It’s a tough lesson for engineers to learn, but it is sometimes best to leave a waterway alone. It may not be a good idea to build there — nor try to fix, correct, or improve there. Don’t mess with Mother Nature.
A Jan. 10 article in the News Tribune reported Duluth Mayor Emily Larson’s plans to shore up, harden, and improve the lakeshore in areas near the Lakewalk and Brighton Beach that were battered by recent storms.
The lake level is currently two feet above average, and storm damage to the shore has worsened. But don’t worry, the lake will soon return to normal. Just a few years ago, the lake was two feet below average, but the Army Corps of Engineers said not to worry, the lake would return to normal soon, and it did.
Engineers can provide industrial designs to fix industrial problems, and this will be necessary for the seawalls within the harbor, but constructing concrete seawalls and placing large amounts of rip rap along the lakeshore will turn these parks into industrial real estate. Gone could be the natural rock outcrops and the beach of gray and red cobbles.
It would be much better to retreat. The plan to move the Brighton Beach roadway inland is a good example of this concept. But for the Lakewalk, why not design and build a boardwalk that can be easily repaired or replaced when damaged by storms? This would be less invasive to the natural beauty of the area and would save millions of dollars.
More than 100 years ago, docks and grain elevators were built in the area of the Lakewalk, but they didn’t last long; they were battered by the lake. The city was smart enough to retreat and rebuild these structures within the protection of the harbor. Duluthians then didn’t try to beat the lake.
Brighton Beach and the Lakewalk are treasures to the citizens of Duluth as well as to tourists. Let’s preserve these areas and not try to “improve” them.
David Hoag of Duluth is a retired engineer and geologist.