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Presque Isle breakwaters passing test of time, tide

Sunday, November 04, 2001

By The Associated Press

ERIE -- The breakwaters around Presque Isle were controversial when they were built.

Instead of protecting the beaches, some people feared they would ruin the shoreline and damage water quality.

But nine years after the breakwaters' completion, Presque Isle State Park's operations manager and engineers say the stone structures are protecting the park's shore from the pounding of Lake Erie, as intended, and critics' concerns haven't materialized.

"They are accepted structures that have become ... a part of our landscape," said Harry Leslie, the park's operations manager. "People who have not been here in 10 or 15 years don't comment on the breakwaters, but on how nice the beaches are."

The breakwaters, 58 stone structures located about 100 yards offshore, are credited with decreasing the amount of sand needed to replenish Presque Isle's beaches.

Before the breakers, between 99,403 tons to 505,000 tons of sand were needed annually from 1975 to 1990 for beach replenishment, according to park records. Since the nearly $24 million project was completed, the amount of sand needed has remained close to the Army Corps of Engineers' prediction of 55,000 tons annually.

"Generally, they are working as intended," said Michael Mohr, a coastal engineer with the Army Corps of Engineers, though he also credits the lake's low levels in recent years.

The breakwaters also have created tombolos -- buildups of sand between the beaches and breakwaters. The tombolos provide free sand for touchup work on the beaches.

But not everyone agrees the breakers are effective, and some people will never like them.

Paul Knuth, retired chairman of the Edinboro University geosciences department, was a harsh critic of the breakwater idea when it was conceived and hasn't been swayed.

"In reality, they still have to do an awful lot of nourishment [sand replenishment] and movement of sand," Knuth said. "Maybe they would be spending more if they weren't there, but there are other factors."

"From my point of view, they have destroyed the attributes of an open beach and they have created a controlled situation," Knuth said.

Park maintenance has changed somewhat because of the breakwaters, Leslie said.

More sand drifts onto roadways, which must be removed, but it's also easier to maintain desired slopes on the beaches than in the past, Leslie said.

The breakwaters also are leading to the creation of natural dunes -- an important part of the park's ecosystem, Leslie said.

The breakwaters are inspected every summer and aerial photographs and shore surveys of Presque Isle are done.

Dennis Clark, a retired engineer with the Army Corps of Engineers, is credited with conceiving the plan. Three experimental breakers were built in 1978, and the Corps and state officials were soon convinced the idea would work. Construction began in 1989.

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