They came, they saw and they fled. Or something like that.
A Michigan-based organization called the Geek Group discovered in its reconnaissance of federal documents that the Port Washington lighthouse was vulnerable and laid plans to capture it for unspecified research purposes.
Forces under the command of Port Washington Mayor Tom Mlada mounted a defense so formidable that the would-be lighthouse snatchers left the battlefield without launching so much as a paper missile.
That is one scenario to explain the surprising and welcome fact that the City of Port Washington has become the only applicant to take ownership of the lighthouse the National Park Service is in the process of divesting.
Whatever the explanation, the way has been cleared for the lighthouse to be transferred to its rightful owner, and on Sunday the mayor received word that the transfer has been tentatively approved.
In retrospect, the city’s massive lighthouse campaign, involving reams of supporting letters, backing from numerous organizations and work by a task force of dozens of residents and community leaders organized by the mayor, may look like overkill, but it served its purpose in more ways than one. It not only showed that Port was willing to fight for its lighthouse, but marshaled enthusiasm in the community for the coming challenge of maintaining the structure.
Meeting that challenge will require private fundraising. There is every reason to believe that will be successful. The community has made it clear it values, perhaps more than anything else about the city, its place on the edge of Lake Michigan and everything that contributes to lake access.
The soon-to-start breakwater project, which will make the pier safer and more inviting for people to walk the half mile from shore to the lighthouse, and last summer’s handsome and effective improvements in the walkway to the north beach, are of a piece with the lighthouse initiative—all successful city government efforts to enhance access to the water the public loves.
In that context, the implacable mindset of the mayor, aldermen and other city officials in their determination to sell public lakefront land for commercial development stands out like a burdock in a bouquet of spring flowers.
Large numbers of the citizens of Port Washington, including many of the same people who applaud the city’s lakefront improvements, have made it clear in various ways that they oppose the plan to build the Blues Factory on what is now a public parking lot at the north marina slip, yet city officials persist in their divisive quest.
No amount of repetitive rhetoric in praise of economic development in the talking points disseminated from city hall changes the truth that filling the open space overlooking the marina with a monolithic construct of brick and mortar intended to look like a factory would be a setback for public lake access.
The refusal of officials to be moved by serious, well reasoned and well intentioned objections to the development plan has engendered a level of skepticism and, in some cases, outright hostility toward city leadership that has been rare in the community.
Beyond that, it has compromised long overdue comprehensive planning for the marina district. The recently released parking and traffic plan for the lakefront cannot be considered seriously before the fate of the north slip parking lot is known. Official assurances to the contrary, it does not effectively take into account the loss of the north slip parking places and the addition of new parking needs for hundreds of vehicles if the Blues Factory is built.
It is time for an elected official to break with the party line and lead the city out of this profoundly disagreeable situation. That could start by honoring the esteem with which the people of Port Washington hold their beautiful lakefront.