Aug

26

KAUKAUNA — Imagine boating down the lower Fox River from Lake Winnebago to Wrightstown.

For the past three decades, that’s been a pipe dream. By spring 2015, it will be a reality.

The Fox River Navigational System Authority has begun a $3.3 million project to restore and reopen three Kaukauna locks — Nos. 1, 2 and 3 — for boating. Restoration of a fourth Kaukauna lock — No. 5 — will be bid separately later this summer but also will be finished by the 2015 boating season.

“The restoration of the Kaukauna locks is part of the final phase of the overall lower Fox River lock restoration project that began in 2005,” said Harlan Kiesow, CEO of the Fox River Navigational Authority, which was created by the state.

Upon the reopening of the shuttered Kaukauna locks, only one obstacle — the Rapide Croche aquatic invasive species barrier near Wrightstown — will prevent boaters from traveling between Lake Winnebago and Green Bay.

The Rapide Croche barrier will remain sealed, but the navigational authority plans to construct an overland boat lift and cleaning station to clear the obstacle. That work is scheduled for 2015-17 and would be the last piece of a puzzle that hasn’t been together since the 17-lock system was shut down in 1984.

“The opening of the lock system should not only provide boating opportunities but will also foster recreational and historic tourism, as well as promote community waterfront economic development,” Kiesow said.

The lower Fox River lock system was once key to Wisconsin’s shipping and paper industries but was closed as those industries declined and maintenance costs grew.

The navigational authority took over management of the system from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2004. Since then, the authority has reopened to boaters the Menasha, four Appleton, Cedars, Little Rapids and De Pere locks. The Little Chute locks have been restored but are not open to boaters because of a required bridge replacement on Mill Street.

“Everybody has been waiting for this for a long time,” Kiesow said. “They are getting excited about it.”

The Boldt Co., based in Appleton, has been hired to restore the Kaukauna locks to their 1930s style. The project includes repairing the locks’ mechanical systems and rebuilding the locks’ walls, gates, chambers and guard houses.

The Wisconsin Historical Society and Legacy Architecture of Sheboygan are working with Boldt on the historical preservation. All 17 locks are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“We’re just repairing what we can and replacing what we can’t to make sure the locks work and function properly,” said Jennifer Lehrke, principal architect and consultant at Legacy Architecture. “However, we’re also matching old parts and ensuring the locks retain their historical value.”

Reed Rodenkirch, project manager for Boldt, said his crew will try to replicate the outstanding workmanship of a bygone era.

“I consider it sort of working in an outdoor museum,” he said. “We are actually building a museum display for the public.”

— Duke Behnke: 920-729-6622, ext. 32, or dbehnke@postcrescent.com; on Twitter @DukeBehnke

via Unlocking the locks | Appleton Post-Crescent | postcrescent.com.

Aug

12

On a windy July afternoon amid a fleet of sailboats, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee professor Todd Miller dived into the tumultuous waters of Lake Winnebago, the state’s largest inland lake and the only source of drinking water for more than 200,000 people.

With waves crashing on his back, Miller grabbed hold of a 4-foot-wide, 3-foot-tall solar-powered water monitoring buoy and hooked it to a chain attached to one of four 262-pound metal weights that will hold the buoy in place.

Through research financed with a $750,000 five-year grant from the National Institution of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Science Foundation, Miller hopes to learn more about dangerous toxins produced by blue-green algae in the lake and whether these toxins end up in the drinking water of the cities of Oshkosh, Appleton, Neenah and Menasha.

Little is known about the conditions that lead to the production of the toxins, known as cyanotoxins, and the four cities that derive drinking water from the lake don’t know if the toxins end up in their water.

But ingestion of some toxins can be fatal.

In 1993, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency told the Journal Sentinel that the toxins were a low-priority item and weren’t being dealt with because of a lack of resources.

Twenty years later, not much has changed.

Last month, Miller, an assistant professor at UWM’s Zilber School of Public Health, and his students deployed one of two homemade buoys equipped with sensors that measure physical variables, like water and air temperature, and blue and green algae pigment levels in the lake. Every five minutes, a modem on the buoy will send data collected by the sensors to the Miller Lab website.

The Miller Lab also is sampling water at each of the four cities’ water plants at various stages of the treatment process to determine what level of cyanotoxins, if any, are in the drinking water. Through his research, Miller hopes to better understand the conditions around the occurrence of these toxins. He hopes to construct a model that will help water plants prevent human exposure to the toxins.

While acute poisonings are well-documented, chronic exposure to low levels of cyanotoxins in drinking water is not. The toxins are known to cause allergic reactions, skin irritation, gastrointestinal illnesses, joint pain and damage to the liver — even cancer in extreme cases.

Since 1998, the EPA has listed cyanotoxins on three consecutive lists of contaminant candidates to regulate in drinking water.

“The EPA has this process: put stuff on the list and figure out the data gaps. Unfortunately, they hit the current federal financial squeeze and moving through that process has gotten more difficult,” said Alan Roberson, director of federal relations for American Waterworks Association.

Conducting the research to assess the occurrence of the toxins nationwide and develop a standardized analytical method to determine appropriate toxin thresholds for drinking water would cost millions of dollars, Roberson said.

No human deaths caused by algae toxins have been confirmed in the U.S. and not all algae blooms produce them. But there are documented fatalities in other countries, like Brazil, where 60 dialysis patients died in 1996 due to the presence of toxins in the water supply.

In 2003, a Dane County coroner’s report determined anatoxin-a, a neurotoxin produced by cyanobacteria, to be the culprit in the death of a Cottage Grove teenager who died after swallowing water in an algae-covered golf pond the prior summer. Today, officials still question the validity of the findings.

In Wisconsin, Lake Winnebago is the only inland lake used for drinking water. Mark Werner, section chief at the Wisconsin Department of Health Services Bureau of Environmental and Occupational Health, said cyanobacterial algae blooms are not much of an issue in Lake Superior or Lake Michigan, where the City of Milwaukee derives its drinking water.

“It’s fairly safe to say that the removal is pretty good at surface water plants in Wisconsin, but it’s not something that is regularly on our radar,” said Steven Elmore, chief of public water supply at the state Department of Natural Resources.

Elmore pointed to studies conducted in the late 1990s, including one specific to Lake Winnebago, that showed treatment processes were effective at removing the toxins.

“It’s really up to the U.S. EPA to say this is something that we’re going to regulate,” he said.

But Miller pointed out the concentrations of toxins detected in the raw water were rather low back then, much lower than they are today.

“The problem is that you have a lot of dissolved organic carbon or other stuff in the water that can inhibit the breakdown of the toxins,” Miller said.

An auto-sampler attached to one buoy, located near the Oshkosh plant’s raw water intake, will collect at least two daily water samples that researchers will test for about two dozen possible cyanotoxins. Back at the lab, cyanotoxins in the raw water samples will be measured, but because the technology cannot detect all possible variations, researchers also will use a zebra fish assay to detect unknown toxins and overall water toxicity.

Wayne Carmichael, professor emeritus at Wright State University who has studied cyanotoxins over the past 40 years, said nearly half of the states have some kind of response strategy in place to monitor cyanotoxins. But it isn’t a nationwide problem.

Over the past four years, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services has run a surveillance program that documents human and animal illnesses potentially linked to algal bloom exposure. In 2012, the program received 33 reports, five of which were for animals.

In Dane County, public health officials regularly monitor the water at recreational beaches and if there is an indication that a bloom is developing, they will issue an alert or health advisory. When levels of microcystin reach 20 micrograms or higher per liter, the beach is closed.

Every time Dane County sees large algae blooms in recreational waters, public health officials find that the toxin levels in the blooms are rather high — “greater than we expect,” says Kirsti Sorsa, program manager for the Department of Public Health for Madison and Dane County.

“There hasn’t been any significant move toward setting nutrient levels. All we’re doing is a better job of recognizing it,” Carmichael said. “We should be doing more.”

Twitter: twitter.com/skbaer

http://www.jsonline.com/news/wisconsin/buoys-in-lake-winnebago-search-for-dangerous-algae-toxins-b9959471z1-218616731.html

 

Aug

12

All boat traffic through Oshkosh will be shut down next week, cutting restaurants and other waterfront businesses off from key customers during a 120-hour construction blitz on the Fox River railroad bridge.

The river will be impassable for five days between midnight Aug. 18 and midnight Aug. 23 while Canadian National Railway, which owns the bridge, removes and replaces the main span that opens and closes to boat traffic.

The job will put a cap on nearly two years of reconstruction work on the 114-year-old structure that supports an average of 25 freight trains every day. The company said the new bridge will improve boating access to the river by widening the pass-through and allow trains to move across more quickly.

Boaters and riverfront business owners said they hope for improved access, but they’re frustrated the work is taking place in the midst of peak tourism season. Vacationers may find themselves confined to Lake Winnebago and unable to access restaurants and marinas on the Fox River and the upstream lakes. At the same time, Oshkosh residents who keep their boats along the river won’t be able to go out on Lake Winnebago.

The cutoff is the latest in a string of complaints boaters have with CN railroad over its operation of the bridge, said Ron Kelbert, 60, president of Lakeside Harbour Dockominiums Association in Oshkosh.

Kelbert said the company has not listened to boaters’ complaints about long wait times for the bridge to open — it will close 30-45 minutes before trains arrive — and he worries the company will disregard boaters during and after the bridge work.

“I guess we thought at some point, since we’re almost to the end of the season, why not just wait another month?” he said. “If they have one thing go wrong it could push the date to another day, another week, another month. To boaters, every day in the summer is precious.”

Restaurant owners expect to take a hit in both lunch- and dinner-time customers, said Jay Supple, Chief Executive Officer for the Supple Group, which owns Fratellos Waterfront Restaurant.

“Anybody on Lake Winnebago that’s coming this way obviously can’t get to us… It’s not just us. It’s all the restaurants on the river that flows from Oshkosh down to Winneconne,” he said. “I understand they have to do it, and it’s great we’re getting a new bridge, but I’m just surprised they’re not doing it in September.”

CN railroad spokesman Patrick Waldron said the company wants to finish the work before Labor day. He acknowledged the disruption and said the company cooperated with the U.S. Coast Guard to limit impact on the waterway by working only on weekdays.

“This is a very large portion of the project we’re doing all at once to minimize the interruption to the boat traffic,” he said.

Minimizing disruption

The U.S. Coast Guard has been notifying area boaters and organizations of the bridge closure so there are no surprises next week, said Scot Striffler, bridge program manager for the Ninth Coast Guard District, located in Cleveland, Ohio.

“They’re not going to be able to get through there, so I’m sure it will impact folks for this five-day period. That’s the nature of the work, and we’re doing all we can to minimize that impact,” he said.

The payoff at the end, however, will be greater access for boaters.

The old bridge was made up of three steel through-trusses that span 480 feet across the river. The center section consists of a swing span that twists horizontally in the center to allow boats through one of two 64-feet wide navigation channels.

The new, $27 million bridge will replace the swing span with a vertically-lifting bascule span that will open to a single 125-foot wide navigation channel.

Much of the new bridge is already in place. The bascule span is the only section not yet installed.

The construction schedule has been set up to ensure boaters will be able to pass through the bridge normally on the weekends.

Boaters appreciate that, but still, “it’s an inconvenience,” said Dave Pable, 56, who owns a small fishing boat he keeps at Kubasta’s Landing along the river.

Pable said he he could still access Lake Winnebago by pulling his boatacross town on a trailer , but that would defeat the purpose of paying to rent a boat house directly on the river.

“I’ll be shut down for August, but I’ll find another way to go fishing,” he said.

The bridge closure will also affect Becket’s and the Ground Round restaurants, which just had their river access restored last week when the river walk was completed.

“I wish it wouldn’t take a week,” Becket’s co-owner Kris Larson said about the bridge work. “It certainly will inhibit access, but it will be better when it’s done. Luckily, boaters know about it and can prepare for it.”

Best Western Premier Waterfront Hotel General Manager Dan Schetter said awareness among boaters should minimize the impact on Ground Round at River’s Edge’s business.

“A lot of our traffic comes down the river from the west,” he added.

Adam Rodewald writes for Oshkosh Northwestern Media. Northwestern reporter Jeff Bollier contributed to this story.

via Bridge work will shut down boat traffic on Fox River through Oshkosh | Appleton Post-Crescent | postcrescent.com.