Graham Kilmer
MKE County

McKinley Beach Reconstruction Project Paused

Changes to the reconstruction plan have prompted reviews by state and federal agencies, delaying the project.

By - Aug 4th, 2023 04:57 pm

A front end loader sits idle at McKinley Beach. Photo by Graham Kilmer, June 2023.

The beach reconstruction project at McKinley Beach has been put on pause as federal and state agencies review changes to the project.

McKinley Beach has been closed to the public since a string of fatal drownings in 2020 prompted local officials to take action. The Milwaukee County Board funded the reconstruction of the beach to improve water conditions, and work began in June.

The plan is to bring in new sand and regrade the beach to reduce water depths from the shoreline to the edge of the two breakwaters that are built out from the ends of the crescent moon beach. Approximately $1.09 million was budgeted for the entire project, with approximately $918,000 for construction and the rest for design and a study of the beach conditions.

When work got underway in late June, it was discovered that it would require less sand than what was planned for, said Jim Tarantino, parks deputy director. Originally, the project was planned with 11,600 cubic yards of sand, or 850 dump truck loads.

But now they’ll need less and, Tarantino said, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency are reviewing these changed plans.

Projects that affect the lake bed are heavily regulated. Lake Michigan is covered by the Public Trust Doctrine, which holds all navigable waters in trust by the state for the benefit of the public.

A study of the water conditions along the beach was conducted throughout 2021. It found that historically high water levels in 2020 were contributing to the dangerous power of rip currents along the two breakwaters. When the beach was built in 1989, the water depth between the breakwaters was approximately two feet. In 2020 they went higher than six feet. The deeper water provides more energy for waves and rip currents.

With limited resources and knowledge that the water levels were likely contributing to drownings, supervisors funded the plan to fill in and regrade the beach. Sarah Toomsen, planning and development manager, recently said that the department plans to implement a system for monitoring water levels and beach conditions over time. “So that, hopefully, we don’t run into a scenario again, where we have scour holes, extreme depths, and then, when we have high water events or large wave activity at the beach, there are unsafe conditions.”

Originally, the reconstruction of the beach was expected to wrap up in time for beachgoers to enjoy it before the end of the summer. With this new delay, that is unlikely.

June Construction Photos

If you think stories like this are important, become a member of Urban Milwaukee and help support real, independent journalism. Plus you get some cool added benefits.

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us