RACINE — About half a mile of the Root River is being cleared of old docks and pilings that had, in their disrepair, become perceived hazards to river navigation and human life.
Veit & Co. of New Berlin has been at work since last week in an approximately half-mile stretch from the Marquette Street bridge to about where Fourth Street would extend to the river. City Engineer John Rooney said Veit has been removing an estimated 85 docks and 145 piles, mainly from the south side — much of which had been Azarian Marina.
Veit started the dock and pilings removal at the upstream end, Rooney said. Working from a barge, an excavator with a vibratory attachment has been vibrating each pile to loosen it, then pulling it free of the riverbed.
Rooney said if any piles cannot be extracted, they will be cut off below the sediment level.
Especially since Azarian was bought out and ended marina operations in 2014, for what was supposed to have been the Machinery Row redevelopment project, the docks had been deteriorating through the seasons, Rooney said.
“It’s been going on for a number of years — I don’t know how many,” said Jim Rooney, Racine Harbor Commission chairman. “It was always a decaying problem that was there.”
He said those docks were likely built in the late 1940s and 1950s, when Western Publishing occupied the two large buildings that J.I. Case Co. constructed. This year, Jim Rooney said, “Some (piers) were completely submerged, tipped over and underwater by a foot or so,” creating a navigational hazard as well as a potential hazard to people who walked on them.
Clearing the way
John Rooney said he estimated the project of removing those docks and piles would cost about $230,000, but Veit was the low bidder at $191,975. City Development Director Amy Connolly said the work is being paid for out of the intergovernmental revenue fund.
The city acquired the Machinery Row riverfront land through grants to create a public pathway as part of a planned riverfront transformation, Connolly explained. Removing the docks, she said, “was part of the responsibility we knew we might incur. Ideally, it would have been done as part of a redevelopment project.”
Now the city is exploring the likelihood that the Machinery Row buildings will be demolished to create a clear development site.
John Rooney said removing the docks and piles will make it easier to do the coming riverfront improvements that will be associated with trying to redevelop Machinery Row.
Jim Rooney remarked: “It’s nice to have it done. If there is going to be any future (development) there, they have that mess out of there … they’ll be able to start from scratch.”