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Port running out of money for rest of breakwater PDF Print E-mail
Feature
Written by Kristyn Halbig Ziehm   
Wednesday, 03 May 2017 20:49

Short $3.3 million, city may not be able to complete ongoing project

Completing repairs to Port Washington’s breakwater is estimated to cost $3.3 million — money the city doesn’t have.

The Common Council is expected to approve a memorandum of understanding with the Army Corps of Engineers on May 16 that would commit the city to spending $250,000 to place armor stone along the lake side of the south breakwater, but unless additional funding is found, that could be the last work done on the breakwater for the foreseeable future, officials said Tuesday.

“Our remaining funding options are limited,” Mayor Tom Mlada said. “We have turned over virtually every rock we can think of. There is a lot of work that remains. We’re running out of options.

“We can only borrow so much. We can only tax so much. We can only cut the budget so much.”

Although some people might advocate for the city to borrow the funds to complete the work, Ald. Doug Biggs warned that this is virtually impossible given levy limits and budget constraints.

“We don’t have that kind of credit limit on our credit card,” he said.  “If we decide to spend $3 million on this, that is $3 million we can’t spend on something else.”

That “something else,” he noted, includes road repairs and park improvements.

Grams noted that the city has funded about $500,000, or 18.5%, of the $2.7 million in breakwater improvements done so far. The rest has been financed through grants and an initial $950,000 allocation from the Army Corps of Engineers.

The city has been working on repairs to the breakwater since 2014, when it used the Army Corps funds to place armor stone along much of the north breakwater.

The following year, the city used grant money to repair the cap on the steel-cell sections of the breakwater, and this year work is being conducted on the first phase of improvements to the gateway. 

That work, which should be done by the end of June, will make the breakwater handicapped accessible, adding a fishing platform and widen the walkway to between eight and 10 feet.

The second phase of the gateway project, which includes trails, wetland restoration and a paddlecraft launch area, is likely to be delayed, officials said, because of planned changes to NewPort Shores Restaurant, which adjoins the gateway.

“It’s kind of a question right now until we know what’s going to happen there,” City Administrator Mark Grams said.

Mlada also noted that fundraising for the second phase of the gateway project, which is expected to cost $1.1 million, has been challenging.

The most important work yet to be done on the overall project is the placement of armor stone along the south breakwater,  officials said.

There is virtually no armor stone along the south breakwater, and the Corps of Engineers has identified this as the most critical item yet to be completed, Mlada said.

If the city signs the memorandum of understanding, Mlada said, the armor stone could be placed in October — something that is critical to ensure the breakwater doesn’t fail in a winter gale.

Ald. John Sigwart said the work is critical. While he was city engineer in the 1970s, he said he saw models demonstrate what could happen if the breakwater failed.

“If we lose any portion of that breakwater, it does get really ugly in the marina district,” he said.

Ald. Mike Gasper asked if the Corps of Engineers would then step in to repair the breakwater, since the federal government owns it.

The Port breakwater is considered a local asset, Mlada said, and even if it fails the federal government would consider repairs a low priority.

In addition to placing armor stone along the south breakwater, there are two other phases to the overall breakwater repairs that need to be done, Mlada said.

More armor stone should be placed along the marina side of the north breakwater and the cap on the east end of the north breakwater also needs to be replaced, he said — projects that total $3 million.

If the city were to place railing along the east end of the breakwater, Mlada said, it would add another $440,000 to the cost.

 Much of the breakwater funding has come in the form of grants, and on Tuesday the Common Council approved a resolution to support the city’s application for a $1.44 million boating infrastructure grant that could pave the way for much of the additional work to be done.

Ald Doug Biggs noted that, if the city receives this grant, it would be especially valuable because it does not require a city match and because it could be used to match other funds.

“It really is a $2.9 million opportunity for the city,” he said.

The city is also in the process of applying for a $1.3 million harbor assistance grant which would require a 20% city match, Grams said.

Grams noted that the city has unsuccessfully applied for both the boating infrastructure and harbor assistance grants before, but officials from these programs urged the city to reapply, saying “they will give us serious consideration in the next go-around.”

The biggest problem, he said, would occur if the city did not receive the boating infrastructure grant but did receive others that require a match.

“Because of our financial situation and commitment to road improvement projects, it is hard for the city to commit to those kinds of dollars, $810,000, for a structure it doesn’t even own,” he said. 

The city also has received a $550,000 recreational boating grant that is to be used for improvements to the east end of the north breakwater, Grams said. The city is looking to see whether a portion of those funds could be used for the armor stone on the south breakwater.

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