Bluff homeowners face great costs to save homes

Posted at 9:28 PM, Jun 02, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-02 22:33:59-04

Homeowners in Caledonia and Mount Pleasant have to spend tens of thousands of dollars protecting their homes from bluff erosion while they wait for help.

Some started projects years ago on their own, but some take years to get permits.

Now that one Caledonia project is under way, they're using more than one million pounds of rock to protect the bluff.

"That's what stops it, you know, it breaks the water before it gets to the land," said Randy Vaash, owner of Vaash Excavation & Grading, Inc.

One four lot project is about $300,000.

Richard Outland, a Caledonia Homeowner has lived in his lakefront home for 52 years.

"It takes time and effort and a lot of money to beat the lake, but it can be done," said Outland.

This isn't his first fight against nature. He bought his home at "a time again of high waters and serious erosion."

He terraced the land when he bought it, cutting steps into it. 18 years ago he and neighbors joined together to build rock walls in the water.

"The idea being to have the rocks buried into the hillside, so when the storms did come in, they wouldn't undermine and wash out the rocks. Well, that happened this last winter," he said.

Now, he's going back to the Department of Natural Resources to fix the damage. Outland hopes to amend his permit from before, since the permit process took two years then.

Vossh said the homeowners whose land he's working on now lost dozens of feet waiting four years for permits.

"Once it's gone, it's gone forever there is no putting it back," he said.

The DNR said in the last four years their average processing time was 43 days for permits, which cost $603 before the contract work is done on property. Since the permit process is written into state statute, the DNR said they can't change the cost or time it takes. But, since Racine County declared the erosion and emergency, the DNR said "to allow property owners to stabilize the bluff, prevent further erosion and protect safety and property, in urgent situations, the department is allowing the temporary placement of materials at the toe of the bluff under easy-to-follow conditions while the property owner seeks approval for a permanent solution."

They said they will approve requests as soon as a plan is received, including the materials that will be used, their location and how the material will be placed.

The DNR said they have concerns about homeowners who have recently placed materials over the bluff on their own.

They said in a written statement, "During high water events in previous years, well intentioned efforts to deploy broken concrete and other materials over the top of the bluff resulted in excessive weight on the sloping bluff face rather than protecting the toe of the slope and worsened erosion problems."

Vossh is glad emergency permits for professionals like him are being issued.

"I think it's important that we start taking charge, because the lake is coming up. And the higher it gets, the more damage it does."