Destruction of shoreline not just a North Side problem

Frightening waves are a warning that Lake Michigan isn’t to be underestimated.

SHARE Destruction of shoreline not just a North Side problem

When I traded my historic home in Maywood for an apartment with a view of the lakefront, it was the sound of the waves that won me over.

But when my mother came to visit me for the first time, and I led her to the dining room for a look at the sparkling waters of Lake Michigan, she was not impressed.

“One of these days, that water is going to come all the way over here,” she said.

Unfortunately, now I know what she was talking about.

While the devastation that is being caused by the lake’s ferocious waves is often framed as a North Shore problem, the South Side is catching hell, too.

In recent months, Lake Michigan has pounded its way into our basement storage units and underground garages. It has roared across dry land, uprooting trees and destroying terraces. It has imbedded cars in blocks of ice and turned side streets into skating rinks.

Frankly, it is frightening to know that the same lake that lulls me to sleep can crash onto the shore with such force, I can feel my bed shake.

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Lake Michigan waves crash against the lakefront on Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020, causing erosion and ice formation near East 72nd Street in Chicago.

Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

After a series of storms beginning in October, concerned citizens sounded the alarm: Something has to be done to calm these angry waves.

Jera Slaughter, a long-time resident of Windsor Beach, one of the high-rise apartment buildings hardest hit by the high waves, is a vocal advocate for South Shore homeowners.

“I met with Ald. Gregory Mitchell at his office about what was happening on the South Side. Our lakefront was eroding just as fast, but what was always being televised was what was happening on the North Shore. There’s 30 miles of lakefront,” she pointed out.

“The force of the water did substantial damage to our property. I wanted to make sure that we were included in any conversation,” she said.

Slaughter has lived in Windsor Beach, a cooperative, for 43 years.

Although the cooperative made a temporary fix that included stacking massive concrete blocks two deep to prop up a seawall that crumbles with each violent storm, waves leaped over those barriers on Thursday afternoon.

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A bicycle sits covered in a thick layer of ice near East 73rd Street in Chicago on Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020.

Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

Last week, Mayor Lori Lightfoot joined Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton and Sen. Richard Durbin to request emergency declarations from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to deal with damages in excess of $25 million.

“This city is asking the federal government to act quickly and provide resources and funding to protect and rebuild the City’s lakeshore,” Lightfoot said, according to a news release.

Still, there is a fair amount of confusion over just what entity is responsible for stopping the lake’s assault on private lakefront property.

Dealing with that question is bound to slow down the process.

“The problem that I have is we need immediate action. We have watched this erode for a mighty long time,” said Slaughter.

“We don’t have time for a lot of studies. We need some action. We have to stay proactive and really involved and show them continuously what damage is being done,” she said.

Watching the waves leap over our makeshift barrier Thursday, as temperatures plummeted, brought back my mother’s warning.

This is a natural disaster in the making.

After a series of storms beginning in October wreaked havoc on the South Shore, Slaughter helped organize the South Side Lakefront Erosion Task Force.

She was living in the Windsor Beach Apartments in 1987 when Lake Michigan was hit with a seiche that caused extensive flooding to the high-rise building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

A seiche is a “standing wave that oscillates in a lake as a result of seismic or atmospheric disturbance.”

“We need a breaker. Something out there to slow up the force. We need something in the lake. We’ve made repairs, and at best what we’ve done will only hold for a couple of years. It is not high enough to do much. Water is still coming over it,” she said.

“The lake isn’t private property and it is causing a destruction. The bottom line, you can’t fix part of the lakefront; you have to fix it all,” Slaughter said.

She is right. We need a permanent solution, not just for the public space, but for the entire shoreline.

“We need a breaker. Something out there to slow up the force. We need something in the lake,” said Jera Slaughter, a long-time resident of Windsor Beach, one of the high-rise apartment buildings hardest hit by the high waves and a vocal advocate for South Shore homeowners. Feb. 13, 2020.

“We need a breaker. Something out there to slow up the force. We need something in the lake,” said Jera Slaughter, a long-time resident of Windsor Beach, one of the high-rise apartment buildings hardest hit by the high waves and a vocal advocate for South Shore homeowners. Feb. 13, 2020.

Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

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