City takes first step toward saving park, north beach

Board OKs study that could be blueprint for multi-million-dollar bluff stabilization project

A SIGN ALONG the bluff in Port Washington’s Upper Lake Park warns of the steep drop off in an area where the edge of the slope is encroaching on the park road. Press file photo
By 
KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Ozaukee Press staff

Port Washington officials last week took the first step toward finding a way to stabilize its north bluff and reopen the north beach, hiring Miller Engineers and Scientists to conduct preliminary engineering and a schematic design for the work.

The Board of Public Works last week approved spending $59,000 for the work, which will form the basis for what promises to be a multi-million-dollar project that will redefine the lakefront.

All but $5,000 of the engineering and design cost will be covered by a grant from the Lakeshore Natural Resource Partnership.

The project outlined by principal engineer and company president Roger Miller and  Emily Blum, a project shoreline and geotechnical engineer with the firm, calls for about two-thirds of the bluff along Upper Lake Park to be cut back and planted to stabilize it.

A revetment should be placed along about 1,100 feet of the toe of the bluff to help stabilize the hillside, they said, and ideally it would be covered by sand and perhaps planted with dune grasses.

About 600 feet of the beach should be augmented with locally mined sand and gravel to help stabilize the area.

The plan represents a significant change from a 2001 proposal considered by the city that included an off-shore breakwater to protect a pocket beach, something the engineers said isn’t ideal.

This plan, they said, would be considerably less expensive, will maintain the natural circulation of water that’s important to minimize beach closures due to bacteria counts and avoids issues with so-called hardening of the shoreline.

If there was any question about whether a bluff project is needed, officials said, it should be answered by the fact that two recent bluff slides have forced the closure of the beach.

“The bluff is still quite active,” Blum told the board.

Studies have shown that the bluff is receding by 30 to 90 feet per century, but the erosion doesn’t occur in regular, natural phases but in chunks, she said.

There are two main factors causing it, Blum said — wave erosion and seepage from sand seams — adding that with the high water levels the lake has had in recent years, the waves are coming in “farther and with higher energy.”

The revetment will help protect the toe of the bluff from these waves, and cutting the hillside back will ease it to a more natural and stable slope.

Adding sand will allow the beach to more naturally protect the bluff, Miller said, adding that the sand will eventually be moved to the south due to wave action. The city can then dredge it and replace it.

The engineers gave a preliminary cost estimate for the grading at $5 million to $12 million, for a 1,000-foot-long revetment at $2 million to $4 million and for 1,800 feet of beach nourishment, or sand, at $1 million.

Miller said that the city doesn’t need to do all the work, that it can pick and choose both items to be done and the extent to which it will be done. For example, it could grade less of the bluff or install a shorter revetment.

Public Works Director Rob Vanden Noven said the city is likely to approach the project in phases and seek grants to offset the cost.

“We’re going to approach it in chunks,” he said, adding the first step is to get more information “so we can make a good decision.”

Depending on how far the bluff is cut back, Miller added, the city will also need to consider some changes to Upper Lake Park, particularly the road through the area.

The bluff is currently within 10 feet of the northbound lane in places, and if the hillside is cut back the road will have to be moved.

That will give the city a number of options, from simply moving the lane farther to the west to building a two-way road through the park, he said. The city can also consider whether to move the pedestrian walkway off the road.

While board members discussed these concepts, they agreed that a decision needs to be made jointly with the Parks and Recreation Board and with consideration of the city’s parks plan.

When the firm completes the project, Miller said, they will include recommendations for the minimum amount of work and a full project.

“It’ll be how much you choose to do,” he said. “It’ll be your choice.”

The work, Miller said, will give the city a stable bluff, a beach and a better link between the park and lakefront.

Board Chairman Jason Wittek asked whether a beach and bluff project conducted by Concordia University Wisconsin several years ago is an option for the city.

“It’s the worst thing you can do on open shoreliine,” Miller said, noting the revetment used there has had an adverse impact on numerous properties south of the Mequon college.

  The work being done by Miller will include creation of a full concept plan, a topographic survey of the shoreline, a bathymetric survey of the lakebed along the shore, three soil borings and analyses of the wave and shore erosion, Blum said.

The firm will also develop a schematic plan to cut back the bluff along the southern two-thirds of the park, incorporating a pedestrian path, relocating the northbound road, positioning a revetment and beach nourishment plan.

Potential grant sources will also be identified.

Blum said that the engineering and design project should be completed by March.

Ald. Mike Gasper, a member of the board, said the project is “a good first step.”

“When we look at what the final bill could be, I’m not sure we’re going to do all this,” he said.

In the end, he added, any work done by the city should look natural.

“If this is done right, you won’t be able to tell anything’s been done at all, which is what we want,” Gasper said.

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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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