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EGLE asks property owners to remove temporary sandbags along lakes Michigan, Huron, St. Clair, and Erie

Shoreline property owners along many Michigan coasts faced crises in 2019 and 2020 when unprecedentedly high Great Lakes water levels increased erosion, causing beaches to shrink and bluffs to recede -- washing away homes, docks and more.

Sandbags installed at toe of bluff.

Sandbags installed at the toe of a bluff. 


The state acted quickly and decisively, speeding up the permit process for the tsunami of shoreline protection projects requests made during the crisis. All told, EGLE processed 3337 permits and temporary permits along Great Lakes shorelines in 2019 and 2020, about five times the typical requests during that period.

EGLE also issued 143 temporary permits for the emergency use of sandbags to provide immediate protection of threatened properties and exempted the installation of many other sandbags in the Critical Dune Area.

Normally sandbags are prohibited because the bags break down, releasing their plastic components and polluting the shoreline and Great Lakes – the source of drinking water and recreation for millions. They are also not a viable long-term solution as they sag and lose their shape and stability over time.

The permits for emergency sandbags specified they would be removed when the high water subsided. Those who installed sandbags under temporary EGLE permits have been contacted regarding removal of sandbags with the exception of Lake Superior permittees – where water levels have not receded below the ordinary high-water mark. Property owners with concerns about buried bags or the stability of a dune are encouraged to contact the EGLE staff that covers their county.

Removing the emergency bags is as simple as slitting them, removing the burlap/plastic material and leaving the sand. That will keep microplastic pollution from contaminating beaches and the lakes.

More information  can be found at Great Lakes Water Levels. Questions from property owners, including requests to maintain sandbags as essential to dune stability, can be addressed to the EGLE district office that covers your county.