Ports & Terminals

Storm Causes Millions In Damage At Port Milwaukee

A line of winter storms that hit the Midwest January 12 was especially hard on Milwaukee—particularly Port Milwaukee on the shores of Lake Michigan.

Adam Schlicht, executive director of Port Milwaukee, told local media that the storm caused millions of dollars’ worth of damage at the port and characterized it as a “once-in-a-generation catastrophic event.” He said emergency crews are still assessing damage.

The storm’s “unprecedented” damage was exacerbated by lake levels, which have been higher than normal all year. According to Schlicht, 15-foot waves pushed by winds gusting up to 50 mph. ripped off dock walls and washed them inland, covered 60 to 70 percent of the port and leaving potholes and damage.  The icy waves covered rail tracks on Jones Island with a foot of ice.

The port was forced to close Jones Island (which is really a peninsula between the lake and an inner harbor fed by the Kinnickinnic River), although parts of the port managed to reopen after 48 hours and it has since accepted at least one cargo vessel. The port’s eastern edge, with international warehouses, was hardest hit; Schlicht told local media some facilities could be closed until April. He said he would be seeking state and federal assistance.

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The Corps of Engineers is warning that water levels of all the Great Lakes will continue to be higher than normal in the coming year.

The storm also caused extensive damage to the South Shore Yacht Club, located a half-mile from Port Milwaukee, smashing metal sections of the pier and damaging all 200 of the boats moored there. The club’s trustees are looking at doubling the height of the current 8-foot-high flood wall.

The blow comes as Port Milwaukee was enjoying a record year of cargo movements and was becoming increasingly recognized as a key contributor to Milwaukee’s commerce. In October, Schlicht told local media that steel shipments from Europe were up 22 percent with about 130,000 tons handled to date in 2019, despite tariffs. Cement and limestone imports were up, as well as a 48 percent increase in salt. The total cargo volume was up by 25 percent over the same time a year previously.