Harbor panel shocked by sweeping marina plan

Commission pans concepts such as Coal Dock Park launch ramps, breakwaters that would close harbor to large ships

HARBORMASTER DENNIS CHERNY pointed out some changes proposed for the marina to Karen Oleski during an open house on a proposed long-term lakefront and downtown plan last week. Photo by Sam Arendt
By 
KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Ozaukee Press staff

A marina development concept included in Port Washington’s proposed downtown master plan calls for changes that would alter the city’s lakefront significantly.

The plan includes building a new breakwater to protect the west slip, moving the marina fuel piers and the marina service building and relocating the launch ramps to Coal Dock Park.

A long discussed pedestrian bridge that would connect Rotary and Coal Dock parks is also included in the plan.

But the sweeping changes, their impact on the lakefront and marina and the high cost of these projects shocked the Harbor Commission when members got a look at them Monday.

Commission Chairman Gerald Gruen Jr. said he was especially frustrated because the commission wasn’t consulted when the concepts were put together.

“We’re the people who run the marina,” he said. “It makes me a little bit angry. If they’re going to come and make a bunch of suggestions, shouldn’t they come here first.”
Harbormaster Dennis Cherny said the concepts proposed by Graef, a consultant hired by the city to come up with a master plan for the downtown and lakefront, are just that, ideas.

Commission members were expected to give their input at two public meetings regarding the downtown plan, the most recent of which was held last week, Cherny said.

Commission members discussed the concept plan but postponed any formal action, saying they want representatives from Graef to present the plan and explain the rationale behind it at their October meeting.

Many of the concepts in the plan were panned by the commission, which said many are unrealistic and expensive.

At last week’s public meeting on the downtown plan, Graef waterfront consultant Ed Freer said that the concepts are intended to minimize conflicts between marina tenants and fishermen while maximizing use of the lakefront.

“The waterfront means something different to everyone,” Freer said, adding the concepts are intended to capitalize on people’s excitement about the lakefront while not compromising on the infrastructure Port has built up.

“These are not recommendations,” he stressed. “These are options.”

But the key option, he said, is to build a breakwater to protect the harbor.

“This is the key,” he said. “This is the game changer.”

This, he said, will allow the city to potentially double the size of the marina, relocate the marina service building and repurpose Coal Dock Park by moving the launch ramps there.

This, Freer said, will allow the city to separate the launch ramps from the other marina operations and provide more trailer parking in Coal Dock Park.

But Harbor Commission members were skeptical, especially after seeing a drawing of the breakwater.

“It’s not realistic,” commission member Tim Osowski said. “It’s a navigational hazard.”

Cherny noted that the configuration of the breakwater can change, adding that there could be enough room to get large vessels, including cruise ships, into the harbor. A docking area would be created at the east end of Coal Dock Park for these vessels, according to the plan.

“We’re a deep water harbor. A lot of places don’t have that,” Cherny said. “We can take cruise ships here.”

Thousand-foot vessels wouldn’t fit, however, he said.

“This (breakwater) is a primary suggestion,” he said. “Anything to protect from an easterly storm.”

Moving the launch ramps to the west end of Coal Dock Park is proposed in the plan, but Cherny said that would be difficult.

Because the park is significantly higher than the water, he said, “you have to cut into the land to make it feasible.”

And that, he said, is likely expensive and could change the configuration of the park.

Osowski also noted that the currents created by We Energies’ discharge are strong and could make launching boats in the area difficult at best.

That change would also require a satellite building and crew to staff the launch ramps, Cherny said.

“That would be a logistical nightmare,” Osowski said.

But commission members liked the fact that trailer parking could then be accommodated at Coal Dock Park, freeing parking for marina tenants and eliminating many of the traffic issues experienced in the marina lot.

The creation of a pedestrian bridge that would link Coal Dock and Rotary parks, something that has long been discussed by the city, is also included in the plan.

Cherny estimated the cost would be around $13 million, noting it has to either be tall enough for boats to go under or be a type of drawbridge to allow boat traffic.

The harbor is considered navigable water, so boat traffic needs to be accommodated, he added.

“If you build a breakwater, you open up the area to anyone,” Cherny noted.

“I like a bridge. It would help join the two,” Gruen said. “If it wasn’t so expensive, I think it would be nice.”

But, Cherny said, a pedestrian bridge isn’t necessarily something everyone desires.

“Anyone who’s a walker doesn’t care about it,” he said, noting many people don’t have an issue walking between the two parks.

Protecting the harbor would also allow for a marina expansion southeast of the inner breakwater with a mooring area east of that, Cherny said. The mooring area could also be used as a protected area where people could learn to sail.

To help monitor this area as well as the current marina, the plan shows the marina service building moving to the current blue bridge. Cherny said the idea is to fill the area under the bridge and build atop it.

But that, he said, would restrict water circulation.

“We’re saying we don’t think you could do that,” Cherny said.

That was echoed by Osowski, who noted that without the unfettered circulation of water, algae and weeds will grow in the marina.

The plan also calls for the fuel dock to be moved to an area near the new marina service building, something Cherny said he doesn’t like.

Gruen noted that the city is considering replacing the existing fuel tanks next year, a $500,000 project that it may want to rethink if it plans to go ahead with the lakefront plan.

Cherny was likewise skeptical of the idea of the mooring area next to an expanded marina.

“That’s a fishing area,” he said, adding, “It’s possible you could do something.”

Adding moorings in that area could be detrimental to the marina, Gruen said, because it offers an alternative to the slips.

The plan also calls for the city to create an area for youth sailing classes between piers four and five, something Cherny said he has concerns with.

“There’s boat traffic there,” he said. “That may not fly there.”

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