Graham Kilmer
MKE County

New Area for South Shore Beach Chosen

One of most polluted beaches in U.S. could be fixed -- if funding can be secured.

By - Dec 3rd, 2019 04:24 pm
New South Shore Beach design rendering.

New South Shore Beach design rendering.

South Shore beach in Bay View could be moved in a few years.

Milwaukee County has landed on a tentative final-plan to move the beach approximately 500 feet south to a spot that is currently a small rocky beach. The current beach is right next to a boat mooring and behind a breakwater, leading to stagnant, dirty water. The Environment America Research and Policy Center ranked it among the worst beaches for water quality in the country.

South Shore beach is frequently closed to swimming because of contamination, often from E Coli. Rob Wright, a principal and civil engineer with SmithGroup, which is working on the project, once said South Shore beach faces a “perpetual source of pollutants.” Bird excrement, stormwater runoff and sewer overflows overwhelm the current beach’s waters. But moving and re-engineering the beach should help. 

“It’s been so rough as a Bay-View-ite to have such an amazing resource and amenity that’s gorgeous to look at but you can’t really use,” said Sup. Marina Dimitrijevic, who has for years been pushing to revitalize the beach.

In 2018 the county contracted with SmithGroup, an engineering firm with offices across the U.S., to study and develop plans to improve water quality at South Shore. In September of that year, the engineering firm presented four options, and the county has finally landed on what officials believe is the best option.

The plan is still being vetted for permitting, “to see if they’re going to allow all of the improvements,” in the model, Wright said. The project needs approval from the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The federal Environmental Protection Agency and the DNR will also have to do most of the “heavy-lifting” with funding the project, Dimitrijevic said. 

There’s isn’t a definite price tag for the project yet, but Wright estimated it would cost between $6 and $8 million. The county is planning to apply for funding through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which funds environmental and ecological restoration and protection projects on the Great Lakes. The EPA and other federal agencies disburse funds for projects approved under the program.

The key to improving water quality under the proposed plan, Wright said, is moving the beach closer to the existing opening in the breakwater. This opening provides for already existing currents that will move the water along the beach and pull contaminant away. The plan would also build two breakwaters at the north and south ends of the new beach inducing a current that will also pull pollutants away from the beach. The plan also calls for steepening the beach and using a bigger grain of sand, about the size of a grain of rice, Wright said. The bigger grains drain freely and don’t hold the E Coli growing pollutants like the current sand.

Dimitrijevic won’t be in office when South Shore Beach is finally moved as she is running for election to the Milwaukee Common Council in 2020. Dimitrijevic said she has pushed for revitalization of South Shore since her first term in 2004.

Now, in her final term, “We’re inching towards moving the beach, decreasing the closures,” she said, A life-long Bay View resident, Dimitrijevic said she is thinking about her children, ages three and one, and the possibility that in a few years they may be able to actually swim in the water at South Shore Park, “water that we, growing up just knew we wouldn’t go into.”

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Categories: MKE County, Real Estate

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