Town signs off on artificial reef plan for Port

Board agrees to become grant co-applicant as proposal to sink freighter, sculptures heads back to city council
Ozaukee Press staff


Ozaukee Press staff

The Port Washington Town Board on Monday agreed to work with the Shipwreck Education and Preservation Alliance on its plan to place structures — sculptures and sunken vessels — at the bottom of Lake Michigan to create artificial reefs off Port’s shore that it says will improve the aquatic environment and help restore native fish levels.

The board agreed to become a co-applicant with SEAPA as it seeks permits from the Department of Natural Resources and Army Corps of Engineers to place structures at the bottom of the lake.

Town approval is needed because it is the riparian owner of a 60-foot-wide swath of shoreline directly west of the site SEAPA plans to use. The property, which largely consists of a ravine, is off Noridge Trail.

SEAPA, a nonprofit organization dedicated to shipwreck preservation, freshwater education and aquatic habitat restoration, has proposed a six-phase, $9.97 million project intended to create artificial reefs off Port’s shore that it says will improve the aquatic environment and help restore native fish levels.

The initiative will also develop a public access into the lake, aid in educational efforts at local schools and colleges, help local police, fire and dive teams train for emergencies and increase tourism, said SEAPA President Tish Hase, co-owner of Port Deco Divers in Port Washington.

Hase told the Town Board that SEAPA wants to place sculptures in the lake east of the land owned by the township.

“Nothing’s going to be above the water,” she said. 

The sculpture would be placed in a naturally rocky area with glacial boulders of 15 to 20 feet high, including one known as School Bus Rock.

The first sculpture could be placed as soon as spring, she said. 

Several other riparian property owners have agreed to become co-applicants, Hase noted.

A project like this has not been done before in the Great Lakes, she said, although a large rock sculpture has been placed at Thunder Bay in Michigan, she said.

“They’re seeing a huge increase in the fish population,” Hase said.

Supr. Gary Schlenvogt asked whether the town was committing itself financially by agreeing to be an applicant.

SEAPA will be seeking grants and donations to fund the project, which would cost almost $10 million overall — including the cost of acquiring and sinking several vessels.

Board members endorsed the plan.

“I think it would be cool,” Supr. Mike Didier said. “I don’t think the town should interfere with something that’s happening a mile out in the lake.”

“There’s no financial commitment and you’re not using town land,” Schlenvogt noted. “Good luck. This sounds very educational.”

Even as the town approved becoming a co-applicant with SEAPA, the City of Port was expected on Wednesday, Nov. 8, to consider a similar measure.

The plan was proposed to the Common Council last month, but aldermen said they had too many questions to take immediate action on SEAPA’s request. They asked for additional information on SEAPA itself, how it would fund the six-phase project, potential city liability and the potential impact on the fishery, among other things.

In other action, Didier reported that tests on the well and septic system at a house at 3703 Highland Dr. are pending.

The town has agreed to spend $165,000 to buy that property and $80,000 to buy the house at 3709 Highland Dr. from the Gantner family. That’s the same price electors authorized for the purchase earlier this year.

The town would buy the parcels on a three-year land contract, and, barring any issues with the water or septic systems, the closing date is set for Nov. 29, Didier said.

The town had expected to buy the property at 3709 Highland Dr., then raze the house and use the land to improve its recycling operations.

The property at 3703 Highland Dr. is being rented, and officials said they would continue that lease with an eye toward eventually selling the property for development.


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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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Port Washington, WI 53074
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