MARQUETTE - Marquette is hoping to redesign a city beach that routinely showed elevated levels of water-borne E. coli bacteria this past summer.
Though a possible restructuring for the city's South Beach hasn't even entered the planning stages yet, Curt Goodman, the head of the city's Water/Wastewater Department, said the project could incorporate the addition of dune grass and the inclusion of additional sand to elevate the beach level.
Last summer, regular testing indicated that Lake Superior water near South Beach contained excessive amounts of E. coli bacteria on at least five dates.
A sign warning of high bacteria levels in waters off the city’s South Beach is pictured in early September, one week after the city closed the area for the season. City officials are now hoping to repurpose federal grant funds to plan a beach redesign that would address the elevated bacteria levels. (Journal photo by John Pepin)
Results of lake water samples from the beach showed average E. coli counts in excess of 300 parts per 100 ml of water on July 19, and on four separate days in August. The city then closed the beach for the season, while seeking to determine a source of the contamination.
If the average of three water samples exceeds 300 parts, state regulations indicate a beach must be closed until the levels decrease.
Since 2010, there have been just six other exceedances recorded at Marquette beaches.
After reviewing the data and looking at the layout of the beach, Goodman said the city had determined that levels were higher at South Beach due to the physical make-up of the beach, where the sand often stays damp. Additionally, the beach is a popular location for geese and gulls - bird droppings, primarily those from geese, often contain E. coli.
Goodman said the dune grass would be intended to discourage geese from landing on the beach.
"We do need to bring someone on board to review the existing beach characteristics and to do a preliminary beach redesign," he said. "By doing that, we feel comfortable we will be able to address the higher E. coli counts that are caused by seagulls and geese."
Goodman is hoping to redirect about $20,000 in grant money and use it to craft a plan for a redesign.
Those funds are the remnants of the city's $77,000 grant from the first phase of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and were initially earmarked to help the city supplement its beach testing initiative. Since 2000, that initiative has been funded annually by about $5,000 from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. The Superior Watershed Partnership partners with the city on those grants.
To facilitate the planning of the redesign project, Goodman last week submitted a request for an amendment seeking to expand the scope of the GLRI grant to include planning and improvements to South Beach. He was also requesting the deadline to use the GLRI money be pushed back from the end of the year to May 30, 2013. He hopes to have a response to the request by the end of the month.
At the recent Great Lakes Beach Association Conference, Goodman spoke with other beach managers and has also talked with representatives from the EPA.
"They agree with us," he said. "And we're not alone with the higher counts or in using the funds to improve (the beaches)."
If the cost of the project would exceed the remaining grant money, Goodman would likely need to propose the idea to the city commission for possible inclusion into the city's annual budget.
Kyle Whitney can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.