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'You're throwing money in the lake': Shoreline erosion continues to pose a problem in Caledonia

Posted at 5:17 PM, Mar 11, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-11 20:52:22-04

CALEDONIA — After several houses toppled into Lake Michigan, Racine County homeowners are taking costly preventative measures to avoid becoming the next casualty.

Giant boulders are being used to slow shoreline erosion in Caledonia. Weighing up to eight tons, the boulders are extremely dense quartzite and the contractor placing them says it should protect the shoreline for nearly 100 years.

"It's the heaviest rock you can buy," Randy Vassh, owner of Vassh Excavating & Grading said. "It's dense."

Vassh says his business has changed dramatically over the last five years. Before, he says most of their business was from excavating and landscaping. However, as lake levels have risen in the last five years, 70 percent of his business has switched to lake shore protection.

"Every year it would increase," Vassh said. "I'd get seven jobs a year then pretty soon, I'm at 17 jobs signed on and I have probably another 15 signed on."

Vassh spent Wednesday moving the giant rocks around a home in Caledonia. The massive boulders tumbled down the bluff, echoing like thunder throughout the neighborhood. They're heavy and strong by themselves, but together they'll be even stronger.

They'll need to be in order to take on an even stronger adversary in Lake Michigan.

"My neighbor, who lived here for 40 years, says there were about 20 foot waves," Jeff Daniel, a resident reinforcing his break wall said. "Probably the biggest they've seen in 40 years. That was the point where all of this changed."

Daniel has lived in his home in Caledonia since 2015. There was protection on the bluff but he says it was from about 40 or 50 years ago. So, it did little to protect his patio from a strong storm in January. Pieces of stone riddle the shoreline below. It's not a lost cause, like several homes in Somers that have fallen into the lake within the last few months. However, despite his lengthy yard and sloped hill down to the shoreline, he's not taking any risks.

"It is what it is," Daniel said. "I don't know what to say. The power of Mother Nature is something to be reckoned with."

It's no cheap fix either. Vassh says these fixes can cost anywhere from $40,000 all the way up to about $150,000. However, the estimates are on a case by case basis.

But for people like Daniel, he says it's better to pay now than think about what his home value would be if it falls into Lake Michigan.

"You're throwing money in the lake," Daniel said. "You'll never get it back, but I don't think you have any choice. It's terribly expensive but if you go up and down the shore and you see those that don't have protection, it works its way back and at some point it falls in."

Vassh fears if the lake levels continue to rise, the choice for homeowners will be made for them.

"Their home isn't worth as much as it would cost to fix it if the lake came up three or four more feet," Vassh said.

Governor Tony Evers submitted a request to FEMA in February, however any money received from the Federal Government would be reserved for public land. Any private properties, like Daniel's in Caledonia, would not be eligible for any federal funding.

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