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Beachgoers frolic around South Haven harbor dredging outwash

Posted on July 4, 2023

SOUTH HAVEN, MI — It was an unusual day at the beach.

Beachgoers collided with a harbor dredging project in South Haven this weekend, where a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers contractor was piping sand from around the Lake Michigan pierheads onto the South Beach public area.

King Company of Holland started dredging 57,300 cubic yards of sand from the Black River channel on Saturday, June 24. The project is scheduled to continue through this week.

The company received a $542,000 contract in January for the project, which is “nourishing” the beach by returning trapped harbor mouth sand to a coastal drift area,

The beach-building project is also building up flooding protection around South Haven’s beachside water treatment plant and drinking water reservoir under South Beach.

On Saturday, a bulldozer graded sand around a pipe outfall as beachgoers frolicked around the outwash that cascaded in a delta-like pattern across the shoreline.

South Beach was crowded as people sought a respite from sun and high temperatures. Families retreated down the shoreline as the outfall area expanded and some complained of a stink from the outwash, which at times had a rotten smell.

King Company sectioned off an area behind the outwash and periodically shooed kids away, but beach safety staff did not aggressively pursue people who disregarded the caution tape.

Army Corps officials said the dredged sand and water is tested to ensure it’s free of any contaminants which could be a public health hazard. The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) permits the work.

The smell is likely from decaying organic material vacuumed off the lakebed, said Capt. Samuel Briscoe, project manager for the Army Corps Detroit District.

“We do take samples before we dredge and if there’s any reason to believe it’s contaminated, we would pump it to a dewatering area, not just spread it on the beach,” Briscoe said.

“There’s no reason to believe there’s anything in the water that would be any kind of containment based off our sampling.”

King Company has been busy this and last year vacuuming sand with a hydraulic dredging platform in multiple Lake Michigan town which are struggling with harbor shoaling that’s built up, in part, due to an uptick in severe storms and low winter ice cover in recent years.

The company arrived in South Haven after finishing a similar project that ran over-schedule in St. Joseph.

“We see lots of sediment in motion now coming off of the high water we just experienced in Lake Michigan and all the shoreline changes that occurred as a result of that. All of that contributed more sediment to the near shores,” Guy Meadows, a nearshore hydrodynamics expert at Michigan Technological University, told MLive this month.

This is the second year the Black River mouth was dredged. In 2022, the Army Corps deposited 18,000 cubic yards of sand on an armored stretch of private shoreline south of South Beach.

This year’s South Beach project is funded by a Congressional earmark and occurs under a special permit from Michigan EGLE that allows dredge material to be placed near the city’s drinking water intake alongside the south pier.

“That’s why they placed farther south last year, because we hadn’t gotten that coordination with EGLE yet,” said Briscoe.

Briscoe said there’s numerous dredging projects happening along the state’s Lake Michigan coast funded by the recent Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

“There’s some projects where we have money now and its well overdue,” Briscoe said.

Briscoe said the public should avoid dredging placement areas until the work is complete due to nearshore currents and quicksand-like condition directly around the pipe outfall.

“The public should obey any signs posted saying to keep out of the material being placed on the beach and listen to any contractor staff in the area.”


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