City advised to build raised breakwater walkway

Proposed structure would be less expensive than initial repair plan but aldermen wonder if it’s practical
Ozaukee Press staff

The City of Port Washington should install a metal walkway over the eastern 1,000 feet of the breakwater to provide a stable and sustainable surface for people to walk out to the lighthouse, the Common Council was told Tuesday.

It’s really the only option the city has to complete repairs to the structure, officials with Foth Infrastructure and Environment told aldermen.

“We’ve run out of options to find money and go the distance to the lighthouse,” Brian Hinrichs, lead environmental scientist for Foth, said.

Something needs to be done to repair the cap, which is failing quickly, Foth Lead Coastal Engineer Tim Wagner said.

He said he inspected the walkway two weeks ago and “it’s deteriorated significantly since I was there in August. There are places where half the cap is spalled off.”

The situation is only going to get worse with the high lake levels, Hinrichs said. 

It would be difficult to repair the cap without completely removing and replacing it, Wagner said, something Hinrichs said would cost $3 million to $4 million. With $1.1 million — a $550,000 grant and an equal amount in matching funds — in hand, the best and most sustainable way to fix the crumbling breakwater is to install the metal walkway, Hinrichs and Wagner said.

The city could use the $1.1 million to repair and rebuild the cap, Hinrichs said, but the money would only fix about 300 feet, not the 1,000 feet that needs repairing.

“That is probably not in the best interest of the city and the people who want to use the seawall,” he said.

The proposed walkway would be attached to the breakwater via inspection ports in the structure, Wagner said, adding additional supports for the walkway would be driven through the ports.

“The overall structure (of the breakwater) is, we think, sound,” he said, adding that attaching the walkway through the ports is important because it eliminates the need to drill into the structure further — something that could exacerbate deterioration.

But because the ports are 50 feet apart, Wagner said, beams would be installed between them to add stability.

And because the metal walkway would have grates, it would allow the waves to wash over it. That would eliminate pressure on the structure and help prevent ice buildup, he said.

Hinrichs noted that the walkway could have one or two railings, depending on the cost — a decision that the city will have to make depending on cost.

“We’ve only got so much to spend,” he said.

Areas where the rescue boat can reach people stranded on the breakwater during  foul weather can also be incorporated into the design, he said when Ald. Mike Gasper questioned whether the railings would inhibit those operations.

The walkway, Wagner said, is based on one used for the USS Badger docking facility in Ludington, Mich., and a design for a Long Island, N.Y., facility. Similar structures can also be found in Holland, Cheboygan and Charlevoix, Mich., Hinrichs said.

City Administrator Mark Grams said the walkway, while similar to the catwalk that used to be at the entrance to the breakwater, would “look nicer.”

The catwalk operated without problems for decades, he added.

“Technically, it worked,” Grams said.

Hinrichs said that if the plan is implemented, the Army Corps would be willing to add enough armor stone to reach the top of the breakwater over the next couple of years.

“In essence, we would be protecting it with armor stone,” he said. But, he noted, if the city installs the walkway, it would be responsible for its maintenance and repair.

Even though the federal government owns the breakwater, “The (Army Corps of Engineers) is not going to bring money to bear to fix it,” Hinrichs said.

If the breakwater were to fail, the Army Corps would not rebuild it the way it is today with a walkway, he noted.

Ald. Paul Neumyer noted that the metal catwalk often was slippery, and he questioned the safety of the proposed walkway.

One problem with the catwalk was that aquatic plants would coat the metal, making it slippery, Hinrichs said. That won’t be the case on the east end of the breakwater, because the materials are driven toward shore.

There are also new materials that can be used to provide traction, Wagner said.

The Common Council took no action on the proposed walkway but agreed to take up the issue again when it meets at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 18.


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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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