Life On The Lakes: Bioengeneering Options

Life On The Lakes: Bioengeneering Options


As I sit down to write this article, the temperature outdoors nears fifty degrees…. unseasonable for January. Regardless, a glimpse of sunshine serves as a reminder that spring, and home improvement season, is just around the corner. In our articles last season, we touched on the topics of seawall repair and replacement permitting on Michigan’s inland lakes, and factors that might influence a landowners’ decision to consider “bioengineering” options to disperse wave velocity on their shoreline.

While the term “bioengineering” sounds complex, it is little more than the use of natural materials to stabilize the shoreline, as opposed to hard, artificial materials (typically, a steel-faced seawall). Since shoreline bioengineering can incorporate so many different types of materials and techniques, Michigan has classified its bioengineering permitting into two subparts. In this article, we will define some key terms that help with understanding the bioengineering process, as well as the dual classifications used in Michigan’s permitting scheme.

The Department of Energy, Great Lakes, and Environment (“EGLE”) classifies “low energy” sites as sites that are not on an unprotected point or island, not adjacent to a high traffic boating area, and locations where “the longest unobstructed distance across the lake from the proposed project site is less than one mile.”

The less than one mile of unobstructed distance requirement refers to a concept known as “lake fetch.” Lake fetch is the maximum length of open water that wind can travel. The more open water, the more wind energy can build into waves.

Low energy site bioengineering is limited to less than five hundred feet (500’) of shoreline, and often prioritizes the use of “biological erosion control measures.” These biological measures are often “coir logs.” Coir logs are biodegradable tubes filled with a variety of materials (often coconut fiber) and then wrapped in burlap.

“High energy” shoreline sites are generally classified as those sites that have eroded banks three feet (3’) or more above the ordinary water mark, sites that are on an unprotected point or island, and sites that are adjacent to a high traffic boating area. High energy bioengineering sites often incorporate a greater use of natural stone (not broken concrete) above and below the waterline.

If you have questions about your bioengineering permit application, please let us know by contacting us at

Linnell & Associates was formed in 2009 in response to the homeowners’ need for assistance during the economic downturn due to the housing crisis. Since then, Linnell & Associates has transformed into a well-rounded law firm with its focus on real estate matters.