Door County News: Marina Weighs On Minds of Gills Rock Residents

UPDATE:  The Feb. 24 Gills Rock Harbor of Refuge ad-hoc committee meeting has been canceled.

A proposal to construct a 98-slip public marina in Gills Rock at a cost of over $14 million is dividing voters in Liberty Grove.

The old Weborg fishing buildings where a 100-slip marina is proposed. The buildings would be preserved.

The idea came forward more than three years ago, when 11 waterfront property owners approached the Town of Liberty Grove. The property owners said they anticipated wanting to sell their property soon, and proposed selling their land to the town together rather than individually to private developers.

The town agreed the idea was worth looking into, and after getting town approval to move ahead with a feasibility study, a plan started coming together. The scope of the vision developed for the marina, however, has stunned some taxpayers.

Morland Fandrei, 74, was raised in Gills Rock and in 1996 he retired back there to the home where he was born. He and his wife Marge, 77, say the project is oversized.

The Gills Rock Marina consensus plan.

“It’s way too big for our small community,” Morland Fandrei said. But Ann Miller, a Liberty Grove Town Supervisor and member of the ad-hoc committee working on the project, said the 98-slip proposal is necessary if the marina is going to cover ongoing operating costs.

The consensus plan sprawls across 26 acres, 11 properties, and nearly 1,000 feet of shoreline. It would include preservation of historic fishing structures, plus the construction of a new Northern Door home for the Door County Maritime Museum (DCMM). The museum would be paid for through private fundraising by DCMM, and there is no firm commitment for a museum to be part of the project.

The cost of the project has risen to nearly $14 million, not including property acquisition.

To date, $168,000 has been spent on the feasibility study, design work and other expenses. This cost has been offset by a grant from the Wisconsin Waterways Commission of $32,500. The cost-to-date to the town is $136,620.74.

The feasibility study completed by JJR engineers in 2007 concluded that a 98-slip marina would help pay for the project and be a long-term source of revenue to the town.

Fandrei said the project was originally sold to the residents as a small project primarily meant to preserve the historic fishing buildings and practices, but has now been brought forward as a major commercial project.

“If they were going to put in a reasonable, small breakwall, we could support that, but this is too much,” he said.

Miller said there is a lot of information in the community about the project.

“There are people giving other people the impression that this is a done deal,” she said. “It’s not. We’re still in the early stages of finding out about the property purchase. And that can’t be done without the resident’s approval.”

She said people who feel they aren’t getting enough information should come to the meetings.

“You only get about 10 percent of the discussion by reading the minutes,” she said. “A three-hour meeting can’t be summed up on two pages and tell you the whole story. We aren’t hiding anything.”

Some citizens have asked for more newsletters to update them on progress, but Miller said those too come at a significant cost.

“It costs about $2,000 to send a newsletter to every address in the town,” she said.

The marina would be the only deep-water harbor of refuge in Door County, and would be eligible for grant dollars through many state programs. Eligibility, however, is a far cry from a financial guarantee.

“They say they’ll get grants, but those aren’t guaranteed, and you have to put the money up first before they’ll consider giving you money,” Fandrei said. “It’s hard for the public to believe that with the economy we have now the grant money will come back for this. They’re snowballing the public.”

Project backers say the marina would be a tourism draw and enhance the economic viability of Gills Rock and Door County. Fandrei said that claim is dubious, as Gills Rock has few of the amenities of other communities with marinas. Other marinas that have been built throughout the county were located where a village and community already existed.

“They haven’t been built to create a community,” he said. “I don’t believe the argument that people and businesses will swarm there once the marina is built.”

A study by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation on the economic impact of the project is due in March. Miller said that study should include projections for job creation and revenues.

The Gills Rock Harbor of Refuge ad-hoc committee meets again Feb. 24 at the Liberty Grove Town Hall at 5:30 pm.