GENEVA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ohio — In the last week, about 35 feet of shoreline has disappeared from Township Park, gobbled up by a relentless Lake Erie.
“It’s a beautiful place to live,” Rich Phinney, who lives across the road from the park, said. “I look out my window and obviously I see the lake.”
Phinney said that just a few years ago, he was still able to take his young grandson to the park’s sandy beach for a swim. But with accelerating erosion, that’s no longer an option. The sandy beach is gone, as is a lot of the park’s shoreline.
“It’s sad,” Phinney said. “It’s going in a hurry.”
Geneva-on-the-Lake Mayor Dwayne M. Bennett said the village has tried to address the erosion issue for a few years now, but the erosion has never been quite this drastic.
“We just noticed that it’s getting worse and worse and worse,” Bennett said.
Amanda Briggs, a Geneva Township Park Trustee, said normal erosion in this area is about three to four feet a year. According to Jeremy Shaffer, the village administrator, approximately 40 to 50 feet has been lost in the last year. Of that, 35 feet has been lost in the last week, with 15 of that in just the last couple days.
“Honestly, there’s a lot of shock,” Briggs said. “I think people knew it was a problem, but once you come down here and look at it, it’s really quite devastating.”
Leaders believe the accelerated erosion is due in part to high water levels and the lake not freezing this year.
Lake Erie’s water levels are continuing to rise, according to a new report from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Detroit District. Levels are approximately two and a half feet above the long-term average.
“We just hate to see it get to a point where it’s not usable,” Bennett said of Township Park.
There are also serious concerns about the effect of the erosion on the village’s infrastructure, including roads, sewers and storm drains, as well as the fate of private lakefront properties.
Initial plans to shore up the area and revitalize the beach have been scrapped, according to Briggs.
“Now we’re literally just looking at funding to save what we have at this point,” Briggs said.
But the cost of saving the shoreline keeps going up.
“It just keeps compounding,” Shaffer said. “$1.3 million was the last estimate. However, it’s way over that because that’s before we lost 35 feet.”
Leaders hope voters will approve a five-year, $1.25-mill levy in the March primary. For a $100,000 household, Briggs said the levy would cost about $42 each year.
“This’ll be critical for us,” Briggs said. “At this point, we don’t have the funds necessary. I mean, it’s going to be a million dollars just to do the basics here. So that money will allow us to get immediate funding from the bank and also apply for [federal or state] grants. Most grants are matching, so that’ll give us more power that way.
Bennett said the village would “like to do some type of retaining wall and some type of retention for the water.”
Phinney said in addition to not being able to swim with his grandson, he has cottages that he rents to tourists.
“I used to be able to tell them they could come over here and swim,” Phinney said. “But now, if they want to swim, there’s a beach still. It’s to the west of the marina. But right now, there’s no way to go swimming here unless the water comes right up to the bank.”
So far, Phinney said, no one has complained to him about the lack of swimming at Township Park and he does not think it’s affected tourism yet.
“I don’t think people are staying home because of this, but who knows what could happen in the future,” Phinney said.
Shaffer, the village administrator, said a Congressional representative is coming out Tuesday to take a look at the erosion, and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources will be coming out later in the week.
“The village is looking at partnering with the Township Park, cause we’re two separate government entities,” Shaffer said. “We’re supporting them to go after federal or state funding. There’s a permitting process. We would have to apply for Corps of Engineers permits, and then we’d have to apply for ODNR permits.”
However, that won’t help residents who are dealing with issues on their property.
“The village can assist in dealing with the public land or public infrastructure,” Shaffer said. “Anything that threatens that, we can take action on. When it starts going into private property, we can’t necessarily intermingle public funds directly, unless there’s like a public use or public access, but we still want to help those residents because it’s an immediate threat to their survival, being right on the lake like that.”
The village plans to hold a meeting later this week to speak with neighbors about their concerns.