By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Jun 16, 2022 at 9:02 AM

McKinley Beach on Milwaukee’s East Side will remain closed this year over concerns about unsafe swimming conditions, but one county supervisor has proposed a resolution to prioritize addressing safety issues at the beach.

That resolution – which would "authoriz(e) and direct a transfer of $712,190 ... for the purpose of contracting with a vendor for the McKinley Beach restoration and safety project" – passed the County's Finance Committee Thursday morning, 7-0, with Supervisors Steve Taylor, Willie Johnson Jr., and Shawn Rolland joining on as co-sponsors.

The legislation now moves to the full County Board and could be on the agenda at the next meeting, slated for June 23.

The transfer of funds from a $5 million contingencies account proposed by Wasserman would cover planning and design ($144,860) and construction and implemention of improvements and enhanced safety measures  ($567,330).

The resolution calls for "urgent action" and notes that without this contingency funding the beach could remain closed through at least 2025.

Built in 1989 with fill from the deep tunnel project, McKinley Beach’s design is unique in the area with two stone jetties that create a cove.

The beach was closed in August 2020 in light of what a County Parks informational report called, “riptide hazards, several near drownings and multiple fatal drowning incidents,” and it remains fenced today.

There are two lines of fencing between the walking path and the water, including a metal railing posted with signs warning of danger.

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(PHOTOS: Natalie DiPietro)
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“Milwaukee County Parks takes park user safety very seriously and has begun considering what remedies to the site conditions are necessary in order to have a safe, active and sustainable beach,” the report continued.

Then, after another drowning on Monday near McKinley Marina, County Supervisor Sheldon A. Wasserman called on the board and the parks department Tuesday to prioritize fixing the beach’s issues.

“First and foremost, my thoughts and prayers are with the family of the teenage girl who drowned at McKinley Beach yesterday evening,” said Wasserman in a statement. “My heart is with the family and friends who have lost a loved one.

“The County Board’s priority must be the safety of beachgoers, and I, for one, am tired of waking up to hear that yet another one of our residents has lost their life at this beach. It’s time for action and solutions.”

After a meeting of the Parks, Energy and Environment Committee on Tuesday, at which park staff testified on potential design upgrades that could fix the problems, Wasserman said he planned to introduce legislation to address the issues in a speedy manner.

“In the coming days, with the assistance of parks and research staff, I will be unveiling legislation to fast-track one of these design solutions to once and for all make this beach safe,” he said.

“In the meantime, I implore the Parks Department to implement short-term safety measures to provide an added level of safety for those who choose to enter the water. Adding a temporary safety measure, like roping or something similar, could help keep residents safe while we prepare a permanent solution for McKinley Beach.”

The County Board provided funding last year to study the conditions at the beach and to suggest solutions not only for the safety of swimmers, but also for ensuring water quality and beach sustainability.

According to the report presented to the committee this week – the same document quoted above – “Through a detailed site analysis to identify the problem(s) at the beach, 5 potential options have been evaluated against the goals of the study, and rough cost estimates have been provided.”

It added that conditions have changed over the years due to variation in lake levels and changing site conditions.

“Initial findings have shown that water depth has increased at the jetty line by approximately 4 feet since the creation of the beach,” the report noted.

“This increased depth as well as multiple wave current factors have created dangerous conditions that cannot be visually observed by swimmers. Solutions have been identified that range from permanent closure to constructed elements within the lake.”

According to the full report, one conceptual solution would restore the beach to its original design, at a cost of $290,000.

"This solution restores McKinley beach to its intended design of a roughly 5 percent slope by re-nourishing the beach with torpedo sand, grading and grooming ... With regard to modifications to physical infrastructure, (this) appears to most readily balance swim safety, beach sustainability and cost."

This solution would involve beach replenishment, semi-annual beach grooming and a survey of the depth of the water at the beach every five years.

(NOTE: This post originally appeared on May 25, 2022 and has been updated to include details of the proposed legislation and the fact that it passed unanimously in the Finance Committee on June 16, 2022.)

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.