Hope for Tower Repair Soars

Door County Board of Supervisors will consider support Oct. 27

Incremental progress has been made during the past month to save the historic Potawatomi State Park Observation Tower.

First, the Door County Board of Supervisors is set to discuss a resolution Oct. 27 that its Legislative Committee recommended earlier this month to support tower repair. That resolution, in part, “requests that the Wisconsin DNR assess the repairs needed for the Tower from a historic perspective, and we encourage the DNR to repair and reopen the Tower in a timely fashion.”

Second, Rep. Joel Kitchens (R-Sturgeon Bay) had a virtual meeting with Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Secretary Preston Cole on Oct. 12 that appeared to have delivered a goal the Sturgeon Bay Historical Society Foundation (SBHSF) believes it can meet.

“We’ve never been more confident that the tower will be restored by the state of Wisconsin and hopefully, proudly, reopened to the public,” said Christie Weber, SBHSF president. “I’m just thrilled that we’re pulling together.”

The DNR has been intent on tearing down the historic tower, given that it’s too expensive to make it handicapped accessible, as the state asserts it must do. The SBHSF maintains, and two reports agree, that repairs to the most deteriorated of the structure’s Western red cedar timbers are possible without great expense.

Kitchens became convinced earlier this year that tower repair was the best option. Since then, he’s been pushing the DNR to give him a good reason why it can’t be done. This took the form of a letter to the head of the agency and a virtual meeting in August with the DNR staff members who are working on the issue. Kitchens also pressed for a meeting with Cole, which he was accorded Oct. 12. 

“They were pretty dug in,” Kitchens said, with a precedent having been set with Eagle Tower. “We had a long conversation, and I pushed back a lot.”

Kitchens said Cole’s background in building inspection in Milwaukee seemed to be put into play for the tower in a way that was, to Kitchens, inappropriate, given the historic nature of the tower. In the end, a kind of gauntlet was thrown down: The SBHSF’s engineer, Dr. Dan Tingley of Wood Research and Development in Oregon, is not licensed in Wisconsin. That created problems with the assessment Tingley had done for the SBHSF that showed the tower was in need of minor repairs that could be done for $250,000 or less.

“I always thought that was a red herring,” Kitchens said. “An excuse. We can find someone licensed; it’s not a big deal. He [Cole] said, ‘You will never find an architectural engineer that would sign and stamp this project.’ So if we found one? ‘Well, that would be new information.’”

Kitchens took the information to Weber. As of last week, Weber said the SBHSF had two good leads on engineering firms that would stamp the work. 

Meanwhile, the Door County Board is poised to discuss support that’s already been given by the City of Sturgeon Bay, the Town of Nasewaupee and the Door County Historical Society, among others. The State Historic Preservation Office also considers the tower eligible for historic status – the application was filed earlier this year for listing on the National Register – and questioned the DNR about why demolition was the preferred direction in light of the two structural-analysis reports that indicated renovation is possible.

Weber said the county’s support would be influential and allow them to get the tower repaired before another winter further weakened the vulnerable structure.

“This [fixing the tower] could be done in a matter of less than two weeks if we could just get them [the state] to go forward,” she said.

Kitchens said that even if the SBHSF does jump through this next hoop, he remains somewhat skeptical that the DNR will agree to fix the tower.

“I’m afraid they will find another excuse,” he said.

Weber said her group is taking the DNR secretary at his word, as expressed to Kitchens.

“I don’t think we’d be sent to go do this if it weren’t true,” Weber said.

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