Port Washington moved one step closer on Tuesday to developing public recreation and nature areas on the site of former We Energies coal docks, as the Common Council approved sublease agreements between the city and the utility.
The agreements allow access to the north and south coal docks for public use, pending the addition of one safety stipulation. The city is asking We Energies to maintain fencing along the intake channels between the two docks to prevent people from falling into the water. The agreement details responsibilities divided among the city and We Energies for maintaining fencing or barriers along other parts of the land as well.
Port Washington Mayor Scott Huebner has faith that the company will uphold its part of the bargain.
"If we've learned anything over the last 10 years. ... We Energies is very cautious for people's safety and they're going to be responsible for that," he said.
The coal dock areas once were part of We Energies' regular operations, acting as a place for the company to store mountains of coal that would eventually be used in the operation of its power plant.
Though the Common Council and We Energies approved the documents, nothing in the subleases is considered official until lease documents between the state and We Energies are approved.
Because the company no longer uses the land, the Wisconsin Board of Commissioners of Public Lands had assumed ownership of the area. However, the coal dock land only directly touches land owned by We Energies and makes no direct contact with land owned by the city; because of that, the state can only lease the land to We Energies.
Huebner said he doesn't know what the timeline for the approval of those documents would look like, but added the city has done its part to move things along in hopes that those documents will become official soon.
The city has received grant money for parts of the development for the coal docks area, and some of the grants require that work to start this year. Plans for development include a recreational park area with walking paths on the north dock and a bird sanctuary on the south dock. The city will also get access to 10 parking stalls in a lot allowing access to the north coal dock.
Huebner said both the Department of Natural Resources and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service recommend that much of the bird sanctuary area remain untouched by vistors; instead, wildlife viewing docks could be installed on certain parts of the south coal dock.
The sublease allows the city to rent out the park for events such as festivals, weddings, and so on — with consent from We Energies. Under the terms of the agreement, the city must submit all dates that the park will be reserved each year to We Energies by April 1; the company will have 30 days to submit back any objections to dates or types of events. If someone wishes to add an event after April 1, the stipulation asks for 30 days notice.
We Energies sees this part of the agreement as a way to make sure its companies' operations don't become disruptful to an otherwise enjoyable event, according to Kay Phillips, attorney for Wisconsin Electric Power Company.
The deal will cost the city $30 a year, and the sublease lasts for 50 years, per state regulations.
"I’m glad we’re to this point, very glad," City Attorney Eric Eberhardt said. "I would describe our negotiations as robust indeed … some hard bargaining but in the end, I'm glad we are able to bring this matter to some closure."