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Indiana Department of Natural Resources

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Indiana Department of Natural Resources

Water > Lake Michigan > Beach Nourishment Beach Nourishment

An alternative method of reducing or temporarily stopping excessive erosion of the natural coast is to provide a "man-made" beach and dune-bluff. Feeding sand to a coast is referred to as "beach nourishment." Beach nourishment works by reducing sand-starved conditions by supplying sand needed for waves and currents to rebuild and maintain the natural protective beach and offshore sand bar system.

Dune LakeThe supply of beach nourishment sand can come from many sources. When a coastal structure traps sand on one side, creating erosion problems on the downdrift side, the trapped sand can be dredged and moved (by-passed) around the structure. This mechanical by-passing of sand places the same sand on the downdrift shoreline that would have arrived there naturally if the structure was not present. Sand trapped by a structure can also be moved back updrift (back-passing) to the portion of the coast where it eroded. Sand can also be obtained from inland sources, like quarries, and trucked to the beach.

Beach nourishment sand must be free of contaminants that might be suspended or dissolved in the water as the sand is reworked by the storm waves. Testing for contaminants can be a costly procedure. Criteria for contaminate testing is not standardized and can be inconsistent among agencies responsible for requesting the test procedures.

Erosion and reworking of nourishment sand provides three important beneficial effects. First, beach nourishment sand directly protects the natural dune-bluffs from wave attack by serving as a sacrificial dune and beach buffer zone between the waves and the previously eroding natural coast. Second, beach nourishment reduces erosion on adjacent properties by supplying sand to the regional beach and sand bar system. Both the beach nourishment project site, and the adjacent shoreline benefit from the placement of nourishment sand. Third, beach nourishment creates beaches that can be used for recreation.

With time, beach nourishment sand is completely mobilized as it moves down the shoreline providing protection to downdrift property owners as new beaches and offshore sand bars. When all the beach nourishment sand is carried downdrift, the project site must be "renourished" with more sand.

Incentives to use dredged material for a beneficial use as beach nourishment

Beach nourishment activities are encouraged through state statute. The "Sand Nourishment Fund" in IC 14-25-12 provides a mechanism to protect and increase sand in Indiana along Lake Michigan. Coastal communities can obtain funds through their local state legislators which can then be used for

  • the deposit of sand along the coast of Lake Michigan in Indiana;
  • the design and establishment of systems that cause sand to be deposited along the coast of Lake Michigan in Indiana; and
  • the prevention or reduction of the degradation of sand along the coast of Lake Michigan in Indiana.

Under another state statute, IC 14-29-3-2, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources is authorized to impose a “royalty fee” for the removal of dredge materials from the bed of Lake Michigan.

As an incentive to use sand for a beneficial purpose, the Natural Resources Commission has by rule determined this royalty fee should be waived if the person authorized to dredge agrees to place any suitable dredge materials along the Lake Michigan shoreline as beach nourishment for the beneficial use of the general public.

An incentive to use dredged material as beach nourishment comes from Rule 312 IAC 6-5-8.

312 IAC 6-5-8 Compensation for extracted minerals

This rule sets a royalty fee (typically in the past of $.25 per cubic yard) if the dredged material is not used as beach nourishment, or must be disposed of in an approved landfill due to contaminants.  To avoid the additional cost to dredging the dredger is encouraged to use the clean dredged sand beneficially as beach nourishment.

Sec. 8. (a) Except as provided in subsection (b), a person shall pay to the department a reasonable value for extracted

minerals. The value shall be as determined by the department and set forth in the license.

(b) An extraction is exempt from subsection (a) if the mineral is authorized by the department for placement, and is lawfully placed:

  1. for beach nourishment; or
  2. in a landfill as defined in IC 13-11-2-116.
    (Natural Resources Commission; 312 IAC 6-5-8; filed)

The Department of Natural Resources has taken further action to provide incentive for beach nourishment activities by making it easier to get authorization to place sand on the beach. A rule was adopted to establish a general authorization for beach nourishment under 312 IAC 6-6-1

Rule 6. General Authorization for Beach Nourishment to Lake Michigan

(sometimes called a "statewide permit") to encourage the beneficial  use of sand sources landward of Lake Michigan as beach nourishment  (ie. Recovery of wind blown sand off parking lots etc.).  A person who qualifies for the general authorization may place sand for beach nourishment, either within or outside the ordinary high water mark (OHWM), without obtaining a navigable waterways fill permit under IC 14-29-1-8.

Instead, a letter is provided to the agency by the person wishing to use the general authorization. In the letter, the person provides information concerning the site of origin of the sand, the site of deposit, which must be either in the Indiana Dunes State Park or the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, and other pertinent information, including any testing performed on the sand. Unless the Department of Natural Resources responds within 14 days to require full permitting or to impose conditions on the terms of the deposit, the general authorization is "deemed to have been approved and the person may proceed."  Permission must have been obtained from either the Indiana Dunes State Park or the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore before proceeding.

Locations where beach nourishment regularly occurs on the Indiana coast:

There are four places on the Indiana coast where beach nourishment has been regularly placed on the shoreline.

(1) At Hammond when new gaming boats were constructed within the Hammond Marina, extra dredging was required, and each time the dredged sand was placed on the adjacent Hammond Migrant Bird Sanctuary shoreline as beach nourishment, immediately west of the marina basin.

(2) At Whiting, maintenance dredging has been required several times inside the Whihala small boat launch basin and each time the dredged sand was placed on the adjacent recreational Whihala Beach County Park shoreline as beach nourishment immediately west of the boat launch basin.

(3) At Portage and Burns Harbor the construction of the Burns Waterway Harbor (Port of Indiana Industrial Complex) in 1967 began trapping 100% of the sand moving along the shoreline (from east to west) on the East (updrift) side of the breakwaters.  This trapped sand has built a wide beach, resulting in sand migrating offshore threatening to clog the Northern Indiana Public Service Company (NIPSCO) Bailly Generating Station and the ArcelorMittal steel mill cooling water intakes with the accumulating sand.  The sand trapped on the East side of the Port Complex no longer reaches the western (downdrift) Ogden Dunes shoreline, creating sand starved conditions, resulted in erosion and loss of the beaches and sand dunes on the Ogden Dunes shoreline.

In order to keep their cooling water intakes from clogging with accumulating sand the Northern Indiana Public Service Company (NIPSCO) and ArcelorMittal companies have had to dredge around their intake structures .  In the early years 75% of the sand was by-passed to the sand-starved shoreline of Ogden Dunes, and 25% was back-passed to Beverly Shores where the sand originated.  Now100% percent of the dredged sand is "by-passed" West around the Port Complex to Ogden Dunes and deposited on the lake bottom outer sand bar as beach nourishment.  The sand is placed no deeper than 18 feet of water depth (pinch out depth) so wave action can pick the deposited sand up and move it up onto the beach, and not be lost to the deep offshore lake bottom below wave base.

By 2011 the beach and lake bottom sand had built out far enough offshore along the ArcelorMittal bulkhead wall that the sand is now leaking out and around the north end of the ArcelorMittal east breakwater.  The beach has reached dynamic equilibrium with the incoming sand and the amount of sand moving offshore over the water intakes and around the north end of the ArcelorMittal east breakwater wall. The sand moving west along the north breakwater wall has now built out offshore and has begun to fill the 30 foot deep "Approach Channel" (leading from the open waters of Lake Michigan into the Port of Indiana entrance).  Two deep-draft ocean-going ships have run aground on this accumulating sand in the "Approach Channel" (November 15, 2011, and April 15, 2012).  In response to the shoaling of this Federal Navigable Channel, the first Corps dredging was an emergency dredge event in 2013, which placed the dredged sand on the US Steel shoreline immediately west of the Port of Indiana.  Subsequent non-emergency dredged sand has been taken farther downdrift (west) to the sand-starved shoreline of Ogden Dunes.

Back in 1985 the Burns Small Boat Harbor was built at the mouth of Portage/Burns Waterway (aka Burns Ditch) to provide a safe boating entrance in deep water for fishermen and boaters to Lake Michigan. The shallow water access to Portage/Burns Waterway had become so hazardous to boats during storm events a deep water access was necessary.  During and following the Burns Small Boat Harbor construction it was necessary to dredge the Burns Small Boat Harbor new basin and the Federal Navigable Channel portion of the Portage/Burns Waterway.  This dredged material was placed on the adjacent sand-starved shoreline immediately to the west, between Ogden Dunes and the new harbor basin as beach nourishment. This dredged material provided a badly needed influx of sand to the sand-starved shoreline.

On March 9, 1998 a severe blizzard storm on Lake Michigan caused approximately 40 feet of dune-bluff erosion on many parts of Indiana's coast, including the Ogden Dunes shoreline.  The erosion between Ogden Dunes and Portage/Burns Waterway (Burns Ditch) cut deeply into the natural dune.  Fortunately in 2000, the US Army Corps of Engineers conducted another dredging of the Federal Navigable Channel of Portage/Burns Waterway and the Burns Small Boat Basin to maintain the navigable waterway channel.  The dredged material was placed up “on the beach” as beach nourishment repairing the severe storm damage caused by the March 9, 1998 blizzard storm.  A portion of this 2000 beach nourishment, placed up on the beach, was still protecting the natural dunes from wave erosion in 2015. Most of this 2000 beach nourishment has eroded away over the years (2000 – 2016) and rising lake levels in 2014-15 and 16 threaten to increase erosion rates along this shoreline.

(4) At Michigan City construction of the Federal Lighthouse Breakwaters at Trail Creek began in 1836 and was completed in their present configuration in 1910.  The channel walls keeping Trail Creek navigable began trapping sand on the updrift east side immediately after first being built in 1836. The trapping of sand on the east side created sand-starved conditions and erosion on the west (downdrift) side. After The Michigan City NIPSCO generating station shoreline was built, it needed protection from erosion by constructing a steel sheet pile bulkhead wall with stone toe protection all the way from Trail Creek, west to Crescent Dune and Mt. Baldy.  This protective wall transferred the downdrift erosion from the west sidie of Trail Creek, westward to the natural shoreline of Crescent Dune and Mt. Baldy, now owned by the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Erosion of Mt. Baldy continued to threaten the natural migrating sand dune over the years.

There was a record low lake level set in 1964, followed by Lake Michigan rising continuously approximately 6 feet over the next 10 years to a near record high in 1974.  This continuous rise in lake level and accompanying storms resulted in significant damage to many properties around Lake Michigan, including severe erosion of the Crescent Dune and Mt. Baldy natural shorelines of Indiana.  To protect this natural part of Indiana’s coast caused by the sand trapping by the Federal Michigan City structures and the rising lake levels, two early beach nourishment projects were conducted by the US Army Corps of Engineers to save Mt. Baldy from continued erosion.

The first beach nourishment project in 1973-74 placed 227,000 cubic yards of sand along the Mt. Baldy shoreline to protect this largest migrating sand dune on the Indiana coast from further wave attack and erosion.  This beach nourishment sand was made to specifications (with a specific percentage of small, medium, and large grain sizes) in a local quarry and trucked onto the beach to protect Mt. Baldy and the adjacent shoreline.  Also at that same time (1974), 13,000 feet of rock revetment was placed along the Beverly Shores shoreline to prevent the loss of Lake Front Drive.

After this first beach nourishment eroded away and Mt. Baldy was once again under attack by storm waves, a second beach nourishment project placed 80,000 cubic yards of quarry derived sand on the shoreline in 1981. Eventually the second beach nourishment eroded away.  The added sand had rebuilt protective offshore sand bars somewhat reducing the severe threat to Mt. Baldy. Unfortunately, lake levels rose again to a record high in October 1986, increasing the erosive power on Mt. Baldy.  Fortunately lake levels dropped dramatically back down to average by 1990. However erosion continued on the lakeward face of the dune.

By 1996 a third long-term (50 year) beach nourishment program was developed, which has placed additional quarry derived beach nourishment sand on the Crescent Dune and Mt. Baldy shoreline each year, beginning in 1996 to present (2016).  During this time an unusually long-term low lake level period occurred from 1999 to 2014 allowing this continuous beach nourishment to maintain a wide protective beach along the shoreline of Crescent Dune and Mt. Baldy to Beverly Shores.

Unfortunately, lake levels have begun to rise in 2014, 15 and 16, causing the wide protective beach to narrow dramatically, allowing waves to once again reach to toe of the natural dune bluff along Mt. Baldy.

Hydraulically dredged Trail Creek Federal Navigable Channel:

A second form of beach nourishment at Michigan City has been protecting the Crescent Dune and Mt. Baldy shoreline from erosion.  The sand trapped on the updrift (east) side of the lighthouse jetty has been moving out and around the north end of the Michigan City lighthouse jetty wall and filling the Trail Creek Federal Navigable Channel for many years.  The Corps of Engineers, responsible for maintaining the Trail Creek  Federal Navigable Channel hydraulically dredges the outer harbor at Michigan City and pumps the sand westward onto the beach at Crescent Dune and Mt. Baldy shoreline.  This is the sand that would have moved along the shoreline naturally if the Federal structures were not there.  This finer grained hydraulically dredged material helps maintain the protective offshore sand bars, reducing wave energy before it reaches Mt. Baldy.