WI - Seawalls ease property owners’ fears of erosion – but not for their neighbors

After Concordia University Wisconsin built a 2,700ft rock wall to protect its beach and bluff, neighbors saw their own beaches begin to wash away

Six years ago, David Spector bought an 80-year-old house perched on a 120ft bluff, with a panoramic view of Lake Michigan.

But that priceless view may end up costing Spector more than he could have imagined. His house, located about 20 miles outside of Milwaukee, sits in a particularly bad spot for erosion, with wind and waves whittling away at the base of the bluff. Ten years ago, the house stood 50ft away from the bluff’s edge. Today it’s less than 10ft away.

Spector knows it’s only a matter of time until the bluff gives way and his home will be gone.

“It’s such a beautiful view, it makes up for some of the heartache,” he said.

Spector and many of his neighbors say the erosion worsened after 2007, when Concordia University Wisconsin, a nearby private college, built a 2,700ft rock wall to protect its beach and bluff.

Experts say the $12m project is one of the largest seawall structures on Lake Michigan, which is a part of the Great Lakes that hold 20% of the world’s surface fresh water.

But while the university found protection behind its wall, almost immediately following the construction, neighbors say they saw their own beaches begin to wash away. The bluff, once a gentler slope, became a sheer vertical face as yards of their properties tumbled into the lake. Neighbors complained to the university, and two couples sued. Spector’s home was one of the properties at the center of that lawsuit, though the case involved the prior owners, not Spector.

A jury later agreed the Concordia’s construction caused “significant harm” to properties, but awarded no damages, leaving bitterness over the seawall to linger for some in the neighborhood. Concordia officials did not respond to a request for comment.

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