Hurricane Makes Wave of Yet Unknown Scale and Impact

Oct 30, 2012

Assistance streams to the east coast as Hurricane Sandy bears down; local officials worry its effects will be felt along Lake Michigan's shoreline.

As a vicious hybrid of hurricane and winter storm ravages the eastern seaboard, Milwaukee is preparing to feel the effects.

Waiting for what the day may bring.

Waves up to 15 feet and gale winds are expected to buffet Lake Michigan's western shore.

WUWM Environmental Reporter Susan Bence talked with people Monday preparing for what might come.

Michael Wrench moves methodically along Bradford Beach with his Milwaukee County Parks crew.

"I believe I've got nine out here right now," Wrench says.

Every six feet or so, workers pound metal posts deep into the sand and stretch bundles of snow fencing across the frame.

Wrench calls this normal winter beach preparation, just a couple weeks early.

His colleague Joe Roszak hopes working ahead of the storm and mobilizing heavy equipment will put lakefront parks in a proactive position - in case Lake Michigan spews sand or rocks.

"Big front end loaders grate alls other bobcats and things like that, we're moving it close; so if we do need it, we make a phone call and within a couple hours we can get it down here. So we're trying to be really proactive," Roszak says.

The county has spent thousands of dollars over the last few years, lining the lakefront with an intricate storm water run-off system. It includes deep-rooted native plants and water absorbent rain gardens.

Roszak is confident the system will withstand the storm.

"All of the plantings have really taken over the past two years. If we would have just put them in; if you remember, even a year ago, some of them still had still had snow fencing around them and they were left up all year round. Right now, those plantings are pretty solid, so we're pretty comfortable that those will stay maintained. We may have to dig some sand out of it here or there if they do get bogged down with blowing, but we don't think we have to do anything overly precautious with them," Roszak says.

South of Bradford Beach, Milwaukee's port master has his eye on what could happen on the water.

Wayne Johnson was expecting an 800-foot steel-hauling ship to arrive in the harbor early Tuesday morning....

"That's been canceled," Johnson says.

...and he made sure vulnerable boats have been moved to calmer inner harbor waters.

"The Lake Express has moved into the mooring basin, along with the Denise Sullivan which is usually over by Discovery World," Johnson says.

Still Johnson worries about the private vessels still dotting the water. Nearby, Pat Nora looks after boats moored at the South Shore Yacht Club.

Monday afternoon only two boats remained in his slips.

"They are being moved today before the storm sets in. But there are mooring fields to the north and south of us which are owned by the county and there are quite a few boats on both sides yet. Now we have members who have moorings there, but we don't have control over whose those boats are," Nora says.

Nora remained hopeful that the owners would move those vessels out of storm's way.

"If you recall last year we had quite a storm and I believe there were five or six boats that were severely damaged, some of them totally when they washed up against the rocks during the storm last year, late in the fall," Nora says. Also located along Milwaukee's shoreline is the Jones Island sewage treatment plant.

Spokesman Bill Graffin would only say the facility stands on fill and concrete that puts it 10 feet above normal water level

A wall along the plants' Lake Michigan side adds 8 feet of buffer.

We Energies runs two power plants along Lake Michigan – to the south in Oak Creek and north in Port Washington.

Spokesperson Cathy Schulze says both will weather the hurricane-driven storm just fine.

"Our breakwaters and other near shore features have been designed for higher wave conditions than those expected with the storm, so we should be able to weather the storm just fine," Schulze says.

Schulze says the breakwaters are designed to handle waves cresting at 30 feet.

A common thread ran through every conversation predicting how violent weather might influence this sweep of Lake Michigan's coast.

Of greater concern to Milwaukee's inner waters and shoreline is "teetering on record low" lake levels.