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Lake Erie elevation expected to set a record in June

By Tom Jackson • May 23, 2019 at 9:00 AM

The already-high Lake Erie waters are still rising, and officials are bracing for the additional flooding and erosion likely in the coming weeks.

The Detroit office of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is forecasting record high water levels for several of the Great Lakes this summer. The level for Lake Erie is expected to break a record, the agency said.

“Several months of wet weather, including a significant snowpack across the northern Great Lakes basin and recent heavy rain events have pushed water levels higher than originally forecasted,” said Keith Kompoltowicz, chief of watershed hydrology at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Detroit District.

Tim Jonovich, director of Erie County’s Emergency Management Agency, said Lake Erie currently is three feet above normal levels. That could go to four or five, Jonovich said.

High water and the effects of a north wind can affect not just the coast by flooding but also rivers, such as in the Franklin Flats area, Jonovich said, and could affect roads next to the lake.

“We’ve had issues where it closed Cedar Point Road before,” he said.

Lake Erie’s water level tends to peak in June, said Fred Petersen, director of Ottawa County’s Emergency Management Agency.

Portions of North Madison, North Jefferson and Perry streets in Port Clinton were closed Wednesday because of high water, Petersen said.

It isn’t just the mainland that’s affected, Petersen said. A road on Middle Bass Island has been damaged by erosion, he said.

One of the islands likely to be affected is Gibraltar Island, just off of Put-in-Bay. It’s the home of Stone Laboratory.

“We’re worried about damage to our facilities, our docks, our vessels,” said Chris Winslow, director of Ohio Sea Grant and Stone Laboratory.

Stone Lab also is worried about having to cancel events. Events might have to be called off because it’s unsafe to get people on and off the island and even on and off the boats, because they sit so high in the water relative to the docks, he said.

High water also affects beaches on the Lake Erie shore, said Joy Mulinex, executive director of the Ohio Lake Erie Commission.

“A lot of the public beaches are going to be underwater,” she said.

The high water also impact marinas, she said.

Some of floating docks that can adjust, but some have permanent structures that are built based on average water levels. They could wind up going underwater, she said.

High water levels can allow some cargo ships to carry a heavier load of cargo, said Glen Nekvasil, vice president of the Lake Carriers Association.

But the high water is also a mixed blessing, because when the water is high, the vessels have to slow down when they are going through a confined waterway, to lessen the effect of the waves the ship’s motion creates, Nekvasil. Slower speeds result in higher costs, he said.

Scudder Mackey, chief of the Office of Coastal Management in Sandusky, said his office has been getting an increased number of calls from property owners next to the lake and from local communities concerned about issues such as erosion and high water.

High water accelerates erosion and can cause the failure of existing shore protection structures, Mackey said.

Property owners along the lake who need to do something quickly can apply for a temporary emergency permit to build a shore structure to deal with erosion, Mackey said. The one-page form is available online and is designed to allow quick action, with the understanding that a normal permit will be sought later, he said.

The office also offers free technical site visits by its engineers, Mackey said.

Mackey said employees at his office, located at 105 W. Shoreline Dr. in Sandusky, sometimes have to park in the city’s Jackson Street parking lot when their own office’s parking lot is underwater.

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