NEW BUFFALO — New Buffalo officials are hoping to make some positive changes to the city’s shoreline starting next spring.
During a Nov. 9 Downtown Development Authority Meeting, New Buffalo Mayor John Humphrey gave an update on the city’s efforts to construct a sea wall along the Galien River/harbor channel from the foot of the Whittaker Street Bridge to about 15 feet past the edge of the public beach parking lot.
Humphrey said the sea wall will be constructed of corrugated steel and will eventually be part of a broadside dock facility.
He said topographic and bathymetric field surveys for the seawall project are complete, while base maps and wall alignment analysis (including cut, fill, regulatory, and upland use considerations) are in progress. An EGLE/USACE pre-Application meeting had been confirmed for Nov. 19.
“We hope to learn more from the agencies regarding the barriers and opportunities that will impact where the proposed wall might be permitted before we finalize the design preference,” Humphrey later said of that meeting.
Next steps for the sea wall project include: a regulatory pre-map meeting, design development and city review and a joint permit application.
“Once those steps are done then the actual work could begin … maybe some preliminary surveying – I don’t think we’d get any digging done until spring,” Humphrey said.
In response to a question about plans to construct a pedestrian bridge to run next to the Whittaker Street span and connect with the sea wall, Humphrey said it is his understanding that the city has money from The Pokagon Fund that can be used for such a project.
“The money is there for the bridge,” he said, adding that once the seawall is in place he expects the pedestrian structure to be built “sooner than later.”
City Manager Darwin Watson said dredging of the New Buffalo harbor channel also hopefully will take place in the spring of 2022,
“We’ve got to get the bathymetric study done and do some soil sampling before winter,” he said.
Watson said the shoreline has migrated enough from 2017 to now that it is “really choking the harbor” and the channel has gotten so narrow in places that something has to be done.
He said last time the harbor channel was dredged the cost was $275,000, adding that the city’s dredge fund currently has more than $400,000 in it.
Watson said preliminary work and the actual dredging is likely to use up that balance.
He said re-energizing the dredge fund balance should be a priority this winter, noting that lake water levels are down about two feet from their recent highs. Watson later said there is hope the recently passed federal infrastructure bill may provide some extra funding for dredging.
Humphrey noted that donations to the dredge fund are voluntary.
“We may have to make it a requirement of slip ownership at some point,” he said.
DDA Chair Robert Kemper said it would be ideal to have the “spoils” from harbor dredging deposited in the direction of Grand Beach. Watson said that will be part of the conversation as the project moves forward.
Watson also gave an update on the ongoing Dune Walk reconstruction project at the public beach, saying that after the City Council selects one of the bids on Nov. 15 (Anlaan Corporation’s low quote of $52,000 was the choice), demolition of the existing structure is slated to start on Dec. 17.
“We’ll get started on the restoration part of it come early spring,” adding that the city will probably have to move some money around ahead of receiving grants to get the entire Dune Walk project done in 2022.
During the public comment portion of the Nov. 9 meeting, Karen Daughty said she was very concerned about the downtown area where she has had a shop for 10 years (with an uncertain future for that venture due to its lease). She said “angry customers” have raised issues such as the parking situation.
DDA member Dee Dee Duhn later said the lack of public rest rooms is the number-one issue she hears about from customers.
Humphrey said the city has been approached by Nancy’s owner Jim Kramer about the possibility of establishing rest rooms in some small storefronts behind his eatery.
Humphrey said there is existing plumbing, although he hadn’t gotten feedback from other City Council members as of Nov. 9.
The idea received positive feedback from DDA members.
Downtown Development Authority members on Nov. 9 discussed other possible methods of supporting commercial activities in the downtown area, with Kemper suggesting some maintenance and repairs for streetscape furniture and amenities that are showing some wear and tear.
Kemper said getting an idea of what the storefront vacancy rate in the downtown area would be a good start to promoting economic development.
Humphrey noted that the price for business real estate in New Buffalo is double that of the county average.
“Through the rezoning that’s coming up we’re looking at expanding the light commercial use on properties along our frontages,” he said, adding that the hope is that would incentivize the market to make more properties available for commercial use instead of them being held for years without an operating business in place.
When discussion turned to “the hole in the ground” (a large, undeveloped property downtown), Humphrey said owner Victor Ciardelli allowed the city to use portions if the property at no charge for the recent Wine & Harvest Festival tent area and parking.
“He has claimed that he has a new project that he wants to propose to us – I do not know what that is,” Humphrey said. “So there is dialog there, we are trying to move forward with him.”
DDA member Joe Lindsay (who owns David’s Deli with his wife, Emma Brewster) said he bought the business in 2010 and recently closed on purchasing the building.
“With any one of these storefronts, there are dozens and dozens of people that already exist in our community that are capable of running a store or a restaurant …. and want to. And they don’t have the opportunity,” he said, adding that it could be helpful if the city and/or DDA could assist people in getting off the ground at storefronts that are currently empty.
Kemper called for the DDA to form committees and hold workshops to find ways to incentivize property owners, perhaps through private-public partnerships or the involvement of non-profits, to open new businesses.
Watson said “The DDA needs to be the driving engine behind the downtown business master plan.”
He also said making the approaches to New Buffalo more attractive through streetscapes and curb appeal would be a big help.
In other Nov. 9 DDA business:
Watson said AT&T is putting in repeaters and plans to improve service for first-responders in the case of a power outage. He also said AEP plans to install a mono-pole at a city DPW site and take lattice towers out starting in the spring of 2022.
Kemper and others discussed vacancies on the DDA. It was noted that members need only to be a representative of a business that operates within the Authority’s boundaries (basically the downtown commercial and marina areas).