Coal pile relocation still alive after grant announcements
By Ben Rodgers
GREEN BAY – The effort to relocate the coal piles that have plagued downtown for a generation boils down to other districts getting funds for their projects first.
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation is set to finalize Harbor Assistance Program Grants in the near future, with Port Milwaukee already receiving $4.9 million, which was announced Monday, Feb. 24, by Gov. Tony Evers.
A $29 million grant, for improvements needed at the Port of Marinette to allow for the production of the next generation of navy ships, was also announced Tuesday, Feb. 25.
The Aug. 1, 2019, deadline to apply for the grant was missed, but thanks to Assembly Bill 325, authored by Rep. David Steffen (R-Howard), Green Bay is in the running for the remainder of those funds to complete a feasibility study on the relocation of the coal piles.
“One of the challenges we’ve had with this effort is the legislators from around the state, many of whom represent the eight major commercial ports in Wisconsin, do not want this bill to step ahead of their communities’ Harbor Assistance Grant requests,” Steffen said.
He said AB 325 has been in a holding pattern for three months after receiving bipartisan committee support and a hearing on the Senate floor.
The bill has been approved in the Assembly and is available for scheduling in the Senate.
“It’s incredibly frustrating, especially when you compare the projects,” Steffen said. “Some of these projects are repairing an aging dock wall, replacing a bollard, creating a new concrete pad for a crane, these are not even in the same ballpark of importance and impact as what we’re looking at. Let’s be clear, this bill and this project will be the largest port expansion project on the entire Great Lakes in two generations, and the economic impact between the coal pile relocation and port expansion on the mouth of the Fox (River) has an estimated impact of $200 million, so it doesn’t compare with any of the other projects.”
He said he expects there will be some funds left over from the other projects, and acquiring those remaining funds to pay for the $1.2-$1.5 million study for the relocation of the coal piles is the present goal.
“Once all the awards have been made, and if there is money remaining in the pot, we expect that will dislodge the opposition to my bill in the State Senate,” Steffen said. “Basically what we’re hearing from State Senators is ‘Get in the back of the line.’ So that’s what we’re doing. We’re waiting for the announcement from the DOT, and if there is money remaining, that’s what we’re targeting.”
The deadline was missed because the announcement of the closing of the J.P. Pulliam Generating Station, better known as the Pulliam Plant, was not yet made, said Brian Johnson, District 9 alder for Green Bay and executive director of On Broadway.
The former plant and site are owned entirely by Wisconsin Public Service and ceased operations entirely in October 2018.
“Early indications suggest that had this been submitted through the original process, this would have been a very strong contender, and I don’t think that has changed at all,” Johnson said. “All this does is alter that timeline a little bit in how we pursue that funding.”
Harbor Assistance Program Grants are available every two years.
Kevin Vonck, Green Bay development director, said if the effort fails, the next step will likely be to draft a memorandum of understanding between the involved parties to show Madison there is cooperation for the project.
“We continue to have good discussions between the city and the county and other interested stakeholders that have been positive,” Vonck said. “We are approaching a time where we are going to need to start to make some plans with what’s happening. We could potentially show some more agreement, which could happen later this year.”