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Michels returns Cat Islands to glory


Photos submitted by Michels Corp and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Detroit District

Photos submitted by Michels Corp and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Detroit District

Photos submitted by Michels Corp and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Detroit District

Cat Islands Chain Reconstruction

The Cat Islands are on their second life.

Between the boulders, birds and cost savings, the Lake Michigan chain has been transformed.

But for a while, the marshy islands just off Green Bay’s coast suffered years of disregard, surging tides and crammed waterfowl. A planned reconstruction effort had been in front of a government review board or official’s priority list since Lake Michigan hit a high-water mark in the mid-1980s.

Fortunes changed once the island chain was re-envisioned as a wildlife habitat.

“This wasn’t on the front burner. … You wonder if some of these projects will ever get constructed,” said Tom O’Bryan, engineer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Once approved and in the hands of engineers and contractors, the island reconstruction went from back burner to fast track. Early Army Corps estimates had the project lasting well into 2017. Brownsville-based Michels Foundations talked through a new access plan that led to a revised spring 2015 completion.

The company instead finished the project in December 2013. The result was a 14-month project with an $11.6 million price tag.

Project manager Paul Wiedmeyer said his confidence in the speedy turnaround on the project came from other work he’s led with Michels, such as a nearby Green Bay causeway and a ship canal in Sturgeon Bay.

Michels crews worked through the winter and dumped more than 1 million tons of various stone to build more than 4 miles of rocky dike. But it wasn’t Wisconsin snow and lake-effect wind that challenged Michels and the few mechanical operators on the sites. Crews instead had to grapple with “mud waves” and sudden 15-foot deep pockets of soft silt that resulted in “a helluva variable as far as the lakebed conditions,” Wiedmeyer said.

With much of the stone in place by summer, Michels tacked on the assembly of a 275-foot mooring and offloading facility on the chain.

Following the remediation work, the Cat Islands chain is regaining its strength at the mouth of Lake Michigan. Birds, and bird watchers, are making their way back.

The area will be used as dredged material disposal facilities for decades to come, with sediments from the upper portion of Green Bay’s navigation channel adding to the formation.

“It’s a beautiful project,” O’Bryan said. “It’s great to be able to get it back as natural as we can using the dredging material.”


Cat Islands Chain Reconstruction

Location: Green Bay

Project size: 4.3 miles and a 275-foot mooring facility

Project cost: $11.6 million

Start date: October 2012

Completion date: December 2013

Submitting company: Michels Corp., Brownsville

General contractor: Michels Corp.

Architect: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Detroit District, Detroit, Mich.

Engineer: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Detroit District

Owner: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Detroit District

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