Making waves

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The shoreline at Presque Isle State Park could have a very different look in the years to come.  At issue is the future of the stone breakwaters that dot the shoreline.  Tonight, why those for and against the breakwaters both argue science is on their side. 

You have to be at least 30 to remember the Peninsula before these.  The 55 stone breakwaters were built in the early 90’s to protect the beaches from damaging lake waves.  

Orrin Pilkey, Geology Professor Emeritus at Duke University, says, “It was a stunningly bad design in the opinion of almost everybody who looked at it”.

Pikley has never been a fan of the breakwaters.  Even before they existed, the Duke University Geologist studied the idea, then the results. “It’s a tragedy because it really was so obvious to everybody who observed the design of this project. There had to be some politics behind this because the Corp of Engineers can do better than this.”

Mike Asquith, US Army Corps of Engineers Project Manager says, “Generally, our assessment is that the project is working as we anticipated it would be.”

Asquith believes the numbers support the breakwaters.  Before they were installed, about 176,000 cubic yards of sand were needed each year for beach replenishment.  That’s down to about 38,000 cubic yards annually.

There appears to be some consensus about the fact that the breakwaters have protected the beaches of Presque Isle. But, many believe the problem is what they’ve done to the eastern end of the peninsula and the fragile ecosystem of Gull Point.

We spoke to Senator Dan Laughlin who tells us, “They have trapped some of the sand so, from an engineering standpoint, I can see why the Corps thinks that was a success. But, the back end of the story is that Gull Point is virtually disappearing”.

Laughlin recently made headlines with his idea to halt that erosion and get rid of, in his words, the “ugly rockpiles,” suggesting they be replaced by a submerged seawall.  He’s talked to the corps of engineers about a future study.  “I don’t think this is a loss for them. I think this is a tweak we could make to make it better.”

But, Asquith says, “We have serious concerns about how that type of wall would function with the peninsula that we have…”

Asquith acknowledges the dramatic changes to Gull Point, but the Corps does not believe signs like this on Beach 10 point any finger of blame at the breakwaters.  “When we were placing 176,000 cubic yards of sand a year, as you can imagine, that slug of sand moved along the peninsula and had an unnatural end feature. Gull Point actually had an unnatural shape to it.”

As sand replenishment continues, the Corps is considering adjustments, including some to protect what’s left of Gull Point.  Meanwhile, Laughlin is looking for more affordable ways to get the job done.

And, back on the campus of Duke University, Orrin Pilkey agrees replenishment is an obvious part of the fix.  To him, the other part is just as obvious.  “If Gull Point preservation is important, then removing the break waters is a good thing.”

So, what does Dr. Pikey think about the submerged wall idea?  Find out in the web extra below:

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