Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Wednesday, 22 January 2014 20:10
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.
Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Wednesday, 15 January 2014 18:10
Panel weighs safety concerns against cost in making recommendation on installation of promenade barrier
A recommendation to install a railing along the promenade on the north side of Coal Dock Park was to be considered by the Coal Dock Committee Wednesday morning.
City Administrator Mark Grams said Tuesday that he is hopeful the committee will recommend installation of a railing along the 1,000-foot-long walkway.
In a community that’s increasingly concerned about waterfront safety, he said, the railing is seen by many as an essential safety device in an area where there’s nothing to prevent someone from tumbling off the dock into the lake, where strong currents are common.
The park is a draw for tourists and residents alike, proponents of the railing note, since it was designed to be a regional attraction.
The park has also received a significant amount of acclaim, including a recent award from American City and County magazine, which gave it a Crown Communities award.
However, some people are concerned that the railing would detract from the lakefront views and take away flexibility that’s needed when large boats moor along the seawall.
The promenade was built wider than normal — 18-1/2 feet — to ensure people can enjoy the walkway and lake but stay away from the edge, they note.
Public Works Director Rob Vanden Noven, who is also the Coal Dock Committee chairman, said last year it would not be difficult to install the railing, noting the city considered adding one when designing the park.
But while many people are in favor of installing the railing, not everyone is on board with the idea.
“I have sensed that there’s a diversity of opinion about it on the committee,” Vanden Noven said.
“For some people, it’s just a matter of priorities. I think it’s really going to come down to dollars.”
There are committee members who believe other priorities take precedent, he said. Other amenities that the committee is working on include the installation of electric outlets and a park entrance sign, he said.
One major stumbling block to the railing is funding, Vanden Noven said, adding this may cause some committee members to think twice about recommending its installation.
The railing, which would match those along the city’s harborwalk, is estimated to cost $200,000.
The city has about $100,000 remaining in Coal Dock Park development funds that could be put toward the railing, Grams said.
Vanden Noven said he is talking to the Department of Natural Resources to see if it would amend the city’s existing stewardship grant for the park to provide additional funds for the railing.
“I don’t know if that’s possible,” he said.
The city could also apply for additional grant money, he said, noting these grant applications are typically due in November.
“I think eventually we could get a stewardship grant for it,” Grams said.
Last fall, Grams predicted that the railing would be installed this spring even though no money was placed in the 2014 budget for it, saying he believed there was enough support on the council to approve it.
Vanden Noven said that the city has been approached by the Port Washington-Saukville Jaycees about a possible fundraiser to help pay for a portion of the railing.
The club is planning a walk-run to be held in conjunction with Maritime Heritage Festival in August, and has talked to the city about donating its proceeds to the railing fund, Vanden Noven said.
But for many — including members of the city’s Parks and Recreation Board, which recommended last year that the railing be installed — the time to move ahead is now. The idea of going through a summer tourist season without it is the wrong thing to do, they say.
If the committee recommends installing the railing, the Common Council could take action on the matter when it meets Tuesday, Jan. 21, Grams said.
If approved by the council, work could be done this spring, he said.
Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Wednesday, 08 January 2014 18:28
Port council OKs mayor’s plan for advisory committee that will study ways to repair or replace aging lake structure
Port Washington’s deteriorating breakwater is on the verge of getting a lot more attention.
The Common Council on Tuesday approved the formation of a breakwater advisory committee to look at ways to repair or replace the aging structure.
“This is really step one,” Mayor Tom Mlada said.
He circulated a list of 26 potential committee members among the aldermen, saying the committee is an attempt to build a broad-based coalition with expertise in many areas that can reach beyond the city’s boundaries to build support for the project.
“This is not just a Port Washington issue,” Mlada said. “This is an Ozaukee County issue and beyond.”
Ald. Dave Larson questioned the potential size of the committee, saying it risks becoming bogged down and mired in logistics.
“I don’t envision this staying a large group,” Mlada said, saying the large membership could be broken into smaller subcommittees that will focus on three or four areas — education, funding and advocacy, which would include public relations and lobbying efforts.
There is also a citizens group forming to work on the breakwater issue, Mlada said, and the two could work together to have a greater impact on the issue.
“If we can work hand-in-hand with this group, I’m optimistic about what we can accomplish,” he said.
Mlada said he met with leaders of the citizens group Tuesday, and they will hold an introductory meeting open to the public at 1 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 25, at NewPort Shores restaurant.
The Common Council on Tuesday also tabled action on a proposal to spend $25,000 on private consultants who would help the city raise money to fix the crumbling breakwater that protects the harbor.
Foth Infrastructure & Environmental and SmithGroup JJR would collaborate on the project, which 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.
“We’re really not quite ready to take action on this,” said Larson, who is chairman of the Finance and License Committee.
City Administrator Mark Grams will get more specifics on what the firms would do for the city and try to whittle down the cost, Larson said, and the Harbor Commission will be asked its opinion on the work.
“Our budget is really strapped,” he said, noting the proposed study came to the council after the 2014 budget was set. “We’d ask them (Harbor Commission) to help us out.”
Grams had expressed some reservations about the proposed study, especially since the breakwater is owned by the federal government, not the city, but a number of aldermen said it is something the city has to do.
That’s especially true since federal officials told Mlada they would expect the city to provide some funding for any repair of the breakwater, they said.
“I think this is something we probably have to do,” Ald. Bill Driscoll, a member of the Harbor Commission, said. “Nobody wants to spend any money — we don’t have any money right now. But I think we also have to ask what if we don’t do this.
“We know it (the breakwater) will fail. We just don’t know when. We have to find the money.”
The consultants bring an expertise to the issue that city officials don’t have, added Ald. Kevin Rudser.
“Without some good direction from people who have done this, we could end up chasing our tail for a couple of years,” he said. “In the long run, that $25,000 is going to be a small down payment on what we hope to reap.”
The study will also tell federal authorities that the city is serious about getting the breakwater improved, Ald. Dan Becker said.
“We’ll be showing the powers that be, look, this community has its act together and has a plan in place,” he said. And that, he added, could give the city a needed edge when federal funds become available for the work. and the city needs to vie for them with other communities.
Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Tuesday, 31 December 2013 17:24
Port officials agree to help fund professor’s project that will monitor lakeshore water conditions, bluff erosion
Port Washington officials, determined to improve lakefront safety, recently approved spending $2,500 to help fund a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor’s study of rip currents along the city’s lakeshore.
The project, which will include both educational and informational components, will also look at the erosion of the city’s bluffs, Mayor Tom Mlada said.
“This is a very exciting opportunity for our city,” Mlada said, noting Professor Chin Wu worked extensively with Concordia University Wisconsin in Mequon on its bluff stabilization project and was instrumental in creating an Integrated Nowcast and Forecast System (Infos) website at the Apostle Islands that provides a wealth of real-time information on currents.
“He felt the technology he put in place at the Apostle Islands could be very appropriate and functional here,” Mlada said.
Wu’s proposed Port Washington project largely revolves around development of an Infos website for the city that would involve monitoring water conditions, modeling them and predicting how they affect the currents, Mlada said.
“It’s largely educational,” he said, noting the website could be accessed by the public and provide information on currents that would make the lakefront a safer place.
“Can we ever make the lakefront entirely safe? No. But if you give people the information they need to make informed decisions, then we have gone a long way in making it a safer place.”
The project is expected to cost $60,000, half of which Wu is attempting to obtain through a Wisconsin Coastal Management Grant, Mlada said. The city funding is a portion of the matching funds he needs to raise.
“This is our way of saying we support this work,” Mlada said.
Ozaukee County has also committed $2,500 in staff support for the project, he said.
If Wu doesn’t raise the needed funding, the city will get its $2,500 back, Mlada noted.
The website is already up with limited information on it, Mlada said, so funds would go primarily toward the purchase of the equipment needed to report, monitor and predict wave and current movement.
“Without the monitoring buoys in the area, you really can’t have these real-time predictions,” he said.
Wu’s project would be put in place on the north beach initially, Mlada said, and perhaps expanded to the south beach over time.
“This would be a great tool for people,” Mlada said. “People thinking about going to the beach could check the conditions and determine whether the conditions are right.”
In addition, information gathered through the bluff erosion portion of the study could give the city the tools it needs to help plan bluff stabilization projects — something city officials have considered for years, officials said.
The project, which was recommended by the city’s Environmental Planning Committee, isn’t being funded through tax dollars, Mlada noted. The committee received an anonymous $10,000 donation to help with its projects, and this is one of three recommended for funding.
The others are applying for a Bird City USA designation, which would cost $100, and funding a portion of an intern’s time to study issues the committee deems important, which would cost an estimated $2,600.