Emotions High as Egg Harbor Discusses Marina

Emotions were on full display at the Thursday, May 28 joint meeting of the Egg Harbor Village Board and Harbor Committee as a defensive village board discussed what to do in the aftermath of Tuesday’s vote against building an expanded marina in the tiny village.

A proposal to build a 63-slip marina at a cost of no more than $6.6 million failed Tuesday by an 87 – 81 margin.

Audience members engaged in heated exchanges with board members on at least five occasions, and one walked out in frustration during the two and a half hour meeting that ended with the village asking citizens who voted against the plan to come forward with new referendum language they could support.

After convening in closed session, the board voted to demolish the existing breakwall at an estimated cost of about $250,000.

Over the course of the meeting, a fundamental disconnect emerged between the citizens and the board, which focused its planning from the start on an expanded marina with more amenities and slips, in part to earn the village a faster return on the investment. But several citizens said they would prefer to have a scaled back plan, even if it meant paying more in taxes. It took much of the meeting to make that viewpoint clear to the board and Harbor Committee.

Steve Schaefer, President of the Peninsula Shores Condominium Association who led the effort to make the marina subject to referendum, opened comments by trying to make it clear that most who voted against the proposal still wanted some type of marina.

“There’s overwhelming support for a marina of some kind,” Schaefer said. He said the problem was one of scale, parking, traffic congestion, and to a lesser extent, cost. “I don’t fully agree with the business association when they say it’s going to be the savior. I look at Sister Bay. They’ve got a great marina and they have a situation downtown as well.”

Nancy Fisher, Egg Harbor Village President, said the village has spent over $700,000 to date on engineering and planning the marina, and she “felt it was financially irresponsible to not build a larger marina,” to pay back quicker for the taxpayer.

But Gary Lewis urged the board to be open-minded about the options.

“Once you back yourself into a position, you’re probably not going to be effective,” he said, telling the board that the voters made it clear they would rather pay the taxes and make the marina the right size for the village.

The village pursued a new marina because it received opinions from three engineers who said the current pier was a liability and could fail under the worst conditions.

Some citizens accused the village of exaggerating the risk associated with keeping the existing pier open. Bob Doneff offered to contribute up to $1,000 toward an inspection that would allow the village to get the pier and marina open this summer. Curt Campbell, who recently moved into the village, pointed out that one of the engineers the village used said the pier could be repaired to last another 20 years. A clearly agitated Fisher interrupted Campbell.

Since he is new to the village, Fisher said, Campbell was unaware that company that authored that report, STS Consultants, was the same company that failed in its attempt to repair the pier in 2000. Campbell was upset with the way Fisher addressed him and walked out as audience members urged Fisher to apologize. It wasn’t the only tense moment.

Board member Bob Dickson said keeping the pier open was a risk.

“I don’t want to tear that breakwall down,” said an animated Dickson. “But we have three reports that tell us it’s a huge liability, and my name’s on the line. My name’s on there not yours. I have to sleep at night.”

The meeting turned childish for a few minutes when Lewis suggested Dickson resign if he didn’t want the responsibility, and the two exchanged heated words.

Ellison Bay engineer Mike Kahr, who owns Deaths Door Marine, said he would be willing to “hang my hat as a public engineer” on a plan to wrap the existing pier in steel and rubble for $2.65 million. Kahr offered various suggestions of what could be done throughout the meeting, and at one point Fisher accused him of “sounding like a commercial.” But Kahr said he didn’t care if the village hired him or not, he was “simply offering suggestions for the board to consider.”

Mike Fitzgerald, chair of the Harbor Committee, disputed Kahr’s claims and said the reconstruct Kahr suggested would not provide the new revenue stream needed to “take the marina off the backs of the taxpayer.”

As the meeting drew to a close, Schaefer said he would organize a group of residents quickly and hoped to meet June 6 to put something together.

“I want to see some language people will support,” Dickson said. He urged Schaefer to be flexible, however, asking him not to come back with a marina of the current size, but something in between the existing size and the one the village proposed. “Let’s get behind something,” Dickson said. “The people have spoken, let’s make some adjustments and move forward.”

Schaefer said after the meeting that he thinks a reasonable size would be something around 50 – 55 slips.

But some in attendance who voted for the proposal Tuesday said scaling it down could change their minds too.

“If you’re going to tell me you’re going to spend more money for a smaller marina, then I’m going to say ‘no,’” said former village president Bruce Hill, who said he voted “yes” on Tuesday.

George Wilson, who is assistant harbormaster at Alibi Dock in Fish Creek, said the proposal the village came forward with seemed reasonable.

“It’s not that large compared to other marinas north of Sturgeon Bay,” he said. He added that parking, even in notoriously congested Fish Creek, is only an issue on less than a handful of weekends each summer.

The next meeting of the village board is June 8. Fitzgerald said he expects to meet with Jim Rooney of the Wisconsin Waterways Commission before that meeting, and hopes to convince him not to rescind the $1.185 million grant the commission awarded the village last year. Fisher asked Schaefer to have something solid for the board to consider at the June meeting.

Related Organizations