Port Council considers hiring firm to champion its fight for repairs, find funding sources for local share of cost
Port Washington aldermen are considering spending $25,000 to hire private consultants who would help the city raise money to fix the crumbling breakwater that protects the harbor.
The city doesn’t have to raise the estimated $16 million needed to repair the breakwater, but it’s likely that it will have to raise $3.5 million as a local cost-sharing component, the consultant said.
That cost-sharing component represents the city’s best chance at getting federal funds to finance the repairs, even though the Army Corps of Engineers has traditionally done the work entirely with federal funds, Mayor Tom Mlada said Tuesday.
“Regardless of what happens (with federal funding), we’ve been told this will be a local-share solution,” Mlada said.
Representatives of Foth Infrastructure & Environmental and SmithGroup JJR, which would collaborate on the project, told aldermen Tuesday they would provide basic design concepts and realistic cost estimates for the work, then shepherd the city through state and federal grant processes to help find funding.
Some of the grant money could also be used to help pay their fees, they said.
The consultants would also help the city create a harbor master plan, which Mlada said is essential for virtually all grant applications.
“Without the plan up front, it’s difficult to get the grants,” said Brian Hinrichs, lead environmental scientist for Foth.
The planning will also allow the city to tailor the breakwater to its needs and, just as important, to the requirements of grants, said Jack Cox, principal coastal engineer for SmithGroup JJR.
Repairing the breakwater in its current configuration may not be the best thing for the city, he said, adding his group would create a concept design tailored to the city.
The concept design and plans would give the city something tangible to present to officials and agencies that they, in turn, could use to promote the project, Cox said.
The plans, which could include a phased approach, can be used to convince officials the project can be successful, Hinrichs said.
“They want successful projects, and successful projects that are easier to do than if they start from scratch,” he said.
Hinrichs said the city made great strides by traveling to Washington, D.C., to lobby legislators and the Army Corps of Engineers, which owns the breakwater and is responsible for allocating federal funds to repair such structures.
That personal touch is important, he said, but the city needs to go further. His firm would not only work on state and federal grant applications, it will try to bring the decision-makers to Port to see the condition of the breakwater and its importance to the community, he said.
“If it (a grant application) lands on their desk, it’s just one of 30,” he said. “We get them to your community. Without that step, your chances of getting a grant are probably one in 10. With it, that goes up to maybe 80% or 90%.”
The firms would seek grants to offset the city’s share of the project cost, Hinrichs said. State grants could help provide the match needed for federal funds, he noted.
The city needs to be prepared to apply for grants as soon as February, he said. Among the potential funding sources are the federal Harbor Trust Fund and the state stewardship program. Applications should be tailored to each program, something the consultants would do.
Mlada said he is heartened by the fact U.S. senators Ron Johnson and Tammy Baldwin and U.S. Rep. Tom Petri have signed a letter supporting the city’s efforts to place its breakwater repairs on the Army Corps of Engineers’ project list.
“This is not a magic bullet,” Mlada said. “I’m not sure exactly how much this will move the needle.”
The fact that both Baldwin, a Democrat, and Republicans Petri and Johnson signed the letter is also significant, Mlada said.
Hinrichs agreed the letter is important, saying, “I don’t see those three signatures on one letterhead very often.”
Mlada threw his support behind the consultants, saying their work could be vital to the city’s efforts.
“This gets the ball rolling for us,” he said. “The iron is hot and we need to strike.” The city has not budgeted any money for the breakwater, so officials would have to find funds for the work.
The Finance and License Committee and Common Council will consider the consultant’s proposal Tuesday, Jan. 7.