A New Approach to Shoreline Management in a Changing Environment

Diane Tecic, IDNR
Jennifer Caddick, Alliance for the Great Lakes
A New Approach to Shoreline Management in a Changing Environment
WAUKEGAN, IL -- For decades, North Shore communities have managed their respective shorelines independently, and have suffered the economic and environmental challenges of individual approaches to the protection of a shared resource. Communities and public landowners need to work together as a region to manage the precious sand that connects northern Illinois communities to Lake Michigan. This was the conclusion of more than 40 officials representing communities and businesses from Evanston to Winthrop Harbor at a joint meeting yesterday.

“Lake Michigan crosses all boundaries,” said Joel Brammeier, president & CEO of the Alliance for the Great Lakes. “Our strategies to manage its precious shoreline need to catch up, and I’m pleased to see these Illinois communities taking a strong step in the right direction.”

The Lake Michigan shoreline is a critical economic, environmental, and cultural resource to Illinois’ North Shore communities. However, man-made infrastructure and environmental changes have impacted shoreline stability, putting the coast at risk.

“Lake Michigan is a resource that impacts and defines our communities,” explained U.S. Representative Robert Dold. “There are challenges to ensure that our shoreline remains accessible, safe, and clean. It is important that we share the responsibility for managing the shoreline, and maintaining the benefits.”

The problems have been spotlighted at times of both low and high lake levels over the past ten years. From funding expensive beach replenishment projects to costly dredging after storms, local decision-makers and managers estimate that addressing these challenges on a project-by-project basis can amount to a total cost of at least $3.7 million annually.

“In Waukegan, we have been working hard to revitalize our community, and our lakefront is vital to achieving that goal,” shared Wayne Motley, Mayor of the City of Waukegan. “We witness everyday how closely linked our economy is to our environment, and this effort has provided a key way for us to collaboratively protect these important resources.”

Recognizing the complex nature of shoreline management, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ (IDNR) Coastal Management Program funded an 18-month project with Alliance for the Great Lakes to facilitate improved collaboration among public landowners on this issue and to enhance long-term capacity. The project brought together 42 elected, government, and business officials to discuss their communities’ shoreline management issues, hear from experts, and identify strategies for coordinated action.

Federal, state, and local elected officials met on July 26 in Waukegan for an update on the outcomes of this work, an effort that the elected officials helped to start in March 2015.  At this meeting, the IDNR and members of the Sand Management Working Group presented several critical next steps including: 1) addressing informational gaps, 2) exploring legislative, policy, and regulatory opportunities to optimize overall resource benefits, and 3) supporting the group’s long-term capacity. These next steps will inform targeted management strategies.

“Lake levels will inevitably change, but the resources we have to manage this change is not unlimited," said State Representative Sheri Jesiel (R-Winthrop Harbor). "This is why it's important that we be proactive and work together to craft well thought out policies that ensure our needs are met in a financially sustainable way that mitigates future complications."

As a part of the meeting, the IDNR Coastal Management Program highlighted new projects and partnerships underway to advance identified working group goals and needs. These efforts include: 1) a partnership with the University of Illinois’ Prairie Research Institute to enhance available technical capacity, 2) a National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration-funded project to map the beach and lake-bottom and to better understand sand movement, and 3) the establishment of a shoreline monitoring program to track changes over time.

“The Sand Management Working Group is such a critical effort to build the capacity, over the long-term, for local decision-managers and managers to tackle the challenges of shoreline management,” said Diane Tecic, Director of the IDNR Coastal Management Program. “The working group members have built the foundation for a strategic vision for the region. We are thrilled to be able to support this initiative.”

The Coastal Management Program will invite the Sand Management Working Group to continue to work together to develop sustainable, long-term strategies for the shoreline. The project final report, summarizing grant outcomes and targeted next steps, is available at https://www.dnr.illinois.gov/cmp/Pages/sandmanagement.aspx.

About Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ Coastal Management Program
As a trustee of the state’s public coastal resources, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ Coastal Management Program supports sustainable shoreline management through research and special projects, facilitation, grants to other organizations, and technical support.

About Alliance for the Great Lakes
The Alliance for the Great Lakes is the largest organization dedicated solely to protecting and restoring the Great Lakes. We work hand in hand with tens of thousands of volunteers, advocates, and supporters around the region to pursue protective policies, advance on-the-ground action, and educate our communities. Learn more at www.greatlakes.org.
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