ON CAT ISLAND, Wis. - From the air – appearing to grow out of the frozen, snow-covered waters on the southwest portion of Green Bay – the rocky "spines" extending out into the bay initially look more like that of the Nasca lines near the Peruvian coast; or a series of long break walls one might see protecting the series of harbors and beaches dotting Milwaukee or Chicago's shorelines.
What you can't tell from the sky is that the construction of the winding stone barriers, extending southeast into the bay off of Lineville Road in Suamico, is moving along at a record pace.
"We're very excited about the progress. It's been a good, quality, safe project that's ahead of schedule," said Amy Moore, the local construction chief with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Detroit District.
Ahead by about 26 percent.
Moore says good weather and low water levels have contributed to moving the project along.
"Right now, we still have to build a third island, so people will still see the islands moving out closer toward the bay, closer toward the navigation channel," said Moore.
In short time, the barriers will provide the base for the reconstruction of the 2.5 mile, three island Cat Island chain. Clean fill dredged from the bay will be used to construct the islands, but that will take about 20 years to complete.
And there's more good news – the cost.
The original project price tag of the project was $34 million. Brown County officials say that cost was whittled down to $27 million and then to $20 million when it started in October.
It's now down to $17 million.
Officials say the stone the county is supplying the project costs less and less stone is being used.
"All good news," said Brown County Port and Solid Waste Director Dean Haen. "Ahead of schedule, under budget – all good news, project is going well."
Because of the expected leftover federal funds, the county is looking to re-purpose that money. The hope is to use the funds to close and cap Renard Island, just north of Bay Beach Amusement Park. For decades, it was used as a dump site for contaminated sediment from the harbor and channel.
With the good comes the potential bad
How many times have you heard that a government project is coming in under budget or ahead of schedule? Not many, right? But those project pros are also creating some potential cons for Brown County.
The project is being paid for on a cost-sharing basis. The federal government is paying for 65 percent; the county pays for the rest through grants and local revenue – not local tax dollars.
"We have to contribute 35 percent of the project cost," said Haen. "And our contribution, going in, was we were going to meet that in providing stone. And the stone is coming in cheaper. So we need to find out another way to contribute to the project."
Stone, Haen says, is the county's preferred payment method – not cash.
Haen says a solution is needed by this summer as he believes the construction could be done by the end of this year – ahead of the May 2015 end date.
Once restored, the islands will be used as habitats for birds, fish and other animals after years of erosion took its toll, the bay eventually reclaiming the islands as its own.
The reconstruction project kicked off in October 2012, but has been more than 20 years in the making.
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