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Agencies Work to Restore Cat Island Barrier Chain

Several agencies are teaming up in an unusual and long-awaited project.

Sat January 04, 2014 - Midwest Edition
Mary Reed

Several local, state, and federal agencies are cooperating in an unusual and long-awaited project to restore Wisconsin’s Cat Island barrier chain, which has been eroded by water, waves, and weather over the years.

“The Cat Island project will restore an important part of Lower Green Bay. Thanks to the hard work and dedication of all the partners, this effort will provide important spawning, nursery, and rearing habitat for fish and other aquatic species,” said Charlie Wooley, the service’s Midwest regional deputy director.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has supported this project for over two decades, serving on local planning committees and working with local stakeholders to implement the project.”

Partnering Wisconsin in the Green Bay enterprise are the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (U.S. COF), Brown County, and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (U.S FWS).

The restoration of the Cat Island chain represents a multi-benefit project.

Dredged material from local navigational channels will be deposited at the location, slowly building three islands with a projected total area of 270 acres.

This trio of islands will protect the 1,400 acres of water around Duck Creek, which empties into the bay. In turn, the environmental restoration will assist in strengthening the lower bay’s ecosysten and provide an appropriate habitat for birds as well as fish spawning grounds, while also offering the public an opportunity to observe wild life.

“Shorebirds were abundant in this area decades ago, because this corner of the bay was a bountiful wetland of premiere feeding habitat. Swarms of hundreds to thousands of migrating shorebirds and other water birds were a typical sight. However, storms of the 1970’s and invasive species after then (especially phragmites) have deteriorated the ecosystem,” said Tom Prestby, second year Master’s student at the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay.

“The only good habitat left for shorebirds is a limited area of temporary mud and sand that is exposed near these islands, driven by water levels and wind.”

Future dredging at the project is supposed to recreate the historical islands once again, possibly increasing the shorebird and waterfowl habitat. Ideally, the colonial waterbirds such as pelicans, egrets, night-herons, and cormorants will have more space to nest and species that used to nest on the islands but have since left, such as Caspian and Common Terns, will return as well, according to Prestby.

Michels Foundations, one of thirteen divisions of Brownsville, Wis., based parent company Michels Corporation, is serving as general contractor for the project. Two sister divisions, Michels Materials and Anderson Brothers & Johnson, were awarded contracts to provide the material used.

The project has been in the planning stages for more than twenty years and now it has come to fruition, about 4 mi. (6.4 km) of wave barrier between 4 and 8 ft. (1.2 and 2.4 m) high is under construction. The barrier features armor stone sides and a 12 ft. (3.7 m) wide graveled road as well as reinforced concrete culverts with 24 in. (61 cm) and 84 in. (213 cm) diameters designed for surges caused by rapidly fluctuating water levels.

In essence, the barrier is a curving dike with three u-shaped bays along it, so the islands will not be independent land masses but rather joined together by the barrier.

“Although the island chain will not be accessible to public vehicles, the barrier will be used as a service road when needed. The chain will be open to pedestrians for recreational purposes, so as the dredged material gets placed and settled, which will take many years, the dike will be used as a walking path,” said Michels Foundations Senior Project Manager Paul Wiedmeyer.

The project began in October 2012 with an anticipated completion date in 2014. The company self-performed every aspect of work on the project, Wiedmeyer said.

“The wave barrier will be the outer extent of the rebuilt Cat Island chain. Clean dredge material from the Upper Fox River will be placed within the wave barrier to rebuild the island chain that washed away in the 70’s due to high water and storm events. Contaminated dredge material from the Fox River and the bay of Green Bay is stored in the Bayport Confined Disposals Facility,” he added.

While this is an unusual project, Michels Foundations has carried out many similar jobs. “We specialize in the tough, logistically challenging projects and continue to build them on time and under budget. In fact, the Cat Island project will finish 1.5 years ahead of schedule. And that includes constructing a 330 foot by 42 foot rectangular steel sheeting off-loading site which was an addition to the original contract,” Wiedmeyer said.

As he noted, whenever work is done in environmentally sensitive areas, such as wetlands, lakes, and rivers, it adds a complexity to the overall project scope. In this case, the project required approximately 4,000 ft. (1,219 m) of haul road to be constructed through the lake bed to access the project site. This task was carried out by other contractors prior to Michels Foundations beginning work on the job.

With one to nine people working on site per day, the approximately $20 million job is being handled by a Caterpillar 345 excavator, used for armor stone placement utilizing a Trimble GCS900 system, as well as a John Deere 850 bulldozer and a Caterpillar 140H grader, both equipped with GPS and utilized for core stone and gravel placement.

“The entire project was subject to mother nature and Lake Michigan and Green Bay’s fury, namely throughout the winter months when marine work usually is not attempted. We were able to overcome the elements and work continually throughout the winter,” Wiedmeyer recalled when giving “special thanks to all the hard working and dedicated members of the team that made the Cat Island project such a success.”

About the Company

Michels Foundations is a division of Michels Corporation, headquartered in Brownsville, Wis. Michels was founded in 1959 as a pipeline construction contractor and has grown into one of the largest, most diversified utility contractors in North America. With offices in New Berlin, Wis., and Park Ridge, Ill., Michels Foundations specializes in construction of earth retention systems and large-diameter caissons as well as other foundations-related services throughout the United States and Canada.

Recent projects include the rebuilding of a section along the Chicago River, one of several high-profile jobs in downtown Chicago, and also building most of Milwaukee’s River Walk.

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