Water-Weed Management Needs Improvement, Residents Say

The Sturgeon Bay Common Council heard last week from residents in the area along Memorial Drive, where the growth of aquatic weeds is among the most problematic in the bay of Sturgeon Bay. 

Resident Mike Langenhorst took exception to the city’s management of aquatic plants, a practice the city undertakes seasonally to help boats navigate the bay where the weeds grow. Langenhorst punctuated his points by showing the council examples of weed growth from last summer. 

“If we’re looking at saving a couple of bucks by hiring kids for $10 or $15 an hour to take care of something, then we should do the same thing with our snow plows,” he said. “This is just as important as plowing snow, and making sure that the grass is cut in the different parks in the area, and keeping the city clean.”

Langenhorst said marina slips and other areas where boats dock, which bring people into the area, rely on a navigable waterway.

“This waterway is the lifeblood of the city,” he said. “Without this water, we would be Maplewood.”

Langenhorst also criticized the city’s maintenance schedule for aquatic plant harvesting equipment.

“It’s been one of the major issues,” he said. “It’s broke down; it’s broke down; it’s broke down. This [equipment] should all be ready to go May 1. There’s no reason that [equipment] should be sitting, waiting until the season starts, until you try to fix it.”

Memorial Drive resident Robin Urban said the shape of the shoreline along there, when the wind comes from the south or southwest, pushes cut weeds that have not been picked up in front of residents’ homes.

“It’s a mess, and it’s been that way for years,” he said.

Urban said the accumulation of weeds is not just a problem for the people who live there, but also for anyone in a boat who’s trying to fish in that area.

“They see the same issues,” he said. “They can’t get in and out either.”

District 5 Alder Gary Nault, who chairs Sturgeon Bay’s Harbor Commission, predicts June 7 that aquatic weed growth will be more of a problem in the bay of Sturgeon Bay this summer versus last year because of the lower water levels. Photo by Kevin Boneske.

Aquatic Plant Management Outlook

Mike Barker, municipal services director, said the city has three aquatic-plant harvesters, with two operational as of the council meeting. Barker said the design of the harvesters the city currently has “is not ideal.”

“When we have three of them, we can’t just can them and buy new ones that might not churn up the weeds as much,” he said.

Barker said 371 loads of aquatic plants were harvested from the bay last year, compared to 97 loads in 2020.

“It was very obvious that the weeds were much more significant last year in the way they were growing,” he said. “And that was largely because of the early warmup in the spring.”

Barker said the water weeds have begun to grow, though at a slower rate than at the same time last year.

“The water’s still really cold, so I think that might have something to do with it,” he said. 

Besides cutting and harvesting aquatic plants, the city has a permit from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to spray up to 44 acres of aquatic weeds with a chemical treatment.

Barker said the city pays a lot of attention to the wind as workers plan where they will harvest weeds on a given day.

“Utopia Circle, Memorial Drive, sometimes it will pack that full to where we can get five or six loads out of there,” he said.

Barring any equipment failures, Barker said the city should usually be out on the bay this summer on a daily basis with the three harvesters.

District 5 Alder Gary Nault, who chairs the city’s Harbor Commission, said he hopes the city will be able to obtain grant money to get equipment for picking up floating weeds, which are a problem in the bay. And he said installing GPS on weed-harvesting equipment would help to make the process more efficient.

Nault said he expects more loads of aquatic plants to be harvested this summer because of the lower water levels.

“You can almost guess that we’re going to have more than what we had last year, just because the weeds grow to where the sun penetrates,” he said.

Mayor David Ward said the city will continue to work on the problem related to aquatic plants in the bay and suggested the council revisit the matter in early July.

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