Lawmakers aired out a proposal on Wednesday to help Green Bay move coal piles from a riverfront site where they’ve sat for more than a century and make way for new development.
The state Senate’s Committee on Natural Resources and Energy held a public hearing on a bipartisan bill that would use $5 million in federal COVID-19 aid to help the city of Green Bay and Brown County pay for moving the coal piles, which now take up a quarter mile of the Fox River in downtown Green Bay.
The coal piles, which are owned by C. Reiss Coal Company, have occupied a property on the western banks of the Fox River, south of Mason Street, since 1904. Rep. David Steffen, R-Howard, said Green Bay area leaders have been working for decades to no avail to move the coal piles.
One big obstacle was removed in 2016 when Wisconsin Public Service Corp. announced it would close down its 220-acre Pulliam Power Plant at the mouth of the Fox River. The closing presented a chance for officials to redevelop the property into a working port, and move the coal piles from downtown.
“It has been a challenge for our community,” Steffen said. “Every once in a while you need some sort of bump to occur to get the stars in alignment. That happened about a year and a half ago. A big transition occurred when WPS closed down their coal fired plant at the mouth of the river.”
After WPS decommissioned its power plant, Brown County approved a plan in February to purchase 43.75 acres of the property it occupied for $2.7 million. The coal piles would occupy a 10-acre section of the power-plant property. Brown County officials plan to turn the remaining land into a working port over the next several years.
Moving the coal piles, meanwhile, could open up part of downtown Green Bay to new development. Steffen said constructing the port in the former power-plant property and redeveloping the site where the coal piles sit could bring $200 million or more in economic development to the city.
The proposals now before the state Senate would direct Gov. Tony Evers to take $5 million of the nearly $2 billion Wisconsin is due to receive in federal coronavirus aid and provide it to Brown County and Green Bay for the project.
Dean Haen, director of the Port of Green Bay, said having a port at the former power plant property will require dredging, the construction of a dock wall, the remediation of environmental contamination and other work expected to total about $21 million. Officials would redevelop the power-plant property before moving the coal piles.
“It’s quite expensive, what it will take to develop this property,” Haen said.
Committee chair and an author of the bill, Sen. Robert Cowles, R-Green Bay, said directing federal COVID aid to assist in moving the coal piles would mark a key step in redeveloping Green Bay’s waterfront.
“Hopefully something like this can really give it a push to move forward in the years ahead,” Cowles said.Follow @natebeck9