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Sand Blasted 

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

Page 4 of 4

Such well-intended and -financed studies usually are doomed to either a quiet death on the shelf or heavy rotation among a politico's talking points. But the first piece of this puzzle — the North Perry marina — has jumped off the drawing board, and that has Madison residents worried. How, they're wondering, will their slice of coastal bliss fit into the county's vision? To them, it seems Lake County is making plans for what to do with their property — plans they had little input in.

But one of the plan's main backers says down-drift property owners should see the coastal plan not as a nefarious master blueprint, but as the solution to their current problem. As chairman of the Lake County Port Authority, Harry Allen sat on the coastal plan committee. He also lives two houses down from the North Perry marina project, and like a good neighbor, he feels for the Madison residents.

"I know if my beach eroded very badly, I would look to whatever changed recently, irrespective of the comings and goings of the situation we've seen over the years," he says. "But the majority of the erosion problems [in Madison] are not caused by that structure."

According to Allen, the Lake County coastline has always been unstable. The current erosion in Madison, regardless of cause, is a case in point. He says such damage can be mitigated by, say, a series of barrier walls between Townline and Stanton parks, which would block the force of incoming waves and protect the sand inside. In other words: exactly what's proposed in the coastal plan.

"At the end of the day, we have what we have," Allen says. "And we've got to be focused on mitigating the impact either up- or downstream." He couches his argument in terms of the Greater Good: "The residents of Northeast Ohio want lakefront improvements, it's going to happen," he says, adding that for Lake County to position itself for investment down the line, it needs to secure the beaches. The half-dozen improvement projects outlined in the coastal plan are essential to that effort, including barrier walls along the Madison coast.

"We're all driving for that ideal world where everybody will have an improved situation," Allen claims.

DRIFTING AWAY

"That would be great, but not everyone has a couple million dollars lying around," John Miller retorts. He's standing on the bluff overlooking his beach, staring out at the water where the Lake County coastal plan has penciled in a barrier wall. It's late afternoon, the sun's prepping for its long walk offstage; below, the beach is empty except for the wave action. To the west, the metal docks and swept beach of Townline Park are also bare.

Barrier walls would protect the Madison beaches, but the question of price is relevant. Because the properties are private, public dollars aren't in play; the Lake County Port Authority has a program through which private owners can borrow money against their property for improvements — an idea that angers most of the down-drift owners operating on limited budgets.

Limited funding may also hold up their other option: legal action. The owners have spoken with lawyers about taking on North Perry, but they haven't hired one yet.

The current solutions are small change. The Army Corps still requires the village to dredge the marina throughout the year and redistribute the sand so that it flows back into the down-drift properties. The Corps is conducting a survey to see whether or not the dredged sand is actually making it to the Madison shore. If not, the village may be required to truck the sand directly onto the beach — a costlier endeavor.

Which leaves the property owners' future plans stuck in traffic. As they meet together and heft around the options, Miller, Lyndall, and the others still seem stunned they ended up here in the first place. In part, that's because they're worried about what might come next if the problem isn't addressed soon. After the beaches, the lake erosion won't stop. The bluff they sleep on every night could be next.

"You save all your life, work hard to get to a point where you can enjoy it," Miller says, his voice still sagging with disbelief. "And then it gets taken away from you."

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