Rising lake prompts emergency marina action

Port Harbor Commission expected to approve piling extensions to protect floating piers, boats
Ozaukee Press staff

High lake levels are causing issues in the Port Washington marina, with officials scrambling to prevent the floating piers from coming off their tracks.

The Harbor Commission is expected to declare the situation an emergency and consider proposals to weld approximately two-foot extensions onto each of the pilings on which the piers float when it meets Monday, June 10, City Administrator Mark Grams said. 

The city is in the process of determining the best system to use and process to handle it, Grams said.

He had no estimate of the potential cost, but it’s likely to be expensive, since there are 114 pilings in the marina. Grams said money for the work will come from the marina reserve funds.

The issue came to the forefront last month when Harbormaster Dennis Cherny told the Harbor Commission that the lake level 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 impact on the marina, Cherny said.

While he wasn’t ready to sound the alarm then, Cherny said Tuesday he is now.

He’s worried the piers, which move up and down pilings via a roller system as the water ebbs and flows, could come off their track and be damaged.

“Whether they come straight down is the question,” Cherny said. “They could get hung up on the pilings.”

If that happens, he said, he’s not sure what the damage could be. The piers may be able to withstand it to a degree,  but they could potentially break.

“I just don’t know what to expect,” Cherny said.

He’s created stops atop the pilings to keep the piers from going off them, but that’s a stopgap measure, he said.

“That’s going to hold up temporarily,” he said. “But I don’t know how much they can take.”

Cherny notified marina tenants last week that the pilings on the end of the finger piers are barely above the dock when the water fluctuates. 

“In the last 30 days, the seiches have been stronger,” he said. “The water has risen.

“I’ve seen high water, but we never had this volume of water to produce these seiches.

While he told tenants that the work would start this week, the process of getting proposals from contractors to do the work put the brakes on that plan, Cherny said.

“We’re just crossing our fingers and hoping we get this done before this becomes an issue and there’s damage,” he said. 

When asked when he wants the work done, Cherny’s answer was simple.

“Yesterday,” he said.


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