City takes emergency action to protect marina

Rising lake level prompts Harbor Commission to approve $39,000 project to modify floating piers
By 
KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Ozaukee Press staff

The Lake Michigan water levels have been on a relentless rise, covering what were once wide sandy beaches in Port Washington, threatening lakefront properties with erosion and now costing the city almost $39,000 to protect one of the community’s greatest assets, its marina.

On Monday, the Harbor Commission approved an emergency resolution that allowed it to hire McMullen & Pitz to extend the pilings on which the piers float by two feet.

Without that work, Harbormaster Dennis Cherny warned, the piers once needed to ensure people could get to their boats during record low lake levels could be pushed off the pilings.

The extension pieces will be welded onto the almost 120 pilings in a process expected to begin later this week, Cherny said.

It could take several weeks to complete the work, he said.

The emergency resolution allowed the commission to award the contract without seeking bids. The city did obtain two proposals for the work, with the second coming in at $45,000.

The project will be paid for out of the marina’s fund balance.

Although the company will have protective coverings for the boats while they do the work, Cherny said, owners will be told when the work is being done so they can move their boats, if desired.

Last month, Cherny cautioned the commission the lake had risen so high that water was within six inches of the pilings, where normally the lake is 24 to 30 inches from the top.

Not only is the lake level increasing, seiches — caused when winds and atmospheric pressure cause lake levels to oscillate — are exacerbating the problem, he said. That’s because the piers, which move up and down the pilings via a roller system as the water ebbs and flows, could come off their track and be damaged.

But Cherny said he re-evaluated the situation last month when the lake levels increased significantly and quickly.

“Who knew the lake was going to go up five inches in two weeks?” he told commission members.

“There’s more turbulence in the marina than we’ve ever had.”

Ald. Mike Gasper, a member of the commission, said the rising lake levels can also be seen at the breakwater.

“If you have two feet of chop, it’s over the breakwater,” he said.

As an interim measure, Cherny said, the marina staff cut pieces of metal to create stops at the top of the pilings.

“We felt it was an emergency,” he said. “They (the piers) were sitting at the top of the pilings. We cut 97 pieces of pipe and put them on in one day.”

They should work in the interim, Cherny told the commission, noting the piers can take a certain amount of pressure if the water pushes against the stops.

“If it holds, we’re OK,” he said. “If not, we should have done this six months ago — but who knew this would happen?”

The situation isn’t likely to get better anytime soon, Cherny said, noting predictions by the Department of Natural Resources and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration call for the lake to be up another four to 11 inches in the coming months.

“These are record high waters now,” Cherny said. “How high can it go?”

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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