While users of La Crosse’s Isle la Plume marina hope to see the harbor’s Styrofoam floats replaced, they also said Tuesday they have serious concerns about city plans to change the layout of the former La Crosse Municipal Harbor.

The boaters aired their thoughts Tuesday at a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources public input session on the city’s permit application. If approved by the DNR, plans call for the city to reconfigure the docks formerly operated by La Crosse Municipal Harbor Inc. owner Steve Mills, moving access points to the east and north shores and changing the entrance from the parking area.

Steve Mills mug

Steve Mills

Mills ran the marina for nearly 40 years before the city moved to evict him last year, accusing Mills of defaulting on the terms of his lease by failing to make corrections to the docks required by the DNR, including replacing the Styrofoam floats with approved materials. The eviction process is ongoing after Mills filed for Chapter 11 protection, sending the case to bankruptcy court; however, a judge ruled in May that the company cannot assume a new lease for the city’s harbor while it is in bankruptcy.

With the change in operation and the required repairs, the parks department looked at the circumstances as an opportunity to start with a blank slate to build something with greater accessibility and other options, according to parks, recreation and forestry superintendent Jay Odegaard.

“It was our belief that the coming in from the other side would have a less vertical descent from the parking area to the water itself,” Odegaard said. “It’s also the intent to open up the peninsula area to possible uses in the future.”

The city plans to replace the Styrofoam with the Hewitt plastic tub floats used in the city-operated Veterans Point Marina off of West Copeland Park.

“We’re very happy with it, and also the users of those facilities are also very happy with it,” Odegaard said.

However, the La Crosse Boat Harbor Neighborhood is concerned that the proposal would have unforeseen environmental impacts, possibly disturbing the old landfill which may overlap the harbor and causing bank erosion on the east side, said spokesperson Dennis Smalley.

“Moving the parking lot to the east side where La Crosse Harbor Service’s shop is may cause some bank erosion with water run-off, especially if it is paved,” Smalley said. “The water run-off could negatively impact the fish, waterfowl and other animals in the harbor.”

The layout maneuverability was another concern, with Smalley pointing out the design for one of the docks changes its placement and could interfere with the public boat landing and take away space used as a staging area for boats and make it difficult to put in houseboats.

“There isn’t sufficient room to get the houseboats backed up enough to allow a turnaround area to get the boat’s bow headed west to a slip or out of the marina,” he said.

Smalley also raised concerns about the removal of trees and vegetation along the north and east shores to build four new gangway access piers, which he said would hurt the natural beauty of the area.

The city has also received information that the 40-foot slips in its submitted proposal would be too short, as multiple current slipholders require 52-foot slips.

“That’s something we’re going to try to work with (DNR water management specialist Ryan) Pappas on to ensure we have a facility to take care of the current slipholders for many years to come,” Odegaard said.

The parks department is also exploring options for a second permit, which would possibly utilize more of the existing structure.

“There is an idea to try and utilize more of the ... design that’s currently there,” Odegaard said. “Depending upon what happens with the frames, depending on what happens with the current assets that are down there that may be a possibility.”

However, the future of the assets associated with La Crosse Municipal Harbor Inc. are unclear following Mills’ bankruptcy.

Odegaard explained that the parks department expedited the permit process to try and prepare for getting work done in the winter.

“It’s been our experience that building docks on the ice in the wintertime is not only less expensive, but also less intrusive to the users,” Odegaard said. “That’s really what our goal is: We don’t want to have a negative impact on the boating community down there. We want to make sure this gets done.”

When considering whether to grant the city its permit, the DNR will consider whether the structure obstructs navigation, reduces effective flood flow and is detrimental to public interest, Pappas said.

If approved, the city would send the project out to public bid with the hopes of completing work by May 1, 2018.

People have until Oct. 27 to submit their comments to Pappas at 3550 Mormon Coulee Road, La Crosse WI 54601; or online by clicking here.

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Jourdan Vian is a reporter and columnist covering local government and city issues for the La Crosse Tribune. You can contact her at 608-791-8218.

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