Port digs into bluff, beach project

City to apply for grant to kick-start what promises to be expensive effort to shore up, reclaim lakefront land

THE ENORMITY OF the June 8 mudslide that covered a section of Port Washington’s north beach and prompted officials to close it for the summer can be seen from the vertical edge of the bluff in Upper Lake Park. Photo by Bill Schanen IV
Ozaukee Press staff

Port Washington’s Board of Public Works took the first step Tuesday in what is sure to be a complex and costly fix as it looks to reclaim the north beach and stabilize the bluff.

That fix will undoubtedly change the  face of both the beach and Upper Lake Park atop the bluff, since the project is likely to require cutting back at least a portion of the bank in order to stabilize it.

The board accepted an offer from the Lakeshore Natural Resource Partnership and Water365 to help apply for a grant from the Fund For Lake Michigan to do pre-engineering work on bluff stabilization.

Public Works Director Rob Vanden Noven said that if the city receives the grant, this work can be done this summer.

The work will give the city a better idea of the cost of stabilizing the bluff so the project can be considered for next year’s capital budget, he said.

It will also give the city some leverage in seeking outside funding for the project, Vanden Noven said.

“There are a number of larger grant opportunities right now. By doing some of the preliminary engineering, we can better position ourselves for these larger grants,” he said.

The Lakeshore Natural Resource Partnership  doesn’t typically get involved in bluff stabilization projects, Vanden Noven said, but because Port is responding to an emergency situation and the project is costly, it is willing to work with the city.

The city should know if it will get the grant, which would cover the full cost of the preliminary engineering, next month, Vanden Noven said.

The work was prompted by the collapse of a large portion of the bluff on June 8 that forced the city to close the beach indefinitely.

Vanden Noven said he has received two proposals for the preliminary engineering work and is waiting for several others.

In general, he said, the two proposals call for burying a revetment where the beach meets the bluff to support the slope and protect it from the waves.

They also call for the bluff to be cut back and planted, a move that will necessitate moving a portion of the northbound road through the park, he said.

The road will not infringe on Possibility Playground, Vanden Noven said, adding that when it is rebuilt the city may add an off-road pedestrian lane, something many residents have sought for years.

“What’s there works well for adults, but it’s not as desirable for someone who would like to walk to the playground with their young children,” he said.

Whatever the city does, it will likely cost millions of dollars and stabilize only a portion of the bluff, not the full 1,700 feet owned by the city, he said.

“I don’t anticipate we would try to stabilize the entire length of the city-owned beach,” he said, adding the project area will likely be north of the staircase from Upper Lake Park.

“I don’t know if we need to have a beach that’s 1,700 feet long if we can offer a safe

beach that’s 1,000 feet long.”

One area that won’t be covered by the project is the hillside directly behind the wastewater treatment plant, he said, because that was stabilized years ago.

Part of the goal, Vanden Noven noted, is to minimize any changes to Upper Lake Park while vastly improving the connection between the park and the lake.

Right now, he said, people standing at Possibility Playground — arguably the most popular feature of the park — don’t see the lake unless they’re looking to the south.

“I believe once the slope is stabilized and cut back, you would have a panoramic view of the lake,” he said. “What you gain is a better connection to the beach, better visibility to the lake and an opportunity to plan a better park that’s more resilient to changing lake levels and extreme weather events.

“Other than the cost, I see this project as bringing positive returns to the city.”

The eroding bluff has plagued the city and beach-goers for decades. In the 1980s and 90s, it wasn’t uncommon for large portions of the bluff to collapse.

In April 1993, a huge mudslide took hundreds of thousands of pounds of earth down the side of the bluff and completely across the beach, leaving a mound of clay-like earth roughly 12 feet high.

Bluff stabilization was a popular topic for years. In 2001, the city commissioned a bluff study by JJR, a firm that specializes in waterfront projects.

The controversial plan proposed by the group called for cutting back the bluff significantly, as well as constructing breakwaters and revetments to protect the base of the bluff at a cost of $4.3 million.

The plan was doomed not just because of the high pricetag but also because many people feared it would require trimming the size of Upper Lake Park too much while destroying the beach below.

Proposals to stabilize the bluff using other methods have been considered through the years, but none has been adopted, in large part due to the cost.


Click Here to Send a Letter to the Editor

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.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


User login