OZAUKEE PRESS EDITORIAL: Be careful about what goes into the lake

If big ideas, bold visions, imaginative initiatives and unfettered thinking outside of the proverbial box are the ingredients of the caffeine-spiked elixir that keeps communities awake and energized, the Port Washington area has a jumbo-size cup of it in an audacious plan to create artificial reefs off its shore.

How audacious? Here’s a clue: It will cost almost $10 million.

That eye-rolling amount of money would pay for a ship as large as 600 feet long to be sunk two miles east of the Port Washington lighthouse, motor vehicles, sculptures, fish cribs and other objects to be placed on the lake bottom near the Port breakwater, a stairway into the lake from the breakwater for the use of divers and snorkelers, a submerged fish tug and other features.

This all may sound fanciful, but the members of the organization that crafted the plan, the Shipwreck Education and Preservation Alliance, led by Tish Hase, who founded the organization and is co-owner of Port Deco Divers, are dead serious.

They’ve done research on artificial reefs, consulted authorities on the Lake Michigan ecosystem and prepared an impressive document more than 2,000 words long that is packed with granular detail about the project.

They are divers (Hase and her underwater adventures were the subject an Ozaukee Press feature story last summer), so it stands to reason that the project is intended to provide submerged features for the enjoyment of divers. But it is also claims a role in enhancing aquatic habitat to revitalize native fish populations.

Financing the project through grants and fundraising efforts is a monumental challenge, but there are other potential barriers in the answers to these questions: Is this good for Port Washington? And, more important, is this good for Lake Michigan?

To qualify for necessary permits from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the Army Corps of Engineers for the breakwater area features, SEAPA needs the City of Port Washington to be a co-applicant. The Common Council has been reluctant to sign on. It should stay firm in that stance. The aldermen are concerned by conflicts with the lease with the federal government for breakwater use, but there are more significant reasons for caution.

The sculptures would be placed in navigable water near the breakwater, where boating traffic could be a menace to the snorkelers and the sculptures could be a navigational hazard for deep-draft boats, particularly in low-water years; only five years ago the lake level was four feet lower than today.

Of greater concern, how does a stairway into the lake that would attract snorkelers without regard to their ability or their understanding of the lake and its cold currents square with the city’s ongoing efforts to make its lakefront safer?

After two drowning deaths several years ago, groups organized and funded elaborate efforts to promote beach safety, including installing life-saving devices, posting information and warnings, even providing life preservers for children at the marina. A stairway to the depths of Lake Michigan would likely surpass the beaches as an attractive hazard.

Properly sanitized, the ship sunk offshore could be a benign presence in the lake as an artificial reef.

Vessels sunk to create reefs have been successful in enhancing habitat for sea life by encouraging coral growth.

Needless to say, that is a saltwater phenomenon.

If scientists sign off on claims that this freshwater reef would make a significant contribution to the health and sustainability of native fish populations, let the initative go forward with encouragement for pursuing a breathtaking goal.

Though there is much that is praiseworthy about the divers’ mission, the feeling that it flows against a cultural current can’t be ignored.

Lake Michigan is a fragile, vulnerable body of water, and the fundamental thrust of years of efforts to restore, protect and nurture its endangered water has been to keep stuff out of the lake—invasive species, industrial pollutants, municipal sewage, farm runoff, all manner of detritus discarded in the lake as though it were a liquid dump.

The notion now of putting man-made objects in the lake—even automobiles—is difficult to reconcile.

No one wants to, pardon the expression, pour cold water on plans for Lake Michigan as creative and well meant as those of the divers’ group, but this is a case where big ideas would be better if they were a bit smaller.

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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494
 

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