, but as the water levels rose there was nothing to keep the more violent waves at bay.
“I was standing outside and I see this six foot wave, there was no wind no waves, and it just came over here. The water was high and it lasts for about fifteen or twenty minutes. That was the first thing that took out steps and I tried to back fill it.”
Six foot waves that come out of nowhere aren’t generally a good omen and this one, called a seiche, was only the beginning of what the Lake had in store for the Guidebecks. Two weeks later the Guidebecks would be hit with another storm.
That day, Jennifer was trying to secure her house as best she could.
“I was out in the water trying to secure my home as best I could while my husband was at work. The lake side the home is up on 6 by 6 posts, I was piling pallets and stones and whatever I could find to protect these pillars.”
Jennifer and her husband did all they could and then buckled in for the coming storm.
“In the middle of the night it started creaking and what the storm had done is washed every bit of the pillars were exposed all the way done. The only thing holding up the home was girders running the opposite way of the floor joist. I gathered up some of the kids’ things, the dog, my car keys, my mom’s ashes, some of the things that were important to me and we just stayed up all night near the door.”
Jennifer and her husband put a blow up mattress by the door so if the house fell into the Lake they’d be able to leap out to safety.They stayed up all night listening to the storm and waiting for the worst.
“I was waiting for just the right noise where we’d have to run out the door and let it go. You can only do so much when the storms come.”
The family – and the home- made it through the night. The next day, Jennifer called Mountain Stone, a company that builds break walls in the area.
“They were here and started with their back hoe right away. I will never be more grateful to anybody because it was really one of the worst days I’ve ever experienced.”
Jim Bourque is the the head of Mountain Stone and Aggregates America.
“One in particular had water right under their house, they were packing their bags. We had to do an emergency fix.
He and his crew were able to work quickly and save Jennifer’s home. But, Burque says, part of the problem is that a permit is required to build any kind of break wall, and the lake won’t wait for approval of a permit.
“It can take upwards of a month or two and things can go down in a heck of a hurry. What I’ve told people that will listen and especially over the air waves and hopefully some of our legislators: there needs to be a way of streamlining this.”
Bourque said changes in how the DEQ and Army Corps of engineers respond to requests for permits is important.
As the Lake begins to creep up on homes all along the coast frustration is building. Some residents even go as far as saying the Army Corps of Engineers manufactured the problem.
“The corps of army engineers deviated from what’s called ‘the plan’ which regulates the gates that regulate the level of Lake Superior.”
Bill Mangham is the supervisor of Whitefish Township, where Paradise is located. He says the locks between Lake Superior and Lake Huron could have let some water out in 2014 to help out residents along the shore.
“There’s actually an international control board made up of US and Canadian staff that works for the joint commission to determine monthly outflows out of Lake Superior.
The Army Corps of Engineers, for its part, say they don’t favor one lake over the other. John Allis is the chief of the Great Lakes hydraulics and hydrology office with the Army Corps of Engineers in Detroit.
“ Without getting into all of the technical details the gist of the regulation plan that’s run, the plan tries to keep the levels of each of those Lakes as close to their long term averages as possible.”
Allis said the Army Corps is sticking to protocol.
“One thing I’d put in context is that although the levels on Lake Superior are higher than average they’re still lower than historical maximums. Lake Superior right now is seven inches above long term average but still nine inches below the all time record high.”
But, as Jim Bourque of Mountain Stone puts it:
“It’s the nature of Lake Superior. It can be very gentle at times, and loving, but other times it can just beat the dickins right out of you.”
The hope for Jennifer Guidebeck is that next time, they’ll be ready to weather whatever the Lake has in store.