Works committee endorses project that calls for removing fences, expanding walkways
Port Washington’s Board of Public Works on Tuesday endorsed a plan to improve access to the north beach by beautifying and expanding the walkways leading to it.
“We should try to make access to the beach something people will enjoy, not endure,” Public Works Director Rob Vanden Noven said. “We should invite people to the beach and highlight our walkway along the lake.
“The idea is to get a move on and ideally build this before next summer.”
The current east walkway doesn’t say “Welcome to the north beach,” he said, but instead declares, “This isn’t where I should be.”
The plan calls for making the east sidewalk around the wastewater plant the main entrance to the beach by removing much of the chain link-and-barbed wire fencing, widening the walkway by 10 feet and perhaps removing the lightpoles that currently punctuate the path.
The path would be wide enough that police could drive a squad car onto the beach in case of an emergency, Vanden Noven said.
To ensure security at the wastewater treatment plant, ornamental fencing would be used, primarily on the far east and north ends of the walkway, he added.
“I think removing the prison fence will change the perspective immediately,” board member Jason Wittek said.
A direct route from the parking lot to the walkway would also be created, making it easier for people to find the sidewalk, Vanden Noven said.
The mishmash of existing signs at the south end of the walkway also would be removed.
“What a great idea,” Ald. Mike Ehrlich, a member of the board, said. “Widening the path there so people don’t have to just squeeze by is a great idea.”
The existing western walkway, which is difficult to find and poorly identified, would become the secondary access, Vanden Noven said. The existing chain link-and-barbed wire fence would be moved and an ornamental gate added.
While many people have suggested that the city move the wastewater treatment plant off the lakefront, that’s cost prohibitive, Vanden Noven said, estimating the price tag at $80 million.
“For a fraction of that cost, we can maybe not disguise the plant but make it blend in better and improve access to the beach,” he said.
In 1992, when the plant was expanded, lake levels were high and there was virtually no sandy beach north of the facility, making access an afterthought at best, Vanden Noven said.
But today, there is a wide beach north of the plant. Although the city has worked to improve access to it, most recently building a public staircase from Upper Lake Park, none of the existing walkways is handicapped accessible.
“I think this is a great idea at a millifraction of the cost of moving the plant,” Mayor Tom Mlada told the board, adding the plan balances plant operations with public access to the beach. “The bang you get for your buck is profound.
“You can see the way this would be transformational. And to get it done before next summer would be huge.”
The city could tap the wastewater utility’s reserve fund for the estimated $250,000 needed for the project, Vanden Noven said.
That cost, however, does not include the cost of rebuilding a retaining wall that runs along the western path, nor the cost of painting a mural on the tanks at the treatment plant, he said.
The proposed changes would emphasize the lakefront while minimizing the effect of the wastewater treatment plant, Vanden Noven said. “This says this is a beach entrance that has access to a wastewater treatment plant (as a secondary purpose),” he said — not a plant that just happens to have a beach walkway around it.
The board recommended hiring the Milwaukee-based firm of Clark-Dietz Engineers for $26,400 to design the improvements — something the Common Council will consider when it meets Tuesday, Nov. 19.
Clark-Dietz would partner with SAA Design Group, which worked on Rotary Park, to do the work, Vanden Noven said.
The companies would consider not only the concept endorsed by the board but other designs as well, he said.
“These are just my ideas,” Vanden Noven said. “There may well be other, better ones out there.”
The contract calls for a design charrette, a one-on-one meeting with “stakeholders,” such as wastewater plant employees, emergency responders and beach-goers, to be held, as well as a public information meeting, Vanden Noven said.
According to a preliminary timetable, there would be a project kickoff meeting in early December. The design charrette could also be held in December.
Concept drawings and alternatives would be presented to the city in January, and the final project sent out for bids in February or March.
This isn’t the only measure the city would take to improve the waterfront next year.
Vanden Noven said the city plans to plant some low-growing sumacs and other plantings near the top of the bluff to screen the wastewater treatment plant from visitors parking in the lot above the facility.
Image Information: THE NARROW PATH that leads along the east side of the Port Washington wastewater treatment plant to the north beach could be replaced by a wider, more welcoming walkway by next summer if a recommendation by the Board of Public Works is approved by the Common Council next week.
Photo by Sam Arendt