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Money for breakwater a hard pill to swallow PDF Print E-mail
Written by Kristyn Halbig Ziehm   
Wednesday, 17 May 2017 19:09

Aldermen OK $250,000 of city funds realizing the federal government won’t pay to fix failing structure

The Port Washington Common Council on Tuesday agreed to spend $250,000 to place armor stone along the south breakwater this fall, but the decision didn’t come easily.

Aldermen expressed concern about spending so much money on a federally owned structure, but ultimately decided they couldn’t risk the chance that the wall would fail.

“This is a tough one,” Ald. Dave Larson said. “Basically, you’re rolling the dice. It (the breakwater) could make it through the year and be fine. Or a big storm could come through and knock it down.”

Breakwater lgAnd that, Larson said, could seriously damage the marina and downtown.

“We have to protect our marina,” he said. “I don’t want to be one to say no to this and have the thing come down and cause ten times the damage.”

The Army Corps of Engineers has told the city it is critical to replace the armor stone, Larson noted.

Ald. Doug Biggs concurred, calling it a decision that depended on each alderman’s willingness to take on risk.

“This is a problem we’re being handed by the federal government,” he said, because it refused to maintain its property.

Ald. Mike Ehrlich noted that the city has devoted a significant amount of time and effort in shoring up the north breakwater.

“If for some reason that (south breakwater fails),” he said, “everything we’ve worked so hard to do for the breakwater  is essentially for naught. Our marina is gone. Property along the lake is gone. I don’t see us having much of an option.”

Amy Otis-Wilborn, 233 E. Pier St., questioned why the city was moving so fast on the issue.

She questioned whether the failure of the breakwater is imminent or whether it would slowly crumble, giving the city time to respond.

The south breakwater provides critical protection for the marina and west slip, City Administrator Mark Grams said, and there is virtually no armor stone left to protect the structure.

“That is why protecting the south breakwater is the highest priority of any of the breakwater repairs,” he told aldermen in a memo.

The Common Council agreed to sign a memorandum of understanding with the Army Corps that commits it to spending the $250,000 for armor stone along the south breakwater.

That commitment was needed to ensure the Army Corps can send a crew in this fall to do the work, Mayor Tom Mlada said.

But if the city had not committed the funds, he said, the Corps would not have been able to do the work until at least 2019 because its crews are already fully scheduled for next year.

“If they don’t get this done in 2017, there is no gap in the schedule in 2018. We would be rolling the dice for two winters,” Mlada said.

If the breakwater were to fail, the federal government isn’t likely to fix it any time soon, Mlada added.

“We’re at the bottom of the pecking order,” he said.

The $250,000 will be incorporated into the city’s $5.5 million refinancing in June, Grams said.

The city has applied for a $100,000 grant that could offset the cost of the armor stone, he said, but won’t know until August if it will receive these funds.

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