Breakwater damage leaves city with bills to pay, concerns

Officials OK initial repairs, take second look at planned improvements after high water, storm take toll on structure

SERIOUS DAMAGE WAS done to the Port Washington breakwater during a Jan. 11 gale as high waves and wind undermined the gateway surface and knocked railings from the walkway. Photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

Port Washington officials on Tuesday approved $14,300 in initial repairs to the breakwater, which was seriously damaged in a Jan. 11 gale, and at the same time reviewed plans to repair the far east end of the structure’s walkway with an eye toward ensuring it will be sound in the face of future storms.

The council agreed to pay T.P. Concrete of Fredonia to place a concrete slurry under about 30 feet of the breakwater gateway that was undermined in the storm.

The firm will also move riprap displaced by the storm back into place, Public Works Director Rob Vanden Noven said.

“Ultimately I would like to get some larger armor stone in there,” Vanden Noven said. “That rock is getting moved too easily.”

That additional stone is expected to cost no more than $25,000, he said, and will be the city’s responsibility.

“The city owns the gateway,” he said.

Asked if the repairs will hold, Vanden Noven noted that the city made a similar repair last year.

“What we did in the past is holding up well,” he said.

Ald. Dan Benning questioned if the contractors that did the work on the gateway would cover at least a portion of the cost.

Vanden Noven said that’s doubtful.

“I think they would point to the severity of the storm,” he said. 

Representatives of the city’s breakwater consultant, Foth Infrastructure and Environment, were in Port checking out the damage Tuesday, Vanden Noven said.

The initial repairs approved by the city Tuesday will be done as soon as possible — perhaps by the end of this week, Vanden Noven said.

“We can’t do it if it’s covered in ice,” he said, but a predicted warm up may open up a window of opportunity for the repair to be done.

Foth is also examining a 10-foot section of the gateway walk that was lifted out of its frame by the waves, looking to determine if it was a construction issue,  Vanden Noven said.

“That would determine who might be responsible for the cost of repairs,” he said.

That repair work likely won’t be done until sometime in spring, Vanden Noven said.

Until that occurs, the breakwater will remain closed, he said.

“It’s very well barricaded and very well signed,” he said. “The work we’re going to complete now is work to prevent further damage to the gateway. With the ramp, the damage is already done.”

At the Board of Public Works meeting prior to the Common Council, members reviewed a preliminary design for the walkway to be created on the far east portion of the breakwater in light of the recent damage to other portions of the structure.

Last year, aldermen agreed to install a concrete plank cap on the existing walkway, something Foth said should last 30 to 40 years with proper maintenance.

The 10-inch-thick concrete planks would be grouted onto the existing cap. Steel armor walls will be added to create the form for the concrete and also serve to shore up the structure.

Voids in the walkway would be filled with mortar, something committee members questioned.

“That’s not going to last,” board member Phil Bruno said.

Similarly, Ald. Mike Gasper, a member of the board, questioned whether it is sufficient to grout the new planks onto the existing walkway. It would be easy for water to infiltrate the surface and during the freeze-thaw cycle would pop the new surface up.

Members quickly dismissed the idea of placing a railing along that portion of the breakwater.

“No. It won’t hold up,” Gasper said.

“We haven’t had railings out there since 1937,” Ald. John Sigwart, a member said.

Board members also questioned what guarantee they have that Foth will stand behind its design if issues spring up.

“I don’t want to answer for this in a few years when a big section disappears,” Gasper said. 

Work on the far east end of the breakwater is expected to cost between $1.3 million and $1.8 million and be done this year. 

The city has received a $550,000 grant to pay for part of the work and is waiting to hear if it will receive another $750,000 grant for the project. It has already borrowed the money for the project, so if it does receive the second grant that money will be used for other capital projects.


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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Port Washington, WI 53074
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