State of the Beach/State Reports/OH/Shoreline Structures
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In 1955, the state of Ohio began requiring permits for the construction of shore erosion, wave and flood control structures as an early effort to protect and manage Ohio's Lake Erie shore. Permits were initially issued by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) through its Division of Shore Erosion, then after 1961 through its Chief Engineer and then through the Division of Water. As of July 2007, Shore Structure Permits are signed by the Director of ODNR.
A Shore Structure Permit must be obtained prior to the construction of an erosion, wave or flood control structure along the Ohio shore of Lake Erie. Shore structures commonly include nourished beaches, seawalls, stone revetments, bulkheads, breakwaters, groins, docks, piers and jetties.
A Submerged Lands Lease is required for wharfs, docks, marinas, piers, boat ramps, seawalls, breakwaters, stone revetments, groins, jetties, water intakes, utility lines, and any other acceptable structure or fill that occupies the Lake Erie Public Trust. Only the area occupied by a structure or fill within the Public Trust must be leased. Areas within the Lake Erie Public Trust that are included in a valid deed may be excluded from the leased area. Sandusky Bay and Maumee Bay are considered part of the Lake Erie Public Trust. The rivers and streams that empty into Lake Erie are not.
Ohio Coastal Management Program Policies relevant to shoreline structures include:
In an effort to update and clarify policies regarding development along Ohio’s Lake Erie coast, in 2007 the Ohio Department of Natural Resources began drafting revisions to portions of and drafting new Ohio Administrative Code (OAC) rules for Section 1501-6. The objectives for new rules are:
- Adapt the OAC rules for submerged lands leases and submerged lands permits (OAC 1501-6-01 through 1501-6-09) to reflect Governor Strickland's policy and applicable court rulings.
- Develop OAC rules for coastal structure permits (1501-6-31 to 1501-6-39) to provide clarification and guidance for Ohio Revised Code Section 1506.40.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Office of Coastal Management (OCM) is preparing a Coastal Design Manual to provide a document that assists engineers, surveyors, contractors and property owners in understanding the importance of the design process in developing and implementing safe, structurally sound and reasonable erosion control and lake access projects along the Ohio shore of Lake Erie, including Sandusky Bay. The goal is to promote better projects along the coast that equally consider Lake Erie as a shared natural resource along with the property owner’s need for protection of the upland from erosion and desire for enjoyment of access to the lake.
The Office of Coastal Management provides information on breakwaters, detached breakwaters, groins and groin fields, revetments, bulkheads, seawalls and jetties.
The Ohio shoreline of Lake Erie is one of the most developed and structurally protected
in the Great Lakes. As described by Fuller and Gerke (2005), “structural protection
began in the early 1800s with the development of harbors, which were designed as aids to
waterborne navigation. Although the harbor protection structures allowed river mouths
to stay open by reducing littoral sediment transport into the river mouths, the adjacent,
downdrift shoreline was deprived of sand. Since sand beaches provide protection from
shoreline erosion, the loss of littoral sediment has accelerated shoreline erosion in these
As the Lake Erie Commission (2004a) explains, “to combat this erosion, lakeshore property owners began armoring (i.e., hardening with stone, concrete, or steel) the shoreline. Examples of hardening or armoring include: dikes, revetments, breakwalls, seawalls, jetties, piers, retaining walls, boat docks, groins, gabions, etc.
Changes in the density of shoreline hardening or armoring along Ohio’s western Lake Erie coast have been documented by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources since the 1870s (Fuller and Gerke 2005). In particular, there is a significant increase in the proportion of densely hardened or armored shoreline in both Ottawa and Lucas counties along Ohio’s portion of western Lake Erie. For Lucas County, the western Lake Erie shoreline is now 98% hardened and armored. Much of this shoreline is protected by armored flood control dikes to prevent flooding of adjacent upland areas during periods of elevated Lake Erie water levels and/or short-term storm events.
An example of shoreline armoring which has apparently contributed to beach erosion and a reduction of beach recreational use is a seawall placed along East Harbor State Park's southeastern peninsula in 1957 by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. A nonprofit group called BeachAid-East Harbor is advocating for removal of 2,000 feet of the breakwall and performing a five-year study of how the enhanced flow of water promotes more synergy between the lake and a sand dune.
More information on shoreline armoring can be found in Chapter 11 of Ohio's Coastal Atlas.
The 2004 State of the Lake Report for Lake Erie suggested that a shoreline hardening indicator should be characterized not only by the number and extent of erosion control structures, but by the biological compatibility of those structures as well. The State of the Lake Report states:
- "Some portions of Lake Erie’s shoreline have been 100% modified by dikes and shoreline armoring. There is currently little remaining of the natural physical environment on Lake Erie’s shores except around the Bass Islands and Kelleys Island. Though shore stabilization can be achieved in ways that minimize destruction of or enhance habitat quality, these approaches have been little used historically."
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.
ODNR Office of Coastal Management
105 W. Shoreline Drive
Sandusky OH 44870
Perception of Effectiveness
NOAA's latest (April 2008) evaluation of Ohio's Coastal Management Program notes:
"The OCMP has not yet finalized a plan for increasing enforcement of and compliance with coastal regulations, even though the development of an enforcement plan was listed as a necessary action in the previous Section 312 evaluation findings. The OCMP has standardized internal office procedures to document public complaints regarding potentially non-compliant coastal construction or fill. As time permits, staff members are assigned to follow up on the complaints with a site visit. If necessary, a letter that explains the need to obtain authorizations and an application packet are sent to the property owner. However, in those cases where OCMP staff has not been able to resolve the issue, there has been no issuance of a “stop order” from the ODNR Director’s office. Since the previous evaluation, there has been no issuance of a compliance order, despite the fact that there have been numerous documented complaints each year from adjacent property owners and others. The ODNR should consider giving field inspection staff the authority to issue cease-and-desist orders to address the violations. Followup legal actions, including the assessment of financial penalties, can be taken from the Office of the Director of the ODNR and the State Attorney General’s Office.
Also, the OCMP has not addressed the issue of the numerous existing fill sites and structures that were either never authorized by the State, or did not fully comply with the lease and permit requirements. Both the 2005 and the 2000 Section 312 evaluation findings noted that the OCMP does not have an adequate follow-up system to determine whether permit conditions have been met. The OCMP could consider incorporating a permit requirement that applicants submit certified “as built” drawings after the permitted structure has been completed in order to easily verify that the permit requirements have been met. This might lessen the staff time required to ensure compliance with permit requirements. The OCMP should consider hiring a compliance officer to focus on this issue. However, the OCMP also needs to develop a plan to address the numerous existing fill sites and structures that were illegally constructed without any review or authorization by the State. For example, illegal fill and dumping of debris has the potential to pose a significant public safety hazard; and a poorly designed erosion control structure can accelerate and acerbate existing erosion problems, on the site of the structure itself, as well as on adjacent properties. These problems must be addressed."
The EPA document INDICATOR: LAKE ERIE SHORELINE HARDENING IN LUCAS AND OTTAWA COUNTIES, OHIO states:
"As the Lake Erie Commission (2004a) explains, "to combat this erosion, lakeshore property owners began armoring (i.e., hardening with stone, concrete, or steel) the shoreline. Examples of hardening or armoring include: dikes, revetments, breakwalls, seawalls, jetties, piers, retaining walls, boat docks, groins, gabions, etc. However, because each artificial structure can create erosion downdrift of the structure, the affected shoreline, in turn, requires armoring to mitigate the ravages of wave energy directly breaking on the shoreline and bluff as opposed to dissipating along the beach. This ‘domino effect’ of erosion and shoreline armoring continues to this day."
In addition, many shore protection structures have limited natural habitat value and alter the coastal processes and hydrologic connections that support critical ecological processes and biological life cycles in nearshore areas. This is particularly significant in that Ohio’s Lake Erie sport fishery alone is valued at $1 billion annually."
Public Education Program
The Office of Coastal Management provides information on dune construction.
The OCM Coastal Outreach and Public Education (COPE) Plan was developed in 2004 and includes five main objectives. The first objective is to increase internal and external understanding about Ohio’s ecosystem and the region’s relationship to prosperous coastal communities. Action 9 of this objective calls for the creation of coastal hazards education materials for various age groups and levels. Objective 5 seeks to improve education materials, outreach and training regarding coastal regulations and environmental laws. It lists five action items related to coastal hazards: 1) provide revised coastal guidance materials to reflect legislative changes to coastal regulations and make materials more user friendly; 2) work with the public and local communities to increase the understanding of coastal regulations; 3) encourage engineers designing coastal structures to participate in coastal engineering training activities; 4) establish Lake Erie Shore Erosion Management Plan; 5) coordinate with coastal partners to ensure coastal regulations and environmental laws outlined in the OCMP are properly enforced. Progress on these outreach and education objectives is expected through the completion of the Lake Erie Shore Erosion Management Plan and the Coastal Design Manual, and through the development of outreach materials related to the Coastal Erosion Area remapping effort.
Sand beaches once fronted many reaches of Ohio’s North Coast. Today, beaches have diminished due to the cumulative and secondary impacts of shore structures and offshore disposal of sand dredged from harbors, both cutting off sand supply to the littoral system. In their place are numerous erosion control structures built to protect urban development. The variability of the Lake Erie Shore combined with the amount of urban development presents a unique coastal management challenge. The Lake Erie Shore Erosion Management Plan will provide communities and individual property owners with solutions that include: natural types of erosion control, structures that incorporate aquatic habitat enhancements, offshore sand source, sand dredged from harbors, beach nourishment, sand bypassing, BMPs for docks/piers, mitigation for loss of sand and aquatic habitat due to structures, and soft measures with small structural components where necessary.
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.
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