Port council agrees to spend $15,000 for company to create preliminary design for repairs, explore funding options
The Port Washington Common Council on Tuesday agreed to move ahead with a streamlined breakwater improvement study officials hope will pave the way to repairing the deteriorating structure.
Acting on a recommendation from the Harbor Commission, aldermen agreed to spend $15,000 on the study, which will look at potential funding sources and create preliminary designs for the repairs.
The study will be done by Foth Infrastructure and Environment and Smithgroup JJR.
“This will get the ball rolling,” Mayor Tom Mlada said. “We’ll begin with some meetings almost immediately.”
That could start as early as Wednesday, when officials from the Wisconsin Coastal Management Program were to meet, he said.
Ald. Bill Driscoll, who has been at the forefront of the city’s fight to get the breakwater repaired, said the hiring is essential to the effort. He noted that he wrote to the governor’s office, and said the reply was difficult to interpret.
“We definitely need somebody who knows what they’re doing,” Driscoll said. “This is exciting. We’re going to get some action.”
The deteriorating condition of the Port Washington breakwaters has concerned officials for years, but has become a priority for the city in the past year.
Although the structures are owned by the federal government, they are an integral part of the city infrastructure and protect much of the lakefront and downtown from the extremes of the lake.
The Army Corps of Engineers, which owns the breakwater, last summer analyzed the condition of the structures and 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.
Corps officials told the city that the Port breakwater is one of the worst they’ve seen, but said that the agency has little funding to repair it.
Repairing the breakwater will cost an estimated $16 million, they said.
A major hurdle is the fact that the city’s harbor is not considered a commercial port, since they are the Corps’ priority.
Mlada, who in November traveled to Washington, D.C., to lobby for funding for the repairs, said officials made it clear that they expect communities to provide some money to offset the federal costs.
The study authorized this week is expected to help the city find state grants that it could use as its share of any breakwater project.
Officials from Foth told the city they plan to bring representatives of the various funding agencies to the city so they can see firsthand the condition of the breakwater and the need to repair it.
“Getting them here gets them vested in Port Washington,” Brian Hinrichs, lead environmental scientist for Foth, told the commission. “If they’ve been here, if they’ve heard you explain the problem and seen the problems for themselves, it makes a big difference.”
In addition to seeking financing, the study will look at design options for the breakwater and ways to make the repairs in phases. It will see how repairs can dovetail with other harbor needs and create a conceptual master plan for the harbor.
That conceptual plan should be added to the city’s master plan, Hinrichs said, because it will strengthen any grant application.
“I’m confident we can pull together the money in a relatively short period of time,” he said.
The city’s study will be funded by the marina, which has enough funds in its capital project budget to cover the cost.