City lands grants to fund project
By Scott Bellile
Wolf River enthusiasts will have a new downtown dock where they can tie up their boats or catch some fish.
The city of New London landed a pair of grants it will use to purchase a docking system for St. John’s Park.
Public Works Director Jeff Bodoh shared the news with Forward New London, a citizen-led downtown revitalization group affiliated with Connect Communities, at its Jan. 18 meeting.
The city was awarded $287,988 from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ Recreational Boating Facilities Grant Program and another $195,000 from the state DNR’s Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program. The Wisconsin DNR will allow New London to use the grants to cover up to 50 percent of the project costs, meaning most but not necessarily all of the combined $482,988 grant dollars will be used.
The dock will coincide with a project years in the making, the repair of the north shoreline retaining wall parallel to North Water Street. The project will repair various wall joints with reinforcing dowels to prevent further separation of wall sections. A deteriorated section of wall in front of St. John’s Park will be removed and replaced. The detachable dock will then be placed here.
The estimated cost of the whole dock and retaining wall project is $952,118, but the grants will lessen that amount.
Construction for both will begin in June or July when the river level hits 3 feet or lower. The project could take two months, finishing in the fall.
“Let’s everybody hope for low water. The lower the water, the sooner they can get started with this,” New London City Administrator Kent Hager told community members.
The concrete retaining wall serves as a flood control structure and provides structural support to the backs of the buildings along the north riverbank. The wall is 995 feet long and 11 feet high, with a base about 5 feet thick.
The retaining wall has gone 35 years without repairs and is cracking. Salt from river runoff has corroded the reinforcement steel, Bodoh said.
The repairs should carry the longevity of the wall another 30 years, but unforeseen circumstances can always reduce that, Bodoh said.
Community members questioned whether doing this all over again in 30 years is worth the estimated $376,000 in repairs, or if a longer-term solution should be sought. Mike Weidert, an owner of two downtown buildings, asked Public Works Director Jeff Bodoh if he considered any alternatives.
Bodoh said he did but an option to protect the concrete with sheet pilings would have cost the city $1.68 million. A full replacement of the wall would run “way in excess of that $1.6 million” and could pose risks to New London’s old downtown buildings along the shore.
“We want to work with the wall we’ve got and get it rehabbed and get it so that we can get another 30 years out of it,” Bodoh said.
The wall was built in the 1930s and expanded to the west by Taft Park in the late 1960s. The last major repair project took place in 1982.
In 2007, New London hired a structural engineer to evaluate the wall. The engineer reported rehabilitation was necessary, but the city didn’t have the funds yet to do it.
By 2012, city employees noticed the cracks growing in the section by St. John’s Park. The city initiated plans for bonding a river wall repair. In 2013, it hired MSA Professional Services to inspect it further and prepare plans.
Other discussions began in 2015 to provide the public an accessible dock system downtown. The city applied for grants last year with the idea that it would either cover the dock purchase with grants or not buy it at all in the grant applications were unsuccessful.
St. John’s Park was chosen as the site for the dock because the park links the city’s main street, North Water Street, to the river.
The 80-foot dock will contain a 14-by-14-foot fishing platform and stations to tie up six boats. It will be wheelchair accessible. New London Mayor Gary Henke said as the river level changes, the dock and wheelchair ramp will shift with it so it always remains accessible.
The design shows the fishing platform on the east end of the dock toward Krostue Memorial Bridge. Weidert and Bob Van Asten, president of First State Bank, suggested the city shift the platform to the west side. They said otherwise the west-flowing current could throw people’s fishing lines at the parked boats.
Bodoh and Hager said changing the design should not be a problem. The two also said they will talk to New London Utilities about installing a couple lights for nighttime fishing.
Besides accommodating boaters and fishermen, the dock will serve as a way to lure tourists to downtown stores and restaurants.
“It’s nice to utilize waterfront anywhere you’re at,” said Joe Wewerka, a property manager at a downtown building. “And I have not boated up the river, but I know people who have, and to have accessible piers, accessible docking system like that, I wouldn’t see why you wouldn’t want to come up here and grab a beer and some lunch at [El] Tequila’s or one of the two bars down there … It’s a really neat main street, and you know, it’s one more way to utilize it.”