I’ve been complaining about shore erosion for years and, after weighing different options that could save our lakefront lawn from shore erosion, we finally took action and had a stone shore erosion structure built. Frustratingly, like with every other project we tackled this summer (why?), it did not go swimmingly. Neighbor drama got the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) involved and after a series of personal struggles this was definitely my breaking point and I really went to the mattresses over the placement of our stone shore erosion structure. This simple project became a huge gong show and the process dragged on for months, but the shore is looking great now, everything is settled, and it’s motivating to see progress being made. For anyone who doesn’t live on the lake, and doesn’t give a tiny goose gizzard about stopping shore erosion, I think you still might find my shenanigans – and the impressive way 45 tonnes of massive rocks were moved around our property – entertaining. At the very least, if you have ever gazed wistfully at my sunset lake photos on Instagram, you might be pleased to know that this lake view comes at a price.
I didn’t think to take many photos of the shore back then, but when we moved to the lakehouse the grass was tidily secured with old telephone poles and rocks, the docks were intact and fairly solid, and the yard looked wonderful:
The following two summers saw record high water levels in Lake Superior and the force of the water slowly loosened and then suddenly stole all but one of our telephone poles, eroded our lawn, and demolished our docks. One dock was actually swept away and the second heaved beyond repair. You can see it start to fall into disrepair in this hilarious post about Szuka and the time she tried to swim across the bay.
The last remaining dock is wonky, but we’re certain it’s helping hold our lawn in place so we kept it – and made a call to a local company who deals in gravel to build us a stone shore erosion structure. They had fixed our neighbors’ shore erosion problem this way and we had watched it hold for years, so we knew this solution would help – our only hesitation was the price. Across the bay, neighbors tried various things to save their lawns from the ravages of Lake Superior: concrete blocks (they shifted), small rocks (they got swept away), DIY wire mesh boxes with smaller rocks (so much work), but massive rocks seemed like the best bet. Here’s a peek at our shore at the beginning of this spring, before the work started:
The company we hired to build our stone shore erosion structure told us that, in our municipality, we had to get a permit from the local conversation authority, which we did. At the beginning of the spring, the water levels were low which was a great time for us to get this work done, because we were informed that the rocks had to be placed a foot from the water’s edge. Because the water’s edge moves, it was good timing. Unfortunately, the company we hired is in high demand so even once we had our permit in hand, work didn’t start for a couple months. Meanwhile, the water level got higher and higher and we no longer had the beach area where we had planned to place the rocks. Once again, the water was lapping at our lawn and eroding it more. When we finally got the call to schedule the rock delivery and get the stone shore erosion structure built, I expressed my concern that the water level had rose and we no longer had a gap between the lawn and the water. I suggested we postpone until the next spring, because the permit was good for two years. I was laughed at by the owner and was informed that we could put the rock exactly where we had planned. He was so confident and had done so many shores, I decided to schedule the installation. Truthfully, it had been so hard to pin him down to a time, and neighbors had actually been forced to wait a whole year to get work done, so I worried that if we postponed another year it might never happen. A few weeks later, 45 tonnes of massive stones were delivered and it only took two days to transport them to the back yard and build our stone shore erosion structure.
As nice as it is to have work done professionally, as two avid DIYers Hubby and I were really curious about the process. We didn’t pester the operator while he was working, but if you follow me on Instagram you caught a glimpse of just how curious I got when he left for the day! You can tell this is before the MNR drama because I’m smiling.
When the stone shore erosion structure was completed we were thrilled because it’s such a beautiful way to save a lakefront lawn from shore erosion. Concrete blocks or wire baskets filled with rocks (two popular options) look unnatural but these rocks could have always been there. Here’s what it looked like when the work was first done – look carefully because, spoiler alert, every single rock had to be moved!
On the second day of work, someone from the MNR came knocking because a neighbor had reported that we had an excavator in the water (which is forbidden). We did not, but it resulted in a stop work order while an investigation took place. I’ll spare you the boring details of how many back and forth calls and emails I endured. It was frustrating because the MNR kept changing their story. The guy who came out the first time said it was probably no big deal, we might need to get a permit, maybe some paperwork. He said not to lose any sleep over it because there was nothing wrong with the work, it would have been approved had we gone through the proper channel. The next person who came out echoed the same thing. In the end though, both of them denied saying anything and the MNR decided that we had to move all 45 tonnes of rock completely OUT of the water. They wanted to see that one foot gap between the water and the lawn. I explained that, at this point in the season, we’d never see that one foot gap because the water seeps onto the lawn (hence the need for the stone shore erosion structure in the first place). We would have to put the rock back many feet, maybe meters, on to the lawn and tear up grass to see a gap between lawn and water. This could potentially lower our property value (lot size matters!) and expose our poor dock to more erosion and increase the likelihood of losing it too. I explained to the MNR that we were putting the rocks exactly where we had planned, but the water had changed and that if they came back next spring it would all be as planned. They just wouldn’t budge – the contact person there kept saying they can only base decisions on the current water levels, they can’t go back in time. Hilariously though, when I asked what would happen if we kept the rocks and looked at it again in May, when the water levels are low again, the MNR said that at that point, they’d refer back to the high water level of August 2018. So today they couldn’t consider the past, but in the future they would refer to the present. WHAT?! So many of my questions went unanswered and when I asked a question, I’d get a phone call back with a threat. It was unbelievable. With all due respect to the folks who surely don’t make the rules and just have to enforce them and deal with angry homeowners like me, it was so frustrating how they flip flopped, made arbitrary rules, and instead of explaining things they just went straight to threatening me which didn’t work and left them sort of baffled when I said I wanted to go to court.
After a lot more back and forth, I just said no. We have so many land issues right now (our garage was apparently not built on our land back in 1992, and apparently we own the road and are liable for it but the municipality won’t remedy that situation unless they can make a ton of money from the transaction and they’re favoring developers over home owners) so I just got to a point where I dug in my heels. I refused to push the rock completely out of the water. I conceded that I would push it back a bit, or I would have the stone removed completely and just allow the dog poop and goose poop and whatever else flow into Lake Superior. I honestly didn’t want to do that because I really care deeply about the health of the lake, but I was pretty much done with getting pushed around when it comes to my property’s border.
I spent many sleepless nights searching past lawsuits and decisions made by the Supreme Court of Canada on similar issues. I learned about riparian rights and how the MNR doesn’t use the correct legal definitions of ownership when it comes to the high and low water lines. Given that the young woman we dealt with used the word “groin” and not the proper “groyne” to refer to a jutting out piece of rock we had, I don’t think she was prepared for someone like me. More back and forth ensued and finally I sent her a photo of the shore erosion structure and asked the MNR to draw a line where they wanted the rock moved to and, in the end, I think they compromised because the line they drew was a few feet back but definitely not out of the water. We complied and pulled the rock back which actually made the rock wall taller, something that, aesthetically, we actually preferred. The MNR also asked that we taper the rock wall so we lost our “groyne” (I still have my groin though) and I was happy with this compromise. After so much back and forth, and waiting, and delays, once we got the go ahead the company came back quickly to do the work which was approved via email and then in person by the MNR and the case is finally closed! At the end of the day, it’s definitely our mistake because we know now that we should have also contacted the MNR in addition to the conservation authority. We just listened to the company we hired, who was just as surprised as we were because they got their info from the municipality and had put rock in the water for other customers if the water level rose after acquiring a permit. Hilariously, the MNR had a battle with our municipality over the same thing, so the MNR folks conceded that they have a lot of education and bridge building to do because even our municipal office didn’t know the rules! Am I totally silly for digging in my heels for a bunch of rock? Totally! Is it stupid that I didn’t do the research beforehand? Yes. But was it worth it? Yep, I’m not going to lie, it was. Although I’d have preferred none of this headache, I’m glad I didn’t back down because I would have been so miserable losing so many feet of property because the water was high the day the work was done. Here’s where the rock was pulled back to:
The stone shore erosion structure looks so good and the large rocks are doing a great job of containing our once-eroding shore. With the shore restored, we were motivated to tear down the second, janky dock and next spring we’ll do something to make the remaining dock look better. The leaning flag pole and yard light (which crowded into every sunset photo I tried to take!) were also removed.
The lawn looked a little tore up from the shore up, lol, so we laid some sod and grass seed, which are starting to take. 9/10 geese agree the new sod is delicious. We still need to find a better way to permanently keep them off our property, but that’s a battle for next year!
With all of the drama, I never ended up getting Adirondack chairs so next summer I want to spruce up the fire pit area, paint some chairs aqua, and restore the dock into a little deck area. But we made major progress this year!
In the end, apparently it was a neighbor who called the MNR in retaliation because I didn’t wave hello to her. I really believe that the world is peopled by children masquerading as adults. I’m no exception.