One of Kenosha’s most dangerous locations became a safer place on Monday.
In a project that took years to seek final approval, city officials took an important step in water safety with the installation of three life ring kiosks on the outer half of the North Pier.
“It’s extremely gratifying,” said Ald. David Bogdala, vice chairman of the city Public Works Committee. “This has been a long process to get this to the goal line. Now, to have them up, feels like we’ve scored a touchdown.”
The city received final approval on Friday from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to have kiosks on its north and south piers. A kiosk was already in place on the south pier before three identical ones were installed on the north pier on Monday. There were two kiosks installed at the mouth of the Pike River last year.
City officials dealt with multiple agencies and addressed numerous liability concerns about placing life rings along Lake Michigan.
“About a year ago, we said ‘We’re done. We’re tired of talking about it,’” Bogdala said. “There were liability concerns. We understood them. We get it. Ultimately, the risk to kids, the risk to the public ... it was too great. We’re just going to do it.”
Behind the support of numerous local organizations and city officials, the kiosks will be monitored and maintained daily to ensure safety for those ever in need. In accordance with city ordinance, there is a maximum $1,000 fine and 90 days in jail imposed on anyone tampering with or damaging the kiosks.
The goal is to eventually automate the kiosks with a direct-911 call upon opening, according to Bogdala.
Ald. Mitchell Pedersen has been working on the project for three years.
“It’s a great day,” Pedersen said. “We were waiting on one final approval from the Army Corps, and once we got that, we installed them as soon as we could, which was (Monday). It’s a huge sense of relief and a huge accomplishment. We really came together as a city between aldermen, staff and some very concerned citizens. We were able to accomplish this, even though we’ve been told many times by many people it would never happen. Our hard work and persistence paid off.”
The north pier has been the site of dozens of rescues and several drownings in recent years.
Finding a solution to the problem was somewhat complex because of the multiple agencies and individuals involved in owning, maintaining and patrolling Lake Michigan and its vast shoreline.
The north pier is owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The lighthouse is owned by Kenosha resident Heather McGee. The area surrounding the pier and lighthouse are patrolled by the Kenosha Police Department, the Kenosha County Sheriff’s Department, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
Ultimately, the city had to come up with a plan of its own and act on it.
“It’s been a long time coming,” city administrator Ed St. Peter said. “Going through federal and state agencies was a long process, but necessary to be sure you get everything done right with insurance and everything required. I want to thank all of the people involved — the alderman, the mayor, the city staff — to be able to get this done. Everyone will be safer because of it.”