After a Saturday where high winds and waves battered the Lake Michigan shoreline, conditions improved Sunday to allow clean up efforts to get underway at the Port of Milwaukee.
“This is a once in a generation impact to the Port of Milwaukee,” says Port Director Adam Schlicht. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Schlicht tells WTMJ several factors led to the flooding and damage. “The perfect storm of historically high water on Lake Michigan with the major wind event that we saw with the snow and the ice (Saturday) led to six to eight foot waves pushing hundreds of thousands of gallons of water onto Jones Island and 60 to 70-percent of the port.”
“There is significant damage to certain lands and areas of the port, specifically our international docks on the east part of Jones Island closest to Lake Michigan. But other parts of the island and of the port itself luckily made it through relatively unscathed.” Schlicht estimates that damage could be in the millions of dollars.
There were several silver linings. One is that the damage to the international ports occurred during the annual lull in the season, which ends operations on January 1. “My hope is that during the next couple of months we’ll be able to successfully remediate a lot of the damage that we have seen as quickly as possible,” says Schlicht, “hopefully in time for a full reinstatement of international service when it would normally begin on or about April 1 of 2020.”
Another silver lining is that there were no injuries during the flooding. Schlicht says the safety of all who work at the port and Jones Island, which can be as high as 1,300 people, became a top priority as conditions warranted. “We were able to successfully safely evacuate most of the people working on Jones Island from the port.”
The port has been operating under emergency procedures since weather conditions warranted, delaying the docking of ships. Schlicht says they are partnering with freighters who work on the western part of the port to reschedule winter shipping services. “Our anticipation is that certain parts of the port will reopen for partial commercial operations at 4 a.m. Monday.”
Schlicht credits the work of his staff on preparing for emergency situations and keeping equipment up to date from keeping extreme weather events like this from causing worse damage. “It’s vitally important for the Port of Milwaukee and any City of Milwaukee agency to consider transportation infrastructure resiliency in a really robust strategic way. I’m here to tell you that the port and the city do it on a daily basis and do it well.”