La Crosse Municipal Boat Harbor

The city of La Crosse is weighing the future of its municipal marina on Isle la Plume.

Erik Daily, La Crosse Tribune

The 2017 boating season hasn’t quite wrapped up, but the city of La Crosse is looking toward next year, considering options for the city-owned marina on Isle La Plume.

The city will hold a special meeting at 5:15 p.m. Thursday to discuss $1.8 million in funding for a project to demolish and replace the existing marina at 1500 Joseph Houska Drive and a public hearing at 5 p.m. Oct. 17 to discuss the design of the new facility.

Both meetings will be in the council chambers at La Crosse City Hall.

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Mayor Tim Kabat

Kabat

“Really, the impetus for trying to move forward now is we’re running out of time if we want to do the things that need to be done and get those finished by the start of the boating season next year,” La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat said.

The future of the marina is unclear after the city began eviction proceedings on La Crosse Municipal Harbor Inc. last year, accusing longtime harbor operator Steve Mills of defaulting on the terms of his lease agreement with the city. Although Mills filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy last year, which paused the eviction process, a judge ruled in May that the company cannot assume a new lease for the city’s harbor while it is in bankruptcy.

While Mills was able to operate the Isle La Plume facility throughout the 2017 season, city officials hope to have a new plan in place for the next boating season next spring.

“From the city’s standpoint, in essence, there is no lease agreement that exists there, because we declared it in default,” Kabat said.

Although the court eviction process is ongoing, city representatives say it’s important to decide what they want the future of the marina to look like, whether it’s the city parks department running the marina or a new third-party operator.

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Paul Medinger mug

Medinger

“We’ve been monitoring the situation, keeping an eye on things, but at this point, based on the timing, it’s time to take a look at the city’s options,” council member Paul Medinger said. “Is this something the city wants to take a look at doing, or do we want to look at going out with (a request for proposals) process?”

The council will also need to consider how best to bring the facility up to federal and state standards. Not only are there issues with the materials used in construction of the current dock; the electrical and water services, along with the gas dock, need to be brought up to code.

“I believe that the only way we’re going to be able to get those things addressed and get everything done that we need to get done with by May, then the city needs to step in,” Kabat said.

It is especially important to avoid closing for the season because some people already have reserved boat slips for next year.

“From my perspective as one person, I believe we should honor that,” Kabat said.

While the operations of the marina are sorted out, the city’s parks department has been working to get a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources permit to install a new dock, electrical and water service, updated restrooms and a new pump-out system, according to city forestry superintendent Jay Odegaard.

The city will host a public hearing next week to talk about a design for a facility that will be Americans with Disabilities Act compliant and satisfy DNR and U.S. Coast Guard standards and codes.

“We hope that as many people come as possible, and it’s a great opportunity to vet out concerns and find out information,” Odegaard said.

Although the plans for next year aren’t finalized and the council hasn’t approved funding the project, city staff started the long permitting process to ensure there wouldn’t be a delay while the DNR signed off on the design.

“We didn’t want to be caught in a position where we wouldn’t be able to move forward because of a lack of permit,” Odegaard said.

“At the end of the day, it is a public property and a city marina. We have to do our best to ensure things remain somewhat copacetic,” he added.

City officials are hoping for a good turnout.

“We really want to hear from the public, especially the boating public,” Medinger said. “They’re the ones we want to talk to to make sure we get this done right.”

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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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