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Cuyahoga County residents want access to the lake, lakefront property owners need help fighting erosion. Is a publicly funded lake front trail the answer?

Published: Jul. 13, 2021 at 5:13 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - For the past three years, lake levels have been at an all-time high. Creating erosion and ripping away backyards along the lakefront.

“Nobody wants their house to fall into the lake,” said Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish. “Nobody wants to lose half their backyard into the lake.”

But eroded property isn’t an easy thing to fix. And climate change is making it worse, as the area experiences more winters without lake ice.

“It’s too expensive for one property owner to put up a break wall, but we can do that for people,” said Budish.

Now Cuyahoga County planners are proposing a public-private partnership that would give the public access to the lakefront in exchange for using state and federal dollars to shore up private properties along the lakefront.

The preliminary plans have revolved around the possibility of adding a bike trail at the bottom of the bluff that abuts the lake on both the East and West Sides. Property owners would benefit from the erosion protection provided in the project. The public would get access to the lake at nearly a dozen public access points.

Most of the shoreline in Cuyahoga County is privately owned. There are only 2.7 miles of public shoreline outside of Downtown; 18.5 miles of shoreline are privately owned, according to the county presentation.

“The initial reaction of people, as you can understand, is, do I really want public walking or biking right outside my windows,” said Budish. “No doubt, there is bound to be opposition. But surprisingly, we found that many owners have already given the green light.

“Now we’re starting to get a little bit more focused on those specific areas where people are saying can you assist us,” said Director of County Public Works, Michael Dever.

In fact, similar projects are already underway in Euclid and Rocky River.

The county committee in charge of the project held a virtual public meeting Tuesday to share plans they’ve drawn up and answer questions.

At the meeting, the county has presented a number of different possible trail designs based on the existing bluff conditions along the lake. Some include break walls, green space, and small beach areas. The possible designs vary significantly on the East and West Sides.

Issues including the locations and designs of access points through neighborhoods to trails will also need future consideration.

“There may be opportunities to have a little beach area,” said Executive Director of Planning Commission, Mary Cierebiej. “A cobblestone beach, or have some kind of path along the water... as opposed to being on top.”

It’s a lot for property owners to take in, but they don’t have to make any decisions immediately. The county has already had preliminary conversations with stakeholders, a steering committee, and some property owners. They want to have further discussions with other landowners.

The county just asks that the public hear them out. They believe the project will not only bring in more visitors but will also increase property values.

“Recognizing coastal erosion really doesn’t respect property boundaries,” said James Sonnhalter, a planning manager with the Cuyahoga County Planning Commission. “So it’s better that we and our neighbors start talking together to see what the best approach is to solve this problem.”

The county is collecting public opinion through a survey. Take the survey here. It will be open until July 31.

Lakefront property owners can get more information about the project here. You can also tell the county whether you’re interested in participating in this project or not through the link. County planners are also available to talk before signing a letter of interest or declining to participate. You can send an email to info@countyplanning.us.

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