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'Dewatering' designed to save dunes
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hopes the project will halt erosion
By Zac Anderson
The Holland Sentinel

They've tried sea walls and riprap but Lake Michigan's shoreline bluffs continue to erode.

Now the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is experimenting along Allegan County's waterfront with a procedure the agency hopes will put a stop to shriveling shorelines, or at least add to the arsenal of existing prevention methods.

The "bluff dewatering project," is exactly what it sounds like. Instead of the traditional focus on wave erosion, Army engineers plan to drain ground water and other forms of moisture that can cause instability inside a bluff.

"Basically they're going to dig some wells and pump out the water so the ground will be drier," said Lynn Duerod, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Detroit.

The project is the first of its kind anywhere in the country, Duerod said.

The new focus attacks internal erosion caused by moisture buildup on layers of clay that rest between the sand and soil in a typical bluff. Duerod said that slippery clay can shift, causing cracks and faults in a bluff.

"The whole thing kind of tilts forward and eventually it will tilt enough to break off," Duerod said. "We never know how much will drop off at one time."

The project is one of many across the state that tackle different aspects of shoreline erosion, said Martin Jannereth, chief of the Great Lakes shoreline section of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

"Ground water seepage in certain areas can be a major cause of bluff erosion," Jannereth said. "The problem has been around for a while but this work should help provide some solutions."

Army Corps engineers and researchers at Western Michigan University will monitor the test wells over the next four years and document the level of erosion. Wells are being dug at three Allegan County sites, including Miami Park South, Miami Park North and a site along 116th Street.

The project is funded by a $2.3 million federal appropriation.

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