Port Washington - Where generations of city residents looked out on massive hills of coal waiting to fuel the lakefront power plant, a proposed network of recreational trails could begin taking shape later this year that will guide the public through green corridors of trees, lawns and gardens.
A multiyear plan with a preliminary price tag of $27 million includes construction of floating boat docks, interactive displays for children focusing on water or energy themes, and a harborside facility for year-round community events that will draw visitors to its Lake Michigan vistas, City Engineer Rob Vanden Noven said.
He expects final costs to be several million dollars less than a consultant's estimate.
Transformation of the historic coal storage peninsula to a park will complement the marina and nearby beaches, and boost the city's quality of life, said Mary Monday, executive director of the Port Washington Chamber of Commerce.
But public access to that peninsula will transform the city's skyline into an attraction, too, Monday said.
"It's going to give people a completely different view of the city," she said. "From the coal docks, you look up to see the bluffs, hills and old courthouse. It's beautiful.
"But no one has been able to see that view because it was a coal dock," she said.
As a park, "it will give us another reason for people to move here and want to do business here."
We Energies has not stored coal at the harbor since 2004, and the land is vacant. Power-generating units at the plant now burn natural gas.
Port Washington officials might take a step toward creating the proposed public space when the City Council meets Wednesday to consider subleasing the historic north and south coal docks from We Energies.
The city would pay the utility $30 in annual rent to gain access to 19.3 acres for 50 years, under terms of the subleases.
The two coal storage docks were created in the 1930s when a nearby bluff was dug out to make room for the power plant. Soil and stones from the bluff were dumped on the bed of Lake Michigan, and the landfill was used for the coal docks.
Lake beds are publicly owned in Wisconsin. Now that the utility no longer needs the property, control of the land reverts to the Wisconsin Board of Commissioners of Public Lands.
However, the city cannot lease the land from the state board because it does not own any property abutting the docks, according to City Attorney Eric Eberhardt. State law requires the board to lease lake bed property only to an adjacent property owner.
We Energies owns the lakeshore power plant next to the docks, so it will act as the intermediary, leasing the lake bed from the state and passing its access on to the city through the subleases. The state board needs to approve the subleases.
Since 2004, the utility has spent $3.5 million to clean up the property: monitoring groundwater for pollutants, removing 31,252 tons of contaminated soil from the 12.7-acre north dock in 2009, placing clean soil to a depth of 2 feet atop the north dock and investigating contamination at the 6.6-acre south dock.
The north dock was the primary coal storage area, and rain rinsed a variety of chemical contaminants - from benzene to trichloroethane - off the coal piles and into the soil during 70 years of use.
Remediation of the north dock is completed, said John Feeney, a hydrogeologist with the state Department of Natural Resources in Plymouth. The cover of clean soil on the north dock is a barrier that will prevent public exposure to any remaining contaminants in deeper soil.
The DNR had not decided on a final cleanup plan for the south dock.
As part of its remediation responsibilities, We Energies intends to create a shallow pond on the south dock for migratory birds, spokesman Brian Manthey said.
Port Washington would build a pedestrian bridge connecting the docks, Vanden Noven said. The city is seeking a federal grant to help pay a portion of the estimated $285,000 cost of the span.
Port Washington has been awarded a $250,000 state Stewardship grant to pay for half the costs of the proposed harborside promenade. It will be the first piece of the plan to be constructed and should be open later this year, Vanden Noven said.
The city will seek one other state grant this year to help fund construction of recreational trails on the interior of the former north dock.
A paved trail eventually will connect downtown with the north and south docks and the existing South Beach, Vanden Noven said.
By Don Behm of the Journal Sentinel