Great Lakes erosion destroying beachfront homes

Lake Michigan erosion destroying homes

Montague, Michigan — Three of the five Great Lakes — Michigan, Huron and Superior — broke all January records for water levels, according to the Army Corps of Engineers. A warm winter led to more storm runoff and now people with beachfront property are locked in a battle to save their homes.

When Tish Gancer looks out at the waters of Lake Michigan, she sees the final resting place of her house. Built by her grandfather, most of the lakefront cottage fell off a cliff on New Year's Eve, leaving only a bit of foundation. 

Nick Bonstell, the director of the Ottawa County Emergency Management Team, said the lakes were at or near their lowest point as recently as 2013.

"Nobody has seen how quick and how much property has been lost in such a short amount of time with this type of erosion," he said.

Across the Great Lakes, the inundation has been accompanied by more frequent and intense storms that have stripped away the sandy base of beachfront homes. Rita Alton lives in Manistee and her nearly 70-year old home is perched a few feet from disaster. A third of a mile of her property has already washed away.

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A home toppled due to erosion on Lake Michigan. MLive Media Group

"I'm just sitting here waiting for the rest to go down," Alton said.

A desperate effort by homeowners is now underway to move their houses away from the approaching cliffs or build stone barriers to retain the shifting sands below.

"There's not many options, it's basically, do this or lose your home," Bonstell said.

The last two years were the wettest in nearly a century for the Great Lakes, virtually ensuring another season of unusually high water levels that could turn dream homes into nightmares.

There is a GoFundMe account for Gancer.

  • Dean Reynolds
    Dean Reynolds

    Dean Reynolds is a CBS News National Correspondent based in Chicago.