Cultivating Conversation About Public Rights in the Future of Milwaukee’s Cool Coast | WUWM 89.7 FM

Milwaukee’s lakefront is unique. Wisconsin is also unique in that our right to access our waterways is enshrined in the state constitution.

On Wednesday, the Center for Water Policy at UW-Milwaukee is hosting an event in hopes of educating the public about Milwaukee’s Cool Coast and the public’s rights to access it.

“Most people call this region flyover country. They focus on the ocean coasts,” says Melissa Scanlan. She is a professor in the School of Freshwater Science at UWM and director of the Center for Water Policy.

“What we’re trying to do is raise awareness about protecting this cool coastline and making sure it’s an attraction, not just for the people who live here, but also for tourists to come to this area. and benefit from it,” says Scanlan.

Milwaukee‘s lakefront is unique, not only for its beauty, but also because much of it is actually filled with lakebed. As part of the webinar, local historian John Gurda will explain its creation and evolution.

Sarah Martinez will also share what she learned on Milwaukee’s Fresh Coast. The recent University of Utah Law School graduate has joined UWM’s Center for Water Policy as a water quality specialist.

“In all cases of lake bed infill, there are sort of two layers. There is the lake bed grant which specifies the purposes for which that lake bed will be used; for example, those given to the city to make Lincoln Memorial Drive and Bradford Beach were given for those purposes, and then another layer on top is the public trust doctrine,” says Martinez.

The doctrine is based on the constitution of Wisconsin.

“Thus, the lake bottom grants serve as a layer, and then the doctrine of public trust which, in addition, must promote the water rights of Wisconsinites, as the state serves as a trustee,” Martinez adds. “This includes rights to navigation, recreation, water quality, enjoyment of scenic beauty; as long as it satisfies some of these things, it will satisfy the doctrine of public trust.

Residents now have their say in what may one day become another public space along Milwaukee’s Fresh Coast, thanks to the year-long cleanup of the Milwaukee Estuary.

Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewer District


It covers approximately 10 miles of the Menomonee, Kinnickinnic, and Milwaukee Rivers, as well as portions of Milwaukee’s Inner and Outer Harbor.

READ Cleanup underway in the Milwaukee Estuary – from the Burnham Canal wetland to the proposed removal of contaminated sediments

“It’s an area designated by the EPA where there has been legacy contamination,” says Martinez. “And over the next couple of years, the Corps and a number of other stakeholders, including Wisconsin DNR and MMSD, will be teaming up to dredge up all of this material, and then they have to put it somewhere, is not it ?”

Melissa Scanlan says the proposed location is just north of the Lake Express ferry station.

“There is currently a landfill at the bottom of the lake that the Corps of Engineers has filled with dredging material, navigational dredging and it will go directly north of that, if approved,” she explains.

credit of sediment installation mmsd.jpeg

Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewer District


The proposed site for storing dredged sediments from the Milwaukee Estuary is shown in blue.

Scanlan says this is one of the topics that will be explored at Wednesday’s event.

“What could be the future land use on these newly created lands, how public should it be, what is the role of the public in deciding what this new land use should be and when should it be decided,” says Scanlan.

She says decisions made a century ago by city leaders to turn the lake bed into public parks created a greenway.

She hopes that cultivating a broad community discussion about the cleanup of the estuary will encourage today’s leaders “to make well-informed decisions that truly protect the public interest, not just for today, but for 50 years from now. from today, 100 years from now, 200 years from now,” Scanlan says.

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