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Legislators Discuss Money For Beach Erosion Study

The beach at Portage Lakefront

The beach at Portage Lakefront is almost completely gone seven years after it opened. The yellow line shows approximately where the beach used to be. (Courtesy of Indiana Dunes Tourism)

Municipalities, parks officials, tourism experts, and environmentalists are asking the state for money to help prevent erosion along some Lake Michigan beaches. That was the topic of a summer study committee Wednesday.

The groups want about $850,000 to go toward a study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to come up with long-term solutions. After the study is done, Indiana would be able to ask for federal funding to address beach erosion. The groups also wanted money to temporarily reduce erosion by placing sand on beaches.

The City of Portage, Ogden Dunes, and the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority have offered to put forth half the money toward the matching funds needed for the long-term study.

One of the groups’ biggest concerns is Indiana’s number-one tourist attraction — the Indiana Dunes. Paul Labovitz is the superintendent of the park.

“A lot of our beaches are just barely wide enough for one person on a towel and their head would be on the slope of the dune behind them,” he says.

Labovitz says the Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk, which is part of the national park, has lost a significant amount of beach due to erosion — including its disability accessible launch.

Natalie Johnson with Save the Dunes says erosion not only threatens tourism at Indiana Dunes, but also the endangered and threatened species that live there.

“The wave action is now cutting into those dunes, it is taking it away — and once you get through the dunes, you start to get to other sensitive habitat," she says.

According to Indiana Dunes Tourism, since the national park designation, the dunes has already surpassed its average annual visitor numbers in the months of June and July alone.

Speakers at the committee meeting say erosion on Lake Michigan is caused by high water levels as well as manmade structures that can obstruct the flow of sand. 

Indiana Environmental reporting is supported by the Environmental Resilience Institute, an Indiana University Grand Challenge project developing Indiana-specific projections and informed responses to problems of environmental change.

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