Port of Milwaukee Sustains Damage in Heavy Winter Storm

Wave overtops a seawall, Milwaukee, January 11 (image via social media)

Published Jan 16, 2020 7:05 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Port of Milwaukee, Wisconsin is working to recover from heavy flooding and damage after a powerful winter storm system struck last weekend. The port's Jones Island area experienced flooding over 60-70 percent of its area, including all major roads. Buildings sustained water damage and some piers were damaged by wave action. Port of Milwaukee director Adam Schlicht described the storm as a "once-in-a-generation weather event."

"Everything from the waterside infrastructure, like the dock walls where the vessels and the Great Lakes ships come in, to our rail infrastructure. Our warehouses, our terminal, electrical, certainly asphalt, road paving," Schlicht told local media, describing the damage. "It's fairly comprehensive across the entirety of the island."

The port's lake-facing eastern edge, where its international terminals and warehouses are sited, was the hardest hit. Those facilities are already closed for the winter but will need to be back up and running by April, when international navigation resumes. "My concern is we won't be able to do that without significant federal and state assistance," Schlicht told the local Fox News affiliate. 

Great Lakes water levels have been at or near all-time highs for much of the past year, and when combined with very high winds, this allowed waves to wash over the port's breakwater and dock walls. At some locations on Jones Island, floodwaters reached a depth of three feet. Port tenants temporarily suspended business over the weekend, and marine terminal operations were halted. Work has partially resumed as the port looks to return to business.

Just south of the port, the South Shore Yacht Club's docks were badly damaged when waves overtopped the breakwater separating the marina from Lake Michigan. Wooden duckboards from the club's finger piers were scattered across the shoreline, and volunteers gathered them up to bring them back to the marina. The club expects insurance to cover the damage, but not the cost of repairing the county-owned breakwater, which remains a liability. 

Never seen the lake like this. Docks are getting destroyed.

Posted by Brian Kuptz on Saturday, January 11, 2020