Sand Blasted 

A wealthy town develops its coast -- and washes away its neighbors

Like his neighbors, Ted Lyndall has A View, and the caps are well-earned on this one.

You can't glimpse it from Chapel Road Extension, a gravel street in Madison swallowed up in tree shade and officiously guarded with a "PRIVATE DRIVE" sign. But beyond Lyndall's back porch, after an ample swath of backyard grass, Lake Erie swings into view. Today, the water's pixilated surface replays the morning sunshine. Canada floats off somewhere behind all the blue.

"Most of the people that buy on the lake, they buy because they want that uninterrupted view of the water," Lyndall says.

Tall and ruddy, Lyndall is a home contractor in the late innings of middle age. He's owned the property since 1983, and he and his wife built on it six years later. Like the dozen or so other buildings on the bluff, the home isn't a McMansion, but modest and well-maintained. Many of the owners here bought their lots when they were just a chunk of the tree line, then waited for the day when they could tap a pension or scrape together the savings to get the panoramic view they'd always wanted.

Lyndall is gingerly navigating the precipitous wooden steps to the beach, which sits below a 50-foot drop fully dressed with deep foliage. He's recapping years past, when extended family would trek to his home and celebrate holidays on the shore below. He's got photos to prove it: 3x5s of kids colonizing the beach with sand castles while adults watch from blankets.

"From the base of the bank to the water's edge was a distance of about 40, 50 feet. It was a lot of sand," Lyndall recalls. "We always have had that much since we owned the land."

Where the stairs bottom out, bright sun replaces the green shade. But instead of the wide boulevard of beach promised in the photographs, only about 10 feet of pebbly sand stands between Lyndall and the frayed edge of the water. As the waves pulse in, two's nearly a capacity crowd.

According to Lyndall and his neighbors, the reason this trembling lip of beach doesn't live up to its former glory can be found only a couple hundred yards west, right over the line that separates Madison from North Perry. Along that patch of coast, the neighboring village has constructed a $4.35 million private marina at Townline Park, complete with docks, protective breakwalls, and a residents-only beach.

But from where the Madison residents are standing, the project looks less like coastal improvement and more like botched surgery. The families along the coast claim their beaches have shrunk ever since the marina was built, the result of an interruption in the flow of sand needed for a stable coastline. It's a man-made blunder, they claim: one that's costing them the very asset that brought them out here in the first place — and one that North Perry should have seen coming.

"Our dilemma is, how do we get our beaches restored," Lyndall says as the lake slaps at his ankles. "They're not making any more of it."


The North Perry-Madison line in Lake County seems like Northeast Ohio's last reach, where the region begins to lean hard into the countryside. Out here, gas stations sell bait and roads rarely fatten out to more than two lanes. On the water, the lakefront has shaken free of the development and industrial pockmarks that are common closer to the city. The only real reminder of the major metropolitan area to the west is the Perry Nuclear Power Plant, which spills a constant signal of steam into the sky that's visible far and wide.

North Perry itself is a quaint pinprick on the map, a country village about 900 strong. But what the town lacks in size, it makes up for at the bank: The plant falls within North Perry's borders; thanks to taxes, the village's pockets are about $14 million deep. A neighboring village like Madison, with three times the population, has only a fraction of the cash. And when North Perry decided to build a marina, it could do so completely on its own, without groveling for county or state contributions.

The idea of a North Perry marina had been kicked around for several years, residents say. The stretch of coast in question was in need of a "harbor of refuge," an inlet that acts as an emer-gency safe zone for boaters caught out on the lake in a storm. The original design North Perry had in mind was small and unobtrusive, according to Madison residents Lance Walrath and John Miller. The men own the last two lots on Chapel, meaning their section of beach sits closest to North Perry.

When the idea was floated, the village kept them in the loop, and they had no problems with the original design. But when North Perry Mayor Ed Klco came into office in the mid-2000s, he tapped into a new firm for the project: JJR Engineering out of Wisconsin. Soon, the scope changed. The new plans called for a larger dock, residents-only beach, and larger walls of carefully placed rubble out in the water to protect the beach inside from waves and weather.

Madison residents to the east worried something that size could disrupt their own beaches. And they had good reason: The land had already been labeled by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources as a "coastal erosion zone," a red flag designating fragile conditions. Walrath and Miller began piping up at North Perry council meetings. Worry not, they were told.

"[North Perry] said they had done a sand-flow study that had guaranteed there wouldn't be any problems," Miller recalls.

Walrath remembers assurances from the mayor and council that they would soon bask in more sand than ever before.

More by Kyle Swenson

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