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Wind, waves cause more than $10 million in damage along Lake Michigan coastline, Milwaukee Co. says

County believes it will qualify for state, federal aid
Posted: 4:53 PM, Jan 16, 2020
Updated: 2020-01-16 22:45:34-05

MILWAUKEE COUNTY — Saturday's storm surge is proving to be very costly for Milwaukee County's lakefront.

Emergency managers say Milwaukee County faces more than $10 million in damage, all from wind and waves on Lake Michigan. The county believes it will qualify for both state and federal disaster assistance.

Patrick Hintz spent the day touring Milwaukee's lakefront, knowing what he'd find on shore would look a whole lot different than it did just one week ago.

"It's pretty amazing how much the damage that's happened here out at South Shore, the Oak Leaf Trail, and even damage as far down as Kenosha," Hintz says.

Milwaukee County emergency managers spent the past few days assessing all of the damage from Saturday's wind and waves along the Lake Michigan coast. Their estimate is $10.6 million.

The county says $8 million of that is from lakefront parks, with bluff erosion, debris clean up, and more.

Potholes the size of craters could be found all across the parking lot Thursday, some as deep as two feet.

Emergency managers estimate it will cost $1.5 million to fix issues at the Port of Milwaukee alone. Altogether, the county believes it's more than enough to qualify for state disaster relief and federal funding.

Tim Grundl, the Associate Dean and Professor for UW-Milwaukee's Freshwater Sciences Program, says Lake Michigan is at a record high for January water levels.

"The water levels in the Great Lakes and Lake Michigan are essentially entirely controlled by a balance of evaporation out. Rain and river flow in. And that balance has been shifting towards the excess for the last few years," Grundl says.

"It will come and go, but the question is not whether it comes and goes but when it comes, if we're in trouble."

That means storm surges like last Saturday's could become more common, causing beach loss, bluff erosion, and damage to infrastructure until the lake recedes.

The county says it plans to send its emergency declaration to the state Friday. That will open up the door for potential aid.

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