PRESS EDITORIAL: North beach is nature’s gift and the city’s responsibility

Lake Michigan belongs to the public, to all of us. But the beaches along the Wisconsin shore belong to only a few. The natural access to one of the world’s most magnificent natural resources is largely controlled by private owners. Which is why the City of Port Washington should make reopening, stabilizing and protecting a beach that is owned by the public a priority.

Port Washington’s north beach has been officially closed for most of the summer following a mudslide that blocked part of it. But it has been effectively closed for several years by a barricade of storm-tossed tree trunks and other detritus at its entrance that discourages all but the most adventuresome beach seekers.

Rather than clearing the debris to make a safer, easier-to-use approach to the beach as an interim step while a long-term fix is worked out, the city has ignored the obstruction to public access.

The mudslide did, however, get the attention of city officials, and a respected engineering firm specializing in shoreline erosion has been retained to draft a plan to restore the beach and stabilize the Upper Lake Park bluff behind it. This is progress, and the preliminary assessment by the engineers suggests that effective solutions are available.

But those solutions will take time, almost certainly years. North beach must not be off limits for that duration.

The city is concerned about public safety, of course, but the status quo is more dangerous than the beach would be if it were reopened with its entrance cleared for safer passage.

“Beach closed” signs and the daunting entrance do not deter folks who are intent on a beach walk. And as the beach widens with the seasonal drop in the lake level, north beach will be even more of an irresistible attraction for some.

Better to mitigate the hazard and let the pubic use its beach. There may be a remote chance of another mudslide, but even so, walking on north beach after the entrance is cleared would likely be safer than crossing some Port Washington streets.

According to Roger Miller of the Sheboygan firm Miller Engineers and Scientists, restoration of the beach will include paring back the park bluff to achieve a slope that will support vegetation and a revetment at its foot to counter wave erosion.

An encouraging aspect of Miller’s initial report is that it rules out a dubious solution to the beach and bluff problems proposed for the city by other consultants in 2001, which called for construction of an offshore breakwater. It was an absurdly expensive idea that would interfere with water circulation and invite high bacteria counts that could cause beach closures.

The Miller firm also assured city officials that its plan would avoid the mistakes made on the Mequon shoreline in 2007, when Concordia University Wisconsin constructed a $12 million, 2,700-foot-long rock wall on its beach. The revetment protected the university property, but at the expense of adjacent homeowners. Studies found that the wall worsened erosion of nearby bluffs and beaches. Neighbors sued and a jury found that Concordia caused “significant harm” to other properties, but awarded no damages.

Miller called the Concordia project “the worst thing you can do on an open shoreline.”

Protecting Port Washington’s beach and bluff will cost millions, but the financial impact is expected to be relieved somewhat by state and federal grants and the fact that the project can be carried out in stages.

Avoiding the work, or delaying its start, cannot be options. The city government has a responsibility to ensure that Port’s precious Lake Michigan shore will be accessible to its owners, the people of Port Washington—now and in the future.

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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
 

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