Village on board with flood mitigation plan

Trustees back county proposal to acquire land to reduce river flooding along Hwy. W, create park
By 
KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Ozaukee Press staff

The Saukville Village Board last week threw its support behind a plan by Ozaukee County to help mitigate persistent flooding of the Milwaukee River along Highway W.

The board approved a resolution supporting a $150,000 Department of Natural Resources Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Grant that Ozaukee County would use to acquire land for the project.

Trustees also agreed unanimously to give the county a 3.54-acre parcel it owns to help with the project, noting the land will ultimately become a county park.

The land, trustees noted, is not developable and of no other use to the community.

“It should be a park,” Trustee Jim Nowlen said.

The county has tentatively been awarded the stewardship grant, Andrew Struck, the county’s director of planning and parks, said.

The proposed project calls for a portion of Highway W between Highway 33 and Schowalter Park to be moved slightly to the east and two culverts that would allow an oxbow, a U-shaped bend, in the river to become active again, Struck said.

The culverts would allow what would otherwise be floodwater to instead flow under the road and into the oxbow, he said.

“That’s where the river really wants to go,” Struck said, noting that this would prevent much of the persistent flooding that has plagued the area and made the highway impassable at times.

Wetlands in the area would also be restored, he said.

“It mimics what was there historically,” Struck said of the oxbow. “It will allow for significantly more capacity and create a really nice amenity overall.”

The road, Struck noted, was built with the intent of allowing the river to flow over it into the oxbow, but as the road was repaired and changes made, it began to act as a dam.

Restoring the oxbow will alleviate some flooding, Struck said, but it would not prevent all flooding.

Preliminary modeling shows that the plan will prevent regular flooding until there is a 20-year storm, he said.

“There is no way to get this out to the 100-year floodplain,” Struck said. “There still are times the road is going to flood.”

When asked if the oxbow could flood and cause issues, Struck noted that the bend will not exacerbate any flooding.

Trustee Andy Hebein asked if the project would alleviate flooding due to spring ice jams.

“Is that going to get jammed up so the oxbow won’t work?” he asked.

“It’s very possible,” Struck said. “But it won’t be any worse than it is now.”

Trustee Trevor Seitz asked if a causeway could be installed.

“We’d love to do that,” Struck said. “It really comes down to cost. That would be 100-fold the cost. We talked about bridging that entire area, but bridges are far more expensive than concrete culverts.”

In addition to alleviating flooding, the project will also allow the county to create a new park with trails and a kayak launch, Struck said. A small parking area would be created on the north end of the project area.

“This will become part of the Ozaukee County park system,” he said.

But while most parkland created with money from the Department of Natural Resources can be used for hunting or trapping, this one would not, Struck said, because the village has an ordinance prohibiting this.

Fishing would likely be allowed, he added, noting that the wetland restoration will help create a spawning area.

“It really will be a nice amenity,” Struck said. “But habitat restoration is a secondary goal here.”

Seitz noted that the village had planned to create a kayak launch just north of the project area — something it won’t have to do if the county’s plan becomes reality.

“By doing this, we’re accomplishing part of our 2030 comprehensive plan,” he said.

The project also is consistent with the comprehensive plan’s goal of protecting natural resource features in the area, officials said.

Trustees noted that the county’s plan calls for five properties to be obtained by the county.

“What if some of them (property owners) don’t sell?” Trustee Scott Fischer asked. “Is this an all or nothing project?”
Not necessarily, Struck said.

“The more land, the better the job we can do,” he said, because it increases the ability to hold stormwater until it can return to the river or be absorbed into the ground.

Struck said the county intends to acquire land from willing buyers, noting officials have had “very preliminary” talks with them.

“We hope we can work with them,” he said.

He said the village could seek compensation for its parcel, but noted the stewardship grant cannot be used to acquire municipal property.

The county has applied for other funding that could be used for this purpose, Struck said, and it will seek grants for other portions of the project as well.

But trustees declined to seek compensation.

“I don’t know why we should go after compensation,” Nowlen said, noting that the land can’t be developed. “What else would we do with the land?”

“Basically, it’s just sitting there,” Village Administrator Dawn Wagner said.

Struck said the county hopes to start acquiring the needed parcels within a year and,  depending on how that goes, to begin construction in three to five years.

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