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Wisconsin Point Committee votes to address beach erosion

Members of the committee approved a two-part motion to begin a beach nourishment project and develop a long-term plan to stabilize an area of Wisconsin Point that has been eroding and is close to the old landfill. The measure requires city council approval before any work begins.

Seagulls take flight while beachgoers look for agates near Lot 1.
Seagulls take flight while beachgoers look for agates Thursday, July 8, 2021, along the shore of Lake Superior on Wisconsin Point. Data has confirmed substantial erosion in the area that the Wisconsin Point Committee would like to see addressed.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

SUPERIOR — Superior’s parks, recreation and forestry director Linda Cadotte first noticed changes in Wisconsin Point’s shoreline between designing and implementing the dune restoration project several years ago.

The beach area at Lot 1 was eroding.

“Part of the reason I started asking the question is because I noticed when we started to design the boardwalk to when we installed, we had already removed about 20 feet of it,” Cadotte said during the committee meeting held Tuesday, Feb. 8.

She said the erosion has been “very aggressive in that spot," and her suspicions were confirmed by data.

Now, the Wisconsin Point Committee is recommending the city take action, both in the short-term and long-term to address it.

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“There’s some pretty substantial change on the beach that we’re seeing,” said David Grandmaison, St. Louis River wild rice restoration and habitat project coordinator for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. “What was unclear was the extent of this erosion process and the severity of the problem. Not to mention there are concerns about the possible integrity of the nearby landfill.”

Using data gathered since 2008, Grandmaison conducted a preliminary analysis of the shoreline, which revealed the greatest shifts were occurring in the area of Lot 1, near the old Wisconsin Point landfill, and along Schafer Beach, which was corroborated by LIDAR data, he said.

“We’re starting to see there is a substantial shift in the contour of that shoreline,” Grandmaison said.

“There’s not a whole lot of land there,” said committee chairman Tom Bridge who walks along the point routinely.

People enjoy the shore of Lake Superior near Lot 1 on Wisconsin Point.
People enjoy the shore of Lake Superior along Wisconsin Point on Thursday, July 8, 2021, an area of the beach that has been subject to erosion.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Under normal circumstances when erosion affects city-managed shoreline, Cadotte said the practice is to let nature run its course unless assets are at risk, but in this circumstance, the erosion is happening near the old landfill.

“You could say ‘Gosh, the boardwalk. Big deal,’" Cadotte said. “In this case, it’s an old landfill. If we let that continue to erode, we’re going to be having a lot bigger issues than not having a beautiful boardwalk access.”

Cadotte suggested one possible solution could be nourishing the beach, a process of placing additional sediment to widen the beach.

“In this case, that would be irresponsible of us to not take action to prevent erosion of a very controversial space as it sits,” Cadotte said.

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Grandmaison said the city could use dredge materials from the harbor to nourish the beach area. The project would use appropriate, quality sediment to restore it.

“Most of what’s at the bottom of the bay is not the same as what’s at the bottom of the lake, is it?" Bridge asked.

Grandmaison said the materials vary, but sand resources are retrieved during dredging.

They were resources used when the piping plover habitat was created in Allouez Bay at the other end of Wisconsin Point. Cherie Hagen, the DNR's Lake Superior basin supervisor, was involved in that project.

“We will be taking a close look at the chemistry to ensure that it is suitable, kind of clean material,” Hagen said. “We wouldn’t want to move any sediment of concern to the point.”

Deanna Erickson, director of the Lake Superior National Estuarine Research Reserve, is a new member of the committee.

“My observation is that this spot in particular seems really vulnerable to wind,” Erickson said. “Wind speeds have increased by over 20% ... since 2007 because of the variability between the temperature of the lake and the land.”

With the narrow vegetation strand in the area being made narrower by erosion, officials should consider shoreline plantings as well, Erickson said.

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Hagen said the project could have an initial phase to nourish the shoreline to protect what is there and a second phase that looks at resiliency.

Cadotte's preference would be to pursue a beach nourishment project sooner rather than later, with an additional phase to stabilize the area.

Erickson made a two-part motion to pursue a beach nourishment project and develop a long-term plan to stabilize the area.

The committee unanimously approved the motion, which requires approval by the city council.

Hagen said the earliest any project would likely get underway would be 2023.

A drift wood structure is erected along the shore of Lake Superior
A drift wood structure stands along the eroding shoreline of Wisconsin Point on Saturday, June 5, 2021, near the first parking lot that allows access to Lake Superior.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Shelley Nelson is a reporter with the Duluth Media Group since 1997, and has covered Superior and Douglas County communities and government for the Duluth News Tribune from 1999 to 2006, and the Superior Telegram since 2006. Contact her at 715-395-5022 or snelson@superiortelegram.com.
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