Village of Fox Point Beach Drive protection

Scott Brandmeier is the Director of Public Works for the Village of Fox Point, Wisconsin

Who are you/what is your role?

I am the Director of Public Works for the Village of Fox Point. I’ve been in this position for over fifteen years. Prior to that I was working in the private sector for an engineering consulting firm in Sheboygan. I also practiced law for three years.

Fox Point shoreline with temporary revetment in place. Photo credit: MSA

What is happening in your village because of the high lake levels in Lake Michigan?

We have seen a natural fluctuation of lake levels that tend to repeat over a period of ten to fourteen years. In about 2012 or 2013 the lake levels were at what was considered a historical low and the Army Corps of Engineers and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources thought those low lake levels were the new normal. I have a drawing in my office that dates back to the 1950s that depicts the lake levels from 1860 through the early 1950s and show an all-time high in 1876 and 1886 of 583.4, which, ironically, is higher than what is commonly referred to as the all-time high in 1986 of 583.2.

We are now seeing high lakes levels, as recently as 2019 and 2020. The high levels and the battering of the shoreline in 2019 brought us to this point. We are now looking at how to protect the shoreline and the infrastructure. We have two sections of Beach Drive within twenty to thirty feet of the shoreline and a sanitary sewer main that is literally in the lake, about twenty feet down, that need to be protected from the high lake levels and wind and wave action. Our manholes along the shoreline are being exposed. In October and November of 2019 and January of 2020, storms threw debris, driftwood and concrete rubble, up and onto the road a distance of fifty or sixty feet. It was really something else. We documented, in the six weeks between mid-October and early December of 2019, that we lost upwards of seven feet of shoreline just in that six-week period. If we allowed it to continue, we were concerned we would lose the road. We estimate thirty-five to forty residents would then lose access to their property because there is only one way in and out. The road has been there since the 1930s.

Anticipated project timeline for the construction of the coastal resiliency project. Photo credit: MSA

What are you planning to do?

We are looking at a shoreline revetment system, with possible enhancements of the area between the shoreline and the road, to better accept the storm water drainage, possibly incorporate some green infrastructure to reduce the impacts of flow into the lake and prevent the damage to the storm structures from the storm events. We are looking at placing three to six-ton boulders strategically located along half-mile of the shoreline to absorb the wave energy and protect the shoreline. This is done in a lot of locations throughout the country.

How long will this solution last?

It could be fifty years. We are designing it for what we experienced in 2019 when we had near record highs. We are looking at the cyclical nature of the lake and the design will accommodate the fluctuation of the lake through high and low levels.

Do you have hope for the future?

You always have that hope. The Army Corps of Engineers and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources said it best when we met in October 2019 at Schlitz Audubon Center. They thought seven years earlier we were at the new normal, which was a really low lake level. Fast forward and we saw those levels increase. It ends up being a balance and how much money you want to spend. You identify historically where the lake levels have been in the past, and the worst you have seen, like 1986, 2019, and early 2020. You set that as your baseline, along with some buffer, and deal with the cyclical nature of the lake levels. I’ve seen it work in other communities, in Door County, and along many harbors. It works well.

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The views and opinions expressed in this interview are those of the authors and do not represent official policy or position of the University of Wisconsin-Madison or the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts.

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Scott Brandmeier, Director of Public Works, Village of Fox Point, WI