The Business Journal last year reported Lake Michigan is king of lakeside real estate locations, worth over $1.3 billion in properties as of summer 2019, but rising water levels and continued erosion of the shoreline could threaten its reign.
David Eggerichs, board member with Harbor Hawk, a rapidly growing marine construction company in Grand Rapids, said Lake Michigan’s water level is the highest it has been in the last 100 years. If the water doesn’t go down, he said, the erosion damage could cost the lakefront real estate industry $100 million.
“That’s absolutely devastating,” Eggerichs said. “Very few people are actually taking the time to preserve their memories, protect their investment through a proven process we developed at Harbor Hawk. Everyone watches everyone else, and if nobody does anything, they just watch the devastation together.”
Harbor Hawk, which was founded in 2019, is in a unique position to deliver a solution. Company President B.A. Amey brings 35 years of experience in the construction industry and previously worked at a firm building skyscrapers and department stores.
“It certainly has been an honor to work in that space to see all the different circumstances,” Amey said. “We have a market that has very few contractors as a whole doing things the way we’re doing it.”
Amey said the grit required for seawall construction is more mental than physical, and builders must be able to adapt to a constantly changing environment.
“One minute it’s calm and 70 degrees out, next you got five-foot waves coming in eroding what you’re literally standing on while you’re welding the wall,” Amey said. “With that, and being responsible for millions of dollars of equipment, they have to have the ability to adapt to the circumstances.”
But the work is necessary to keep lakefront real estate afloat. Amey said realtors are losing prospects because of erosion. Most potential buyers would think twice about owning a lakefront home with no shoreline.
In a video presentation for Harbor Hawk, RE/MAX Realtor John Postma said if property owners don’t remediate their erosion damage, they could see a value decrease of close to 20%.
“We don’t even look at the house,” Postma said. “I take my client to the bluff … and if I see a disaster … and every storm I lose another five to 10 feet of the lawn, I don’t care how nice the house is, because the issue is the remediation.”
The seawall work also helped propel Harbor Hawk to exponential growth for just a year-old company. Eggerichs said the company has about 600 customers for whom it installs docks and lifts, but its mere 22 seawall contracts amount to a greater financial number because of the scale of the work.
“The monetary growth has really been on that seawall side,” he said. “Building a seawall, on ice, in zero degrees in the middle of winter. You could never get me to go out there.”
Eggerichs said he was dismayed venturing up the Lake Michigan coastline and seeing some of the most beautiful homes that are now unrecoverable because the erosion was allowed to progress unchecked.
“They’re going to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars just to get it removed, and if it falls into the lake it’s going to cost them even more,” he said.
Nathan Vanderploeg, chairman of Harbor Hawk, added the company also can help provide financing for homeowners who might feel they don’t have any options
“We’re not trying to hard sell anybody,” he said. “We want to help people understand their options.”
According to Harbor Hawk, each step of the project is video recorded to ensure quality control. Heavy equipment is ferried in from the lake to prevent it from tracking down the dune and causing more damage.
Additionally, the work to save adjacent properties can be looped together into one permit, cutting down on costs and the timeline to complete a project.
Harbor Hawk was launched as a startup building docks and lifts at the beginning of 2019. By the middle of the year, the company launched its seawall construction division and quickly grew from zero to 35 skilled employees and $3.8 million worth of equipment.
The company amassed $5 million in revenue so far this year and plans to close out 2020 with $15 million.