Port aldermen want more input on financing options before selecting safety measure
Port Washington aldermen on Tuesday delayed action on a possible railing or curb along the Coal Dock Park promenade, saying officials need to take a closer look at the options and ways to finance them.
“If we’re going to do something, let’s do it right and not do it twice,” Ald. Dan Becker said.
The Parks and Recreation Board recommended the city install a railing along the 1,000-foot-long promenade on the north side of the park last summer, but the Coal Dock Committee recently recommended a two-foot-high curb be installed instead.
Committee members said the curb, which would be placed six inches from the edge of the 18-foot-wide promenade, would prevent people from tumbling over the edge into the lake below and be less costly and less obtrusive when people look out over the water.
The railing is expected to cost about $200,000, while the curb has a price tag of $75,000 to $100,000, officials said.
While he initially thought the proposed curb would be “a good compromise,” Becker said he was troubled by the fact it would be installed along the edge of the promenade.
A similar sentiment was expressed by Ald. Dave Larson.
“I can see kids running around on top of that,” he said. “That makes me nervous.
“It didn’t really dawn on me that we needed anything out there until I went out there (when the park opened),” Larson added.
Ald. Mike Ehrlich asked whether the city could look at other options, especially a simpler railing that would be less expensive but still echo the look of the railing found around the remainder of the lakefront.
That’s important, Ald. Doug Biggs said, noting that much of Tuesday’s meeting was devoted to budget issues, including ways to pay for overruns in the city’s salt and snow removal budgets.
About a dozen people petitioned the Common Council Tuesday to reject the idea of the curb and instead install a railing along the promenade, saying it is a needed, basic safety measure.
Robert Mueller, 915 N. Holden St., told aldermen his sister Chrissy drowned after falling from an unprotected area of the harbor in 1969.
“A railing would have saved her life,” he said. “History has a tendency to repeat itself. The needed railing, from our point of view, shouldn’t be questioned or compromised. If it’s about money, please add the railing before you spend another dollar on another tree, electrical outlet or a $60,000 entrance sign.
“I have personally witnessed the fear from parents as they walk along the promenade edge with their children. I can imagine kids running along a curb and on top of it, making a fall even higher off the water than it already is.”
There are ways to build a railing that won’t obstruct the view or make it difficult for large ships to dock, Mueller added.
Randy Noll, who lives in the Town of Port Washington, told aldermen that while some people believe the promenade is no different than the breakwater, which doesn’t have a railing, there is a big difference.
“It is a totally different situation,” he said. People going onto the breakwater know and understand the risk.
Noll noted that if someone builds a 24-inch-high deck at their home, they must install a railing to prevent falls.
“This is a lot greater fall (from the promenade),” he said. “I really think we need to consider a railing rather than a curb.”
The promenade was built without a railing to offer maximum flexibility when large ships dock there, but it was also constructed especially wide to ensure people could enjoy the walkway and lake but stay away from the edge.
Public Works Director Rob Vanden Noven, chairman of the Coal Dock Committee, said that while the railing wasn’t part of the original plan for the park, the walkway was designed with the idea one could be added in the future.
He has talked to the Department of Natural Resources about the possibility of amending the city’s current grant or applying for a new one to help pay for a railing, but hasn’t heard from the agency, he said.
Vanden Noven recommended that the city apply for a grant for the railing, noting the deadline is May 1 and DNR officials generally let the city know at that time whether they will be awarded any funds.
“I feel in the next two months we’ll have greater clarity,” he said. “They wouldn’t
“They wouldn’t have known about it if we hadn’t brought it to their attention,” Petri said. “This is a small harbor in a small Midwestern town.
“Now, this is something that’s on their radar. I think it’s a tribute to the efforts of the city fathers.”
Also helpful were the city’s efforts to get both Democratic and Republican legislators behind the project, Petri said.
Mlada and other officials lauded Petri for his efforts in obtaining the funding, saying his work paved the way for the project.
Petri acknowledged that the work won’t give the city everything it needs in terms of repairing the breakwater, noting that the cost of a complete repair is between $16 million and $17 million.
“It’s not ideal, but it’s certainly better than nothing,” he said. “It’s a sign of progress, and it’s happening faster than we thought.
“This is not the end of the process. It’s a positive beginning.”
An Army Corps inspection conducted last summer concluded that almost the entire eastern half of Port Washington’s north breakwater is structurally unsound and dangerous and should be rebuilt as soon as possible.
“In some sections, it seems as if the next big storm may wash the structure away,” the report reads. “Therefore, it is recommended that a major rehabilitation be performed along the entire reach as soon as funds become available.”
According to the report, a large portion of the breakwater has failed, another segment is in very poor condition and a smaller area is in poor condition.
Only a small segment of the breakwater near shore is listed in good condition, needing only minor maintenance work, according to the report.
While they are owned by the federal government, both the breakwater and the Art Deco-style lighthouse are symbols of the city. Not only does the breakwater protect the harbor and marina from powerful lake waves, it is also a major attraction for residents and tourists alike.
But the deteriorating condition of the breakwater has had officials concerned for years, and until now their efforts to get the Army Corps to repair the structure have been largely unsuccessful.
Those efforts took on new urgency after the Corps conducted the breakwater assessment last summer.
Officials have talked of creating a breakwater taskforce, and a citizens group, the Great Lakes Safe Harbor Preservation Foundation, formed to aid in the effort.
The city has also hired a consultant to help find funding for the breakwater repairs, since Mlada was told when he visited Washington, D.C., that the community would be expected to provide some financing for the work.
A financing summit held last week brought together the consultants, city officials and various agencies that could provide funding. It also gave the city a chance to sell them on the project and the need for it, Mlada said Tuesday.
“It was a very, very successful day,” he told the Common Council Tuesday, adding it gave officials a clearer picture of funds that might be available and ways to use those funds most effectively.
Some of the money the city is putting into current projects, such as the reconstruction of the parking lot behind Duluth Trading Co., can be used as a match for grant funds, Mlada noted.
Foth Infrastructure & Environmental and SmithGroup JJR, the city’s consultants, will now create a “road map” of options for funding and prioritize them, Mlada said. They will also start applying for the most desirable grants.
With the Corps conducting basic repairs this year, the city will have enough time to get funding in place and work with federal officials on a long-term solution, officials said.
“This buys us the time we need,” Ald. Mike Ehrlich said. “It’s great news.”
Ald. Kevin Rudser called this summer’s project a stopgap solution, noting it will extend the life of the breakwater by fewer than 10 years.
“Considering we were late to the table, to get $1 million is a huge accomplishment,” he said. “But it doesn’t stop now. There’s still a lot of money to be raised. We’ve got to keep pushing toward that.”
Citizens’ efforts will continue to be important, Mlada added.
“Work toward the long-term solution is starting,” he said Tuesday. “Keep making the calls. Keep sending e-mails. Keep writing letters.”
Image information: THE FACT THERE is no barrier along the north side of Coal Dock Park, where a lone fisherman cast his line Tuesday (top photo), is a cause for concern among Port Washington officials and residents, who have been discussing a solution for months. The Common Council is currently debating whether to install a two-foot-high curb (lower left rendering) or a railing (lower right) along the walkway. Photo by Bill Schanen IV