In April 2016, a Wisconsin Public Service boom truck — used at the time to replace light bulbs over the old Minocqua fishing pier — damaged the pier when the Ford F-450’s right front wheel went through the decking.
Since that time, there have been studies and evaluations of the 305-foot long structure next to the north end of the U.S. Highway 51 bridge over Lake Minocqua, a structure that is, essentially, what’s left of the old Hwy. 51 bridge.
It was made clear early on whichever way the town ultimately decides to go with the old pier, whether demolishing it and replacing it with a new, smaller structure, the cost would not be cheap, more than likely into hundreds of thousands of dollars.
During a discussion about the pier at a town board meeting in June of this year, Minocqua public works director Mark Pertile briefed the board on the latest on the pier’s condition and what was being done in the short term, to include temporarily shoring up and reinforcing the decking.
“I think we need to start talking about a long-term solution,” he said then.
Step by step
The pier was once again on the agenda for Tuesday’s town board meeting.
Eau Claire-based Ayers Associates, which performed a below water level assessment of the structure in 2017 and has been involved in subsequent studies and assessments since, was represented at Tuesday’s town board meeting by structural engineer Dan Sydow.
Pertile opened the discussion about the pier, saying what he was looking for was direction from the town board was whether or not it wanted Sydow to put together a proposal for submittal consideration to different entities such as the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources for grants.
Sydow told the town board he felt the right approach was being taken.
“Kind of doing it step by step,” he said. “The underwater evaluation that was done in 2017 as the first step, starting to get some cost estimates and, like Mark mentioned, try to take it a little step further with some more information for you to consider as you move forward ... you have a really good asset there but you’re at a critical, point from a structural condition perspective.”
Sydow said the grant programs with available funding were “very competitive.”
“Just to let you know, we’ve helped out communities throughout the state with those, but they really look for communities to make an investment in taking that a little bit further along with things like concepts, renderings, things like that show you’re really serious about it,” he said.
Among those possible programs included in the Ayers report are the Land and Water Conservation Fund, Wisconsin Public Service Foundation and the DNR’s Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program.
Two other programs — the Sportfish Restoration Grant Program and Recreational Boating Facilities Grants — were also identified in the Ayers report, but neither mentions piers as being eligible for funding consideration.
“You’ll have to sell your project to these different grant programs,” Sydow said. “Just something to keep in mind as you move forward.”
Also included in the packet of information supplied to the town board by Sydow were photos of the pier’s infrastructure, many showing the years of deterioration taking their toll on the 92 year old pier.
“We did do a kind of ‘walk around’ evaluation,” he said. “Kind of ‘top down.’ The railings are in pretty good shape but they’re not code compliant.”
Sydow highlighted other photos from 2017 that show excessive deterioration.
“We did put some recommendations in the report because there are some concerning things that we saw out there,” he said. “Considerations should be made for closing off some of those areas with the worst part of deterioration. We recommended a pretty proactive monitoring program be implemented because there are some pretty serious things going on there.”
One of the recommendations was installation of something like a bollard.
“To keep any vehicle from getting on out there,” Sydow said. “It’s to that point where you don’t want anything with heavier, concentrated loads getting out on the pier unless its a controlled area and you have it looked at beforehand.”
Moving forward with different design configurations and ideas, he said public safety would be number one.
“Cost is a big one,” Sydow said. “This is an expensive piece of infrastructure for the town. Deterioration we talked about, the boat slips.”
Accessibility to the pier under provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act he said was another big consideration.
“We’ve had a number of projects of late where we’ve designed in ADA-accessible fishing accommodations,” Sydow said. “That goes a long ways when you’re looking at these different grant programs.”
After Sydow’s presentation, there was more extensive discussion about next steps the town should take with regard to the pier.
“To repair it (the pier) or rehabilitate it as is probably one of the most expensive options,” town chairman Mark Hartzheim said. “Replacing it at the same size is probably the most expensive.”
Former town chairman Don Gauger, who’s been in meetings recently with Hartzheim and Pertile, said there seemed to be agreement the pier’s replacement — should that be the way decided moving forward — shouldn’t be the same size.
“I think that’ll significantly change the cost figure,” he said.
Gauger highlighted some of the success the town of Minocqua has had over the years in attaining grant funding for the Bearskin Trail and Torpy Park.
“I think we would be looked (at) favorably in doing this,” he said. “And certainly with the reduction.”
The town board had earlier that day conducted a work session for the town’s 2020 budget so cost for whatever would eventually be decided regarding the pier was something town board members were thinking about.
Input from the public was also something brought up.
“Everybody’s gonna have a different idea of what the priority is,” Hartzheim said. “We can talk about having public information meetings to get input. I don’t see that as being a problem. See what the public interest is.”
There was no time frame set, but Wednesday, he said holding a public information meeting sometime in the near future “is the best we can do now.”
“I’m gonna try and get a hold of some of the DNR staff that can help us and give us some of the documentation for some of these grants that are available so we can learn a little bit more what we should be focusing on and what elements of design are going to be important to try and be successful in getting a grant,” Hartzheim said. “We want to keep the process moving forward.”
He said with regard to a public information meeting, whether five people show up for it or 50 do, it’s part of that process.
“I think it’s important to give the public an opportunity to give input and ask questions prior to going too far down this path,” Hartzheim said. “Ultimately, I think it’s really gonna come down to how much grant money can cover because if the town’s on the hook for a lot of it, it really brings into question what’s justifiable. The fishing pier would be really nice to have, it’s a nice asset but how much taxpayer money should be going toward that?”
Brian Jopek may be reached via email at [email protected]