Residents plead for help, city explores flooding solutions

Homeowners pack meeting room as Port board members discuss fixes for areas hit worst by floods

VEHICLES PARKED on a ramp leading to an underground parking garage at the Lighthouse Condominiums at the corner of Jackson and Lake streets in Port Washington, as well as dozens more inside the garage, were ruined during flooding on Aug. 27. Press file photo
Ozaukee Press staff

eted the Port Washington Board of Public Works Tuesday asking what the city is going to do to prevent the future floods like the one that damaged their homes and destroyed possessions on Aug. 27.

“I’m asking, I’m begging you guys, please figure out what the problem is,” said Brad Bertler, who lives in the Lighthouse Condominiums at 415 N. Lake St. “We cannot have this problem all the time. We’ve got to get this figured out.”

Board Chairman Jason Wittek said the board is taking the situation seriously, saying, “We do have an obligation to look at this and see what we can do.”

Although the board took no action, it directed Public Works Director Rob Vanden Noven to look into several options to potentially mitigate flooding in the city, with members saying they will revisit the issue at their Oct. 9 meeting.

Wendy Mueller, 235 N. Spring St., told the board that her house flooded for the third time in 32 years.

“We want to know why it happened. We had seven feet of sludge and gunk in our house,” Mueller said. “It took away security — this is our house. It’s our home. You need to understand. This is serious.”

“I’d like you guys to look at everything,” her neighbor Greg Williams, 223 N. Spring St., said. “You’re going to have to spend money. I hold the city responsible. I hold the city culpable.”

Ald. Jonathan Pleitner apologized to the crowd, saying, “I’m sorry these things have happened.”

He noted that the city along with Stantec, an engineering firm, had come up with a $1 million-plan to mitigate flooding on the west side three years ago but the plan was abandoned after several property owners refused to provide the city with easement needed for the work.

“I think we should have listened to Stantec,” Pleitner said. “I’d like to see us revisit this plan. It seems like this was the best option and the cheapest option.”

Pleitner added that if residents still don’t want to provide the easements, the city may have to look at condemning the properties — something most officials are loath to do.

“Maybe that’s something the city should consider if it’s that important to the property owners,” he said. 

Vanden Noven warned that anything the city does will have its limits, noting the plans developed three years ago for the west side would prevent a 100-year storm, but last month’s flooding was caused by a 500-year storm.

The storm, which dropped nine inches of rain on the city over a short period of time, created such powerful flows that it washed out two concrete culverts under Hales Trail, each of them weighing 16,000 pounds, Street Commissioner J.D. Hoile said.

Vanden Noven said the flooding at the Lighthouse Condominiums on Lake Street occurred in large part because a large tree stump floated down Valley Creek and blocked the culvert leading to the lake.

“I don’t think anyone can say definitively we can prevent blockage,” Vanden Noven said. 

“What contingency plans do you have in place?” asked Karen Oleski, Bertler’s neighbor at the Lighthouse Condominiums. “This year’s damage appears to be almost double what it was 10 years ago.”

Roughly 123,000 gallons of water was pumped from the underground parking level at the Lighthouse Condominiums, she said.

“We were a retention pond,” Oleski said.

Ald. Mike Gasper, a member of the board, suggested the city consider using the nearby Guenther Pond area as a retention pond during storms, but Vanden Noven said it is not large enough to make a significant difference.

The board directed Vanden Noven to look at the idea of re-routing Valley Creek across Veterans Park to the lake, saying this might be the best option.

The concept was considered in 2011, when the city made improvements to mitigate flooding in the area, but a short timeframe for the work made it impractical, he noted.

Members also directed him to make improvements to the culvert that would lessen the chances of it being blocked.

“I don’t want to give anyone the impression it will be foolproof,” Vanden Noven cautioned. “No matter what we prepare for, Mother Nature will come up with something better.”

Because of that, the board also asked him to work with the Lighthouse Condominium owners to make changes there, such as increasing the height of the retaining wall, to minimize flooding.

Gasper also asked that the city look into whether the Department of Natural Resources would have any grants that could potentially offset the cost of any work.

On the city’s west side, the board directed Vanden Noven to revisit the Stantec plan from 2015.

That plan, which was designed for a 100-year storm, would have increased the capacity of the retention pond at Spinnaker West and created a temporary one at City Park, then created a channel and re-established a more natural path for the stormwater to travel east.

“If we had constructed these improvements, we would have minimized the damage significantly,” Vanden Noven said.

Rich Klein of Stantec said he would also like to look at the option of using a portion of the Simplicity property as a retention area, saying that would help eliminate the potential for increased flooding downstream, something board members agreed to investigate.

Ald. John Sigwart, a member of the board, also said the city needs to look at reasonable phases to the plan because the community can’t afford to do all the work at once.

Ald. Pat Tearney, who is also a board member, agreed, but said the city has to commit to the program instead of doing it piecemeal.

Sigwart also suggested the city consider buying several of the most severely damage houses.

“Even if we make these improvements, it’s going to flood again,” he said. “It’s not if it’s going to happen again, it’s when.”


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