Rising Waters: Fighting back with amphibious dump truck and boulders

SOUTH HAVEN TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — The battle against a relentlessly rising Lake Michigan is being fought in places like Mark Odland’s lakefront property, using five-ton limestone boulders from Wisconsin.

It’s costing some property owners more than $100,000.

“I’d like to believe that we’re competing with Mother Nature,” Odland said as he watched a crew from deBest Inc. of South Haven build his wall. “Mother Nature is always going to win, and all we can do is do what we can right now by putting these boulders in and hoping that the lake begins to drop.”

Crews are fighting with excavators and amphibious dump trucks hauling sand and clay. They use synthetic fabric as reinforcement while backfilling with that sand-clay mixture.

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Then, they build the wall with massive limestone boulders, most of them heavier than cars, barged in from Manitowoc, Wis.

“It’s jagged-edged, so that takes the energy out of the lake,” deBest owner Brian deBest said.

DeBest said he’s erecting these walls for homeowners from Holland south to New Buffalo. He’s building 17 different walls now with four crews and 48 workers. He’s got enough work to last him through the winter.

He started building these walls 18 years ago but has never been this busy.

“Our crews could work 24-7 if they wanted to,” he said. “That’s how busy we are. It’s not just one homeowner, it’s everybody along the lakeshore.”

Odland, a retired insurance executive, bought his land in 1998 when the lake was much lower and has, in recent years, lost 150 feet of beach.

“One-hundred-and-fifty feet beyond that wall was all sand, beautiful, beautiful white sand beach,” he said.

He’s now fighting to keep the lake from his year-round home.

“We’re placing somewhere in the area of 500 to 800 tons of boulders on the shoreline, stacked 12 feet wide, 12 feet high, with the whole intent of preserving our property,” Odland said.

It’ll cost him about $150,000.

“I like to say we’re spending our children’s inheritance, but, what’s our option? If we don’t do this then we end up losing even more because ultimately, we’d lose our home,” he said.

“That is exactly what we’re trying to protect. This is where we live, this is our home. We’re not seasonal owners. We live here 12 months a year. South Haven is our home.”

Lake Michigan has reached a near-record water level, just two inches shy of the all-time record. Though levels have fallen slightly this month, experts worry that they’ll rise again in the spring, setting the stage for even more erosion.