Port officials say they donâ€™t know if there will be funds left in park budget for recommended improvement
A recommendation to install a railing along the 1,000-foot promenade on the north side of Coal Dock Park will likely be taken up by the
Coal Dock Committee next month, officials said Tuesday.
The Parks and Recreation Board had recommended the railing be installed, saying it is an essential safety measure that needs to be in
place to prevent visitors â€” especially young children â€” from falling into the west slip, where the currents make the water a dangerous
â€śI think thereâ€™s a lot of interest in the railing,â€ť Public Works Director Rob Vanden Noven, chairman of the committee, said Tuesday. â€śThis
is an issue thatâ€™s 99% centered around kids who might fall in. The concern is very understandable and real, and weâ€™re absolutely going to
â€śThe first question that needs to be answered is if we have money in our budget yet that could be used for it or do we need additional
Vanden Noven said the committee is waiting until the bills from the initial park development are tallied so members know how much
money it has to continue improving the area â€” something that is likely to be done by the committeeâ€™s November meeting.
â€śIt could be as much as $200,000,â€ť he said, the same amount the railing is estimated to cost.
However, even if the committee finds the funding, that doesnâ€™t mean the railing is a done deal, Vanden Noven said. Several other
projects are also under consideration for the park, including the installation of electric pedestals for use by festivals, a large entry sign and
â€śThatâ€™s before you crack open the master plan and everything thatâ€™s envisioned there,â€ť he said, noting the plan includes everything from
an interactive childrenâ€™s garden to a community center.
Committee members will have to weigh these options for the park when making a decision on the railing, he added.
Whatever the committee recommends will have to be approved by the Common Council before the work is done.
That means that even if the city decides to go ahead with the railing, it wonâ€™t be installed until next year, City Administrator Mark Grams
Grams said he initially didnâ€™t think the railing was needed, but since the park has opened heâ€™s changed his mind.
â€śI do kind of like the openness of the park, but I also see the potential problems,â€ť he said. â€śThe more I think about it, the more I think itâ€™s
needed. Itâ€™s a safety issue.â€ť
But Mayor Tom Mlada said heâ€™s not sure whether itâ€™s a necessary thing, noting other communities donâ€™t have this type of fencing.
â€śIâ€™m torn,â€ť he said. â€śThereâ€™s a lot of different opinions. Obviously the railing isnâ€™t going to be the complete answer to all safety concerns.â€ť
When the city designed the initial coal dock improvements, it envisioned the promenade as an area where large ships would dock,
Vanden Noven said.
â€śItâ€™s not uncommon to have no railing along a well-used dock where large ships dock,â€ť he said, adding that the lack of a railing gives the
city the maximum amount of flexibility.
â€śAs much as Iâ€™d like to see boats coming and going on a daily basis, realistically, it will probably be relatively infrequent,â€ť he added.
The promenade was built especially wide â€” 18-1/2 feet â€” so people can easily enjoy the park but still stay away from the edge of the
water, Vanden Noven added.
The city also wanted to make sure it had enough money to develop basic features in the park, he said.
The city borrowed $1 million for the park development, and it received a similar amount through grants to help create the park.
â€śThe railing is very expensive,â€ť Vanden Noven said. It would match the existing railing along the Harborwalk, which costs about $200
However, he said, the city did consider the possibility of adding the railing when designing the promenade.
â€śItâ€™s designed to easily install a railing,â€ť Vanden Noven said.
The lights along the walkway are mounted on top of posts that could be used for the railing, he said. However, the mooring posts for
boats would either have to be moved or the railing fabricated to go around them.
Gates along the railing would provide access for any ships that dock along the north end of the park, Vanden Noven said.
While some people fear a railing may keep people from feeling like they are close to the water, Vanden Noven said it may actually add
to the atmosphere.
â€śThere are people who want to lean over and see the lake, so in some ways it will allow people to get closer to the water,â€ť he said.
The city is also considering several other measures to improve safety at the park, including making the drive through the area a
one-way street and setting speed limits.
Image Information: STANDING JUST east of where a railing ends, Matthew Moris of Newburg fished from the promenade in Portâ€™s Coal Dock Park Tuesday morning. Most of the parkâ€™s major walkway does not having a railing dividing it from the harbor, which has raised safety concerns. Photo by Sam Arendt