Elevated walkway is likely fix for breakwater

Council commissions designs for platform that would be cheaper than a concrete cap, improve safety

THE PORT WASHINGTON Common Council Tuesday hired a firm to fix the crumbling cap on the easternmost portion of the north breakwater. Photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

Port Washington officials on Tuesday agreed to have Foth Infrastructure and Environment design an elevated metal walkway for the eastern 1,000 feet of the north breakwater to create a safe pedestrian path to the lighthouse.

Aldermen asked that Foth submit two designs for them to consider before they move ahead with the project.

Aldermen said if they don’t like either design, they may opt not to move ahead with the project.

They agreed to pay Foth $25,000 for the two designs, plus $11,000 for field data collection, with the total cost of designing and engineering the walkway expected to cost $154,000. 

“You’ve come up with a concept that seems to be really good,” Ald. John Sigwart said. “But we don’t want to get too far invested in something we’re not confident in.”

Ald. Mike Ehrlich, an architect, asked that the consultant take care to ensure the breakwater is not only stable but also aesthetically pleasing.

“I’d like to challenge you to be between the very elegant (designs) and somewhat utilitarian,” he said, referring to photographs of existing structures shown by the consultants. 

  “Our goal is to design something that will be constructed, that is sustainable and that will be safe ... and within budget,” Brian Hinrichs, lead environmental scientist for Foth, told aldermen.

The breakwater cap in the area is failing, and with $1.1 million — a $550,000 grant and an equal amount in matching funds — in hand, the best and most sustainable way for the city to fix the crumbling breakwater is to install the metal walkway, he said.

“I’m not convinced of it,” Ald. Paul Neumyer said, asking whether the city would be better off repairing the existing cap.

The city could use the $1.1 million for that purpose, but the money would only fix a small portion of the breakwater, not the 1,000 feet that needs repairing, Hinrichs said.

Not only is that work more expensive, it would also require more structural analysis, he noted.

The proposed metal walkway would be attached to the lakebed via inspection ports in the breakwater, a process that provides enough strength for it to handle the pounding of waves during storms and in winter, Foth Lead Coastal Engineer Tim Wagner said.

“In the big picture, this is a concept the Corps (of Engineers) has been using for a century,” Hinrichs said.

The walkway would likely be elevated between one and two feet above the breakwater, he said.

The Army Corps of Engineers isn’t willing to pay for the walkway, Hinrichs noted, but is willing to provide more armor stone along the structure, which will help protect it.  

“The Corps is convinced it is stable,” he said. “It will function as a breakwater, breaking waves. They are not concerned with having a level surface there for people to walk on.”

Officials were concerned in large part with the potential for ice to build up in winter, causing the structure to deteriorate.

But Wagner said it is designed to withstand the pressure from ice, noting the walkway having grates that allow water to pass through it.

The fact it is suspended will also protect it from potential heaving caused by ice on the surface of the breakwater, Hinrichs said.

But Wagner told aldermen they may need to be more proactive about keeping people off the new walkway when weather is poor, especially in winter. The new walkway is likely to look safer than it is in such weather, he 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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