State of the Beach/State Reports/MI/Shoreline Structures

From Beachapedia

Home Beach Indicators Methodology Findings Beach Manifesto State Reports Chapters Perspectives Model Programs Bad and Rad Conclusion

Michigan Ratings
Indicator Type Information Status
Beach Access77
Water Quality66
Beach Erosion7-
Erosion Response-6
Beach Fill4-
Shoreline Structures 4 3
Beach Ecology3-
Surfing Areas26
Coastal Development{{{19}}}{{{20}}}
Sea Level Rise{{{21}}}{{{22}}}


Michigan's Submerged Lands Program is responsible for regulating construction activities on Great Lakes bottomlands, including shore protection structures proposed lakeward of the jurisdictional ordinary high water mark (OHWM). Authority for the regulation of the placement of shore protection structures is provided for in Part 325, Great Lakes Submerged Lands, of the NREPA. Submerged Lands Program staff assesses the impact of rip-rap, seawalls, groins, jetties, docks, breakwaters, etc., on nearshore coastal processes and coastal marshes. R 322.1015 of the administrative rules for submerged lands applies to proposed shore-protection projects, and requires:

Rule 15. In each application for a permit, lease, deed, or agreement for bottomland, existing and potential adverse environmental effects shall be determined. Approval shall not be granted unless the department has determined both of the following:

(a) That the adverse effects to the environment, public trust, and riparian interests of adjacent owners are minimal and will be mitigated to the extent possible.
(b) That there is no feasible and prudent alternative to the applicant's proposed activity which is consistent with the reasonable requirements of the public health, safety, and welfare.

Michigan's Shorelands Management Act, section 32305 states that the department, pursuant to Section 32302, shall determine if the use of a high-risk area shall be regulated to prevent property loss, or if suitable methods of shoreline protection shall be installed to prevent property loss. Other provisions of Michigan's Shorelands Management Act are summarized in the beach erosion and hazard avoidance sections.

High Erosion Risk Areas Rules

High risk areas are areas where the active erosion occurs at an average annual rate of 1 foot or more per year.

Section 281.22 (11) states that a special exception shall be granted, and a portion of the required setback distance waived, for the installation of an approved shore protection project if all of the following conditions are met:

(a) A local agency is contractually responsible for the perpetual care of the shore protection structure. The responsibility will be defined in a written agreement between the department and the local agency. The local agency shall agree to perform maintenance or repairs to maintain the integrity of the shore protection. The local agency shall submit to the department a financial plan for maintaining the structure.

(b) The shore protection structure is designed and constructed to meet or exceed a 50-year storm standard. The design and construction shall be certified by a professional engineer. If the structure is constructed in the waters of the Great Lakes or lies below the ordinary high watermark, a permit pursuant to the provisions of Act No. 247 of the Public Acts of 1955, as amended, being S322.701 et seq. of the Michigan Compiled Laws, shall be obtained for the shore protection structure.
(c) A favorable finding is made by the local agency, with input by the department, that a greater public good exists to support the use of a shore protection structure rather than a natural shoreline in terms of all of the following:

(i) The preservation of fish and wildlife habitat.
(ii) The value to the entire community of a natural shoreline as opposed to the value to the entire community of additional development that is made possible by the shore protection.
(iii) The impact of the loss of sand movement along the shoreline.
(iv) The impact on erosion of land in the immediate area of the shore protection structure.

Before making the finding, the local agency shall hold a public hearing. Notice shall be sent to all riparians within 300 feet of the proposed shore protection structure and to the department.
(d) A favorable finding is made by the department that a greater public good exists to support the use of a shore protection structure rather than a natural shoreline in terms of all of the following:

(i) The preservation of fish and wildlife habitat.
(ii) Protection of the public trust.
(iii) The impact of the loss of sand movement along the shoreline.
(iv) The impact on the erosion of land in the immediate area of the shore protection structure. (e) There is a minimum of 30 feet from the shore protection to any permanent structure. If the bluff or dune is unstable due to height, slope, wind erosion, or groundwater seepage, the department may require a setback of more than 30 feet or an engineered bluff or dune stabilization plan, or both. In areas of steep slopes, a greater setback may be necessary to provide access for maintenance equipment and a safe building site. If the parcel has existing permanent structures which are less than 30 feet from the proposed shore protection, there shall be sufficient access to permit the maintenance and repair of the shore protection.

(f) Shore protection is already a common feature of the shoreline lying within 1,000 feet of the proposed shore protection structure.

Also see here.

These rules may also apply:

Some local communities have banned seawalls or are considering such bans. An example is Saint Joseph, which placed a temporary ban on seawalls in January 2012 (until July 2012) when a decision could be made by the city to either allow or ban seawalls.


Michigan has an on-line permit tracking system that lists any coastal changes, including shoreline protection structure permits, since 1980. The database can be queried to indicate the number of permits for shoreline protection issues on the Great Lakes. The length of the structure is not included in the database.

There is no cumulative study of shoreline structures along Michigan’s shoreline. It is known that some areas have continuous shoreline structures, while others areas have nearly no structures.

Historically, various types of shoreline structures have been permitted and utilized along Michigan's coast. The MDEQ has implemented permit requirements to minimize the negative influence resulting from the various structures while still allowing owners to protect their property. The extent of shoreline armoring has not been comprehensively quantified along the entire 3,200 miles of the state's coastline. Information on shoreline armoring is available in state offices in the form of aerial photographs and computer mapping. A quantification of shoreline armoring within a specific geographic area is possible using this information.

In 2014 a new seawall in Frenchtown Township was being built to protect the Detroit Beach subdivision from Lake Erie’s high water. The new seawall will be built 30 inches in front of an existing steel wall that was built about 20 years ago after the last major flood. It will keep water from penetrating behind it and has a flair at the top to make waves roll back, dissipate and slow down the next wave. The wall will be similar to a shoreline renova­tion that was completed in 2012. That $5 million effort was designed to protect five subdivisions in the township, between Baycrest Subdivision and Grand Beach. More info here, including a photo showing the lack of beach in front of the seawall.

The 2001 Assessment notes that a detailed analysis of shore protection structures is being prepared for use by staff of the MLWMD in the review of permit applications. This document will represent the culmination of years of study conducted by the MDEQ and the University of Michigan on shore protection structures and their effect on shoreline erosion rates, beaches, littoral transport rates, and other impacts.

The Fiscal Year 2017 Civil Works Budget for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers provides $4.62 billion in gross discretionary funding for the Civil Works program. This budget lists proposed projects and the associated budget justification by state.


Martin Jannereth
Land and Water Management Division
Michigan Department of Environmental Quality
P.O. Box 30458
Lansing MI 48909-7958
(517) 335-3458

Perception of Effectiveness

All citizens benefit from Michigan's high-risk erosion area program's efforts to reduce the need for public disaster assistance, promote consumer protection, and reduce the loss of natural resources. The high-risk erosion area program also increases consumer awareness of the danger of shore erosion, and allows staff to provide advice and technical assistance to many citizens in managing their erosion problems.

According to the 2001 Assessment (note: there is now a 2006 Assessment, but it does not focus on coastal hazards), coastal hazards continue to be identified as creating high risk to property. Many coastal areas have experienced drastic changes, including destruction of natural protective features, installation or deterioration of shore protection structures, and placement of structures in shoreline areas subject to natural changes through flooding and erosion. Episodic and chronic erosion continues to present a significant hazard to coastal properties, even during recent lower water levels. Michigan's shoreline is a dynamic environment, and the rate and types of change will vary over time for many reasons. Many structures now at risk of damage were built years ago, well landward of the erosion hazard. The 2001 Assessment report details issues pertaining to the siting of new development, shore protection for existing development, and beach erosion, in the light of changes in lake level.

Development along Michigan's coastline, combined with ongoing erosion process, leads to an endless battle to protect investments. Even during low water periods, the dynamic nature of the shoreline places development there in contact with coastal hazards. Also, when Michigan's coastal resources are damaged or eliminated by construction, much of their strength is lost, putting life and property at risk. Michigan's shoreline areas are at risk from inappropriate development.

The 2001 Assessment also describes guidelines to ensure that new construction and redevelopment in coastal hazard areas comply with established setback requirements based on the MDEQ's research on historic shoreline change. It also describes guidelines for the placement of erosion control structures along the Great Lakes shoreline, taking into account erosion rates and potential adverse impacts to adjacent properties.

Public Education Program

The 2001 Assessment describes public education and outreach efforts that include presentations to audiences ranging from contractors and consultants to high school science classes.

A series of articles in Great Lakes Echo explore the growing trend to re-engineer hardened coastlines using "soft engineering" approaches.

Living on the Coast, from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, describes how natural processes affect the coast, including changes in lake levels, storms and storm surges, waves and wave climate, transport of sediment, ice on the shore, shoreline erosion, lakebed erosion, and movement of water on the land. The booklet also describes how to protect coastal investments by adapting to natural processes, restoring a natural shoreline, moderating coastal erosion, armoring the shore, stabilizing bluffs and banks, controlling surface water and groundwater, building environmentally friendly shore protection structures, and working with engineers and contractors. The final section covers risk management and the economics of protecting your coastal investment, including shoreline property features and value, government regulations to protect a coastal investment, costs of shore protection, and accounting for climate change.

State of the Beach Report: Michigan
Michigan Home Beach Description Beach Access Water Quality Beach Erosion Erosion Response Beach Fill Shoreline Structures Beach Ecology Surfing Areas Website
2011 7 SOTB Banner Small.jpg