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Officials: Now is the time to move coal piles

By Ben Rodgers

GREEN BAY – There has never been a time like right now and will likely never be another again when it comes to the effort to relocate coal piles that plague the banks of the Fox River in downtown Green Bay, local officials say.

The On Broadway board of directors recently took action to draft a letter of support encouraging relocation of the C. Reiss coal terminal operations along the Fox and immediately adjacent to the Broadway District.

Brian Johnson, On Broadway executive director and District 9 alder, even testified in Madison for the project.

Johnson was before the Committee of Transportation, Veterans and Military Affairs Sept. 25 to request funding to study the relocation project.

“What I told the Senate committee when I was there is a lot of people had said this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I think they’re wrong in saying that,” he said. “If we don’t do this now, we will never have this opportunity again.”

For five decades, the City of Green Bay has advocated for relocating the C. Reiss coal terminal operations along the Fox River south of Mason Street.

Johnson said now is the best chance to relocate those piles to the Pulliam Plant site, which is set to be decommissioned in 2020.

He said the closure of the Pulliam Power Plant at the mouth of the Fox River provides an opportunity to not only relocate the C. Reiss operation, but also provides transformational opportunities for port-based business expansion in Green Bay, including an inter-modal containerized shipping facility.

Johnson asked the committee for a $1.5 million Harbor Assistance Grant to support a preliminary concept plan to determine if the coal piles can be relocated to the site.

“This is not new spending. This is money that’s already been appropriated by the state for this purpose,” he said. “At the end of the day it’s advocating for our project over several others that are also requesting funds.”

Johnson said the size and scope of this analysis of the project requires state funding, due to its complexity and overall expense of this evaluation.

For this reason, local parties are seeking the state to cover the professional services of a consultant (a single entity or collaboration of firms) to prepare a Preliminary Concept Plan that includes all architectural, structural and civil engineering and design documents needed to facilitate the redevelopment of the Pulliam Plant and potentially adjacent properties.

Development Director for the City of Green Bay, Kevin Vonck, who is advocating for the study, said the intent is essentially to turn a power plant site into a port.

“Something was built out there before. Things were piled out there before,” Vonck said. “So we know it can happen. But we don’t really know the exact specifications on how we can do that development.”

To get an idea on how to turn a power plant site into a port, Vonck said the study would examine sustainability, soil analysis, environmental remediation, filling and grading a floodplain, stormwater management, foundation alternates and more.

“We want to say we can map it out and say this looks good,” he said. “But ultimately if somebody says ‘We want to build this structure here. Can we build it here?’ Maybe the structure is more efficient moved 100 yards. The same thing with the rail lines and the dock wall. We want to be sure we can do that in the most efficient way possible.”

Vonck said the city seeks to do this in order to: increase the property’s taxable value by an estimated $100 million; unlock additional, taxable economic development options with the neighboring properties; and improve citizen health and safety by eliminating coal dust impacts on downtown residents.

Vonck said the first phase of the plan would be the port site development. The second phase would cover the redevelopment of the coal pile site.

He said it could serve as a mixed-use buffer zone between the commercial and residential areas north of the piles and the industrial areas south.

The site is also located just south of the city’s investment in the Shipyard development.

“It’s 40 acres, which is huge,” Vonck said. “If you look at some development projects we’ve had, you can build pretty densely in an acre or two. So there’s a lot of room for multiple uses and obviously it will be phased in in time.”

He said C. Reiss is on board with the study as well, because it would reduce operation costs for the company by allowing them to pick up coal at the mouth of the Fox River, instead of having to move through three bridges over the Fox River.

City officials believe this investment, along with post-analysis investments that could eclipse $15 million, will maximize the city’s downtown potential along the waterfront while also providing a new port expansion opportunity that has been needed for decades.

On Broadway believes the existing site is an impediment to future development on the waterfront and the land has a higher and greater use that could directly support the long-term vision of the Broadway District.

The city, Brown County, the Port of Green Bay, WEC Energy Group, C. Reiss, and other port businesses are supportive of further exploring this proposal.

Johnson started an online petition to move the piles, so citizens can voice their support of the project.

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