By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Aug 30, 2023 at 10:26 AM

If you’ve been at the lakefront this summer, you’ve likely noticed that while McKinley Beach remains fenced off to the public, there is now work going on at the site, with the addition of sand and some grading and grooming.

The work is being done to help fix riptide issues that have plagued the beach – which was created in 1989 with fill from excavating the deep tunnel – for a few years.

“Since its construction, the beach has experienced changing lake levels and site conditions,” reads a County Parks project page for the beach work. “In August 2020, McKinley Beach was closed due to riptide hazards, several near drownings and multiple fatal drowning incidents.

“The County Board ... funded an effort to both study the conditions present at the beach as well as identify potential solutions that can increase swim safety while addressing beach sustainability and water quality.”

According to the update, the study showed that water depth had, “increased at the jetty line by approximately 4 feet since the creation of the beach. This increased depth as well as multiple wave current factors have created dangerous conditions that cannot be visually observed by swimmers.”

The work being done this summer aims to lower the depth of the water between the stone breakwaters to help solve the dangerous currents issue by, "creat(ing) a shallower beach environment.”

The project is expected to cost $1.09 million, which includes about $77,000 for the study, $99,000 for design work and $917,500 for construction.

In early July, County Supervisor Sheldon Wasserman, who also chairs the board committee that oversees the parks, said, “We started the McKinley Beach reconstruction on June 20.

“We will have over 25 dump trucks of a course like sand being applied to the beach into the waterway. We are shooting for completion and opening in August. The work should definitely help with the water situation.”

In mid-August, Wasserman noted that delays in permitting had pushed back the completion of the project and the beach’s reopening to the public.

“I was told that the construction is not going to cost us more money by holding up the construction, and that it should be done soon,” he said at that time. “But the goal is to get the beach done before winter starts, and to really have it open first thing next summer.

“I definitely want this done this year. I don't want it delayed to next year.”

I reached out to County Parks’ Manager of Planning & Development Sarah Toomsen to ask about the delay.

“Because the project involves adding material into a Great Lake, there are permitting requirements that involve the Wisconsin DNR, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the EPA,” she explained. “These permits were known steps for the project, and the final June 2023 beach plan is the basis for those permit reviews.

“The processes involve varying periods of public notice and review, some up to 120 days. What has been visible at the project site is that work out of the water, which has different permitting requirements than work in the water, which is what we are waiting on at this time.”

And, so, we wait, but hopefully not much longer, Toomsen said.

“My hope would be that we would finish work in a few weeks, but we will wait for resolution with all permitting agencies before committing to that schedule.”

McKinley Marina update

Also underway is work on phase two of the McKinley Marina redevelopment next door, which began in May.

The work comprises rebuilt stormwater infrastructure; recontructed boat trailer parking; rebuilt boat storage area and amenities; a new boat washdown facility; new LED lighting; a rebuilt fish cleaning facility; new pedestrian walkways and repaving of existing walkways; new benches and bike racks; and more.

While some trees will be removed in the process, 28 new trees will be planted as part of this phase, which is expected to take about 15 months. During that time about 40 boat trailer parking spots will remain open.

The first phase was completed in 2021 and, according to the project page, “consisted primarily of reconstructed public parking areas, a new marina entry drive, new LED lighting, utilities, and enhanced stormwater management utilizing green infrastructure (GI) best management practices including permeable pavers and bio-infiltration basins.”

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 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.