Graham Kilmer
MKE County

McKinley Beach Safety Project Begins Soon

County soliciting contractors for beach reconstruction.

By - Apr 17th, 2023 04:37 pm
Photo by Jeramey Jannene taken August 7th, 2011 all rights reserved.

Photo by Jeramey Jannene taken August 7th, 2011.

Milwaukee County is preparing to begin a reconstruction of McKinley Beach that should make it safer for swimmers.

The project, approved by supervisors in 2022, will involve adding sand and re-grading the beach floor to make the swimming area shallower and less prone to powerful rip currents.

County policymakers decided the Lake Michigan beach’s safety needed to be addressed after three fatal drownings in 2020. In 2021, an engineering firm was hired to study the conditions at the beach and develop a solution.

A number of options, varying in cost, were presented to the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors. Ultimately, supervisors decided to pay to have the beach restored to the original conditions present after it was built in the 1980s. This meant bringing in loads of sand to reduce the average water depth to two-and-a-half feet between the breakwaters that form an opening to the wider lake from the beach’s swimming area.

The crescent moon-shaped beach was developed on a sandy patch of lakeshore in 1989. It was intended as a “pocket beach” that served a dual purpose as both a public amenity and as protection for Lincoln Memorial Drive from the sometimes damaging power of the lake.

The breakwaters that make up some of this protection, though, also contribute to the development of dangerous rip currents at the beach. In 2020, when the lake had historically high water levels, the depth between the two breakwaters was as high as six feet. This created a larger, and more powerful column of water being channeled between them, as Heather Stabo, a senior engineer with SEH (which studied the issue for the county), explained in 2022.

When the board approved $712,000 in funding to reduce water depths at the beach, it was estimated that the project could be completed by fall 2023. The county’s Department of Administration began soliciting potential contractors for the job this month.

Once finished, the shallower channel between the breakwaters should reduce the power of rip currents, even when the ever-fluctuating lake is at historic levels.

Categories: MKE County, Parks, Weekly

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