Graham Kilmer
MKE County

South Shore Breakwater Getting Emergency Repairs This Fall

But 2023 budget politics may have killed appetite for long-term repairs.

By - Aug 18th, 2023 08:09 pm

South Shore Park Breakwater in 2019. Photo by Graham Kilmer.

Emergency repairs to one portion of the South Shore breakwater will begin after Labor Day weekend.

The three-section breakwater is constructed out of piles of large stone and acts as a protective off-shore barrier for South Shore Park, the South Shore Yacht Club and nearby bluffs.

In 2020, severe winter storms greatly damaged the already deteriorating north and south sections of the breakwater. The storms were declared a disaster by the federal government, making repairs eligible for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) support, but FEMA denied the request, leaving the county to fund the project on its own.

The north section received $2.4 million in the 2023 county budget for emergency repairs.

Milwaukee County Parks recently amended its lease agreement with the yacht club because of the damage to the breakwaters. The holes are allowing for storm surges and waves to smash into the docks and boat slips there. As such, the club has had trouble filling all its slips.

Jeremy Lucas, director of administration and planning for Milwaukee County Parks, said the rock for the repairs is on its way and will arrive after Labor Day, Sept. 4. The repairs will be enough to patch holes in the northern section of the breakwater, but not enough to build up the breakwater for the long term. Full repair of the northern section of the breakwater is estimated to cost approximately $14.8 million now that detailed planning and design has completed.

The emergency funding for the breakwater was allocated through an amendment to the 2023 budget sponsored by supervisors Ryan Clancy and Deanna Alexander that siphoned funds away from another sea wall project that was fully designed and scheduled for construction in 2023. Design on full repairs to the breakwater, which Parks has spent approximately $1 million on, had not yet been completed.

But with $2.4 million already spent and a very long list of projects competing for county funds, appetite for an additional $14 million is already on the wane.

Sea Wall Shuffle

The McKinley Marina Flushing Channel is a relatively boring piece of county infrastructure that nonetheless is a part of the sea wall that wraps around McKinley Park and Veterans Park.

After roughly a century, it is dilapidated and needs fixing before a section of it crumbles into the lake. In recent years, Parks began the multi-year process of budget and contract approvals by spending $300,000 to have the flushing channel evaluated and repairs designed. By 2023, the project was shovel-ready and included in the county executive’s recommended budget. But a group of supervisors seeking to chop up some money for their own districts pulled funding from the project.

At the end of a marathon budget meeting in 2022, a handful of county supervisors withheld their support for the approximately $1.3 billion budget in order to divvy up less than $5 million among a number projects spread across their districts. The ringleaders for the amendment were Clancy and Alexander. The only supervisors that voted against it were Supervisors Liz Sumner, Shawn Rolland, Marcelia Nicholson and Sheldon Wasserman.

But already, the amendment sent consequences rolling for future budgets. The cost of the flushing channel continues to grow with each year of inaction, and now it has to compete against new projects that weren’t scheduled for funding when it was axed in 2023. And the long-term repairs to the South Shore Breakwater were not included in a recommendation for funding headed to County Executive David Crowley.

That recommendation is a list of projects developed by the county’s ad-hoc Capital Improvements Committee (CIC). Joe Lamers, director of the county’s Strategy, Performance and Budget Office, advocated for at least partially funding the breakwater repairs. Something engineers have told Parks could work.

Sumner, a member of the CIC, pushed to move the breakwater repairs out of the budget, saying the board was “pretty much coerced” into including it by the holdout supervisors. “It’s a lot of money and I just think there are other needs.” She suggested moving that funding toward replacing vehicles in the county’s fleet.

“I feel like the fleet took a big hit last year,” Sumner said.

“It did,” chimed in Donna Brown-Martin, director of the Milwaukee County Department of Transportation.

Sup. Steve Taylor asked for a reason to keep the breakwater project in the list of recommendations.

Lucas told the committee the department wants to make progress on its repair. “The main point is that our needs outstrip our resources,” Lucas said, noting that the flushing channel didn’t move forward because of the breakwater repairs and that every project, breakwater included, is only getting more expensive.

“It seems that amendment kinda backfired in the long term,” Taylor said. “Yeah, alright, I’ll stick with the fleet.”

The majority of the committee supported Sumner’s idea to move the funding to fleet replacement.

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Categories: MKE County

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