Sale of We Energies land could impact public beach access

Utility owns south beach and buyer of bluff land could limit use but official says that’s unlikely

The entrance to Port Washington's south beach. Photo by Bill Schanen IV
Ozaukee Press staff

We Energies’ decision to sell almost 23 acres of bluff land could limit the amount of land visitors to Port Washington’s south beach can enjoy.

The land that’s for sale is between the utility’s power plant and the proposed Prairie’s Edge subdivision. It stretches from South Wisconsin Street east to the beach below the bluff. 

The utility has no current use for the land, prompting its decision to sell the property, We Energies spokesman Amy Jahns said.

The land is being marketed by Dickman Co. and the asking price is $1.38 million, Brian Manthey, another We Energies spokesman, said.

The property is about 400 feet south of the beach parking lot, he said. The beach is owned by the utility but used as a public park through an agreement between the city and We Energies.

However, the border of south beach is not delineated, and for the most part people use the shoreline as a public facility.

“It’s an area we let the public use,” Jahns said.

When asked what impact the sale could have on south beach, Jahns said that would be up to the city and its zoning and the potential buyer.

While We Energies had offered about half the land for sale when the city sought development proposals for what is to be the Prairie’s Edge subdivision, the utility specified then that it would only consider commercial uses for the land.

That has changed, Manthey said.

“It’s not restricted to commercial uses,” he said.

Port Washington City Administrator Mark Grams said he does not believe the sale will have any impact on south beach and the public’s use of the lakeshore.

“I’m more concerned about the high water taking away the beach than any development on top,” he said.

That’s because accessing the beach from the top of the bluff is difficult, not to mention costly, Grams said, something that would likely deter any development from closing the lakefront below the bluff.

“Getting to the beach is likely to be pretty cost prohibitive,” he said. “That’s not to say it’s never going to happen.”

The city can’t use its zoning code to prevent a private property owner from keeping people off their beach, Grams added.

But he said he believes any development that occurs on the site will be commercial rather than residential.

“I suppose it’s a possibility, but you have the power plant right there,” Grams said. “That’s why We Energies preferred not to have any residential use there (when development proposals were sought for the Prairie’s Edge land).”

The Prairie’s Edge land, in fact, used to be We Energies property. The city acquired the undeveloped land from We Energies more than a decade ago as part of a deal in which the community agreed to support the utility’s conversion of its coal-fired plant to a natural gas-fueled facility.

But when the city sought development proposals for that land and sold it to Black Cap Halcyon for the Prairie’s Edge subdivision, it required the property owner to maintain public access to the beach and bluff land.


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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.

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