Council won’t let a few residents stimie flood fix

Port aldermen say they are willing to use eminent domain if needed to acquire easements but not homes on west side

The Aug. 27 flood turned the back yards of some homes on North Spring Street in Port Washington into a lake. Photo by Bill Schanen IV
Ozaukee Press staff

Port Washington aldermen on Tuesday said they’re willing to use eminent domain to accommodate flood mitigation measures on the city’s west side, but stressed that they will not use condemnation to buy the affected properties, only to obtain easement needed for the project.

“We need to let people know we need to make this work and we’re willing to use eminent domain to make it work,” Ald. Mike Gasper said. “It’s not fair to everyone to let one person hold this project up.”

That’s essentially what happened the first time the city proposed the project. In 2015, the city’s efforts to enact the same plan were thwarted when three of the 13 affected property owners would not grant the necessary easements.

But the Aug. 27 flood that caused significant damage to a number of west-side houses caused officials to resurrect the proposal, which would essentially create an open culvert to funnel stormwater through back yards and into retention areas.

But the owners of two of the most critical properties have already indicated they are not willing to provide easements to allow the work to proceed, causing Public Works Director Rob Vanden Noven to ask the city whether it would consider using eminent domain before any further work is done on the project.

Officials had also talked about the idea of buying some properties through condemnation, but Ald. Mike Ehrlich said he is not comfortable with the idea of buying properties via eminent domain if the owners don’t provide easements.

“We want to help them, but they have to help themselves,” he said.

Gasper agreed, saying, “I don’t want to buy any houses unless it’s absolutely necessary.”

The exception to that rule might be the Simplicity parking lot, a portion of which might be useful as a retention area, Ald. John Sigwart said.

But the use of eminent domain to force homeowners to grant easements for the work was embraced.

“Eminent domain is coming with this, period,” Ald. Paul Neumyer said, noting that the city had to put the project aside three years ago because of a lack of cooperation from residents.

“Now we’re stuck with this same problem again,” he said.

But Ald. Dan Benning said eminent domain has to be a measure of last resort, something officials agreed with.

“I want to make sure we have a solid plan ... and that we know we’re really going to do it when we ask these folks to sign on the bottom line,” he said.

Gasper noted that the work will benefit not only the affected homeowners but others in the area as well.

That’s because when basements fill with water, that water drains into the sanitary sewer, which then backs up into other homes, he said.

“There’s a cascading effect,” Gasper said. “By solving this problem, we’re solving other problems that go along with it.”

  Ald. Jonathan Pleitner asked if the project is something that can be completed with just easements. 

“I think we can build it without (buying properties),” Vanden Noven said. But, he added, until the engineering studies are done there’s always a question.

Vanden Noven was tasked with talking to the property owners who have indicated they don’t want to provide easements to try and convince them to do so, something he said he will try to do by the end of the month.

But Sigwart warned it will likely be a hard sell.

“I hope we can convince people,” he said. “I can see where it could fall apart very easily.”

Benning also asked that the city look to see if there are other areas that need to be considered as well, something that’s important as the city keeps developing.

One other area the council dealt with Tuesday was Lake Street, where the Lighthouse Condominiums flooded after Valley Creek overflowed during the Aug. 27 storm.

Aldermen approved a $6,000 study by Stantec Consulting Services that will include an inspection of the culvert that leads from the creek to the lake and an evaluation of what caused the August flooding and how to prevent it.

Although officials have blamed much of the problem on a large tree stump that blocked the culvert, the study will consider whether there were other causes that need to be dealt with, Vanden Noven said.

The study, which is expected to take six to eight weeks, will also include potential fixes for the problem, he said.

The study is expected to be presented to the Board of Public Works when it meets in December.

Karen Oleski, who lives in the Lighthouse Condominiums at 415 N. Lake St., urged aldermen to conduct the study, noting 40 families were affected by the August flood.

“Our condominiums suffered close to $200,000 in expenses,” she said, a cost that the building residents had to come up with. Most residents also lost their vehicles, which were parked underground, something she said totalled close to $1 million.

The impact isn’t just on property but people, Oleski said.

“It’s not just ‘It overflowed and ran down the street,’” she said. “We’re your neighbors.”


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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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