Pervious pavement planned for Milwaukee lighthouse: New driveway would prevent runoff onto Bradford Beach

North Point Lighthouse Friends, a nonprofit organization that maintains Milwaukee’s historic North Point Lighthouse, is holding a $30,000 fundraiser to cover the installation of pervious pavement on the lighthouse grounds.

The site’s current driveway, which is crushed gravel, and its nearby ravines pose an environmental problem for Bradford Beach and Lake Michigan as the landscape allows for storm water runoff right onto the beach and into the lake.

The lighthouse, located at 2650 N. Wahl Ave. in Milwaukee, sits atop a bluff above Bradford Beach. The ravines flanking the lighthouse run down the bluff, under the drive and onto the beach. As water travels down the bluff and onto the beach, it carries nutrients, including fertilizer, and picks up other pollutants that, when mixed with animal waste on the beach, can create E. coli, according to John Scripp, an attorney at Whyte Hirschboeck Dudek S.C. and board president of NPLH Friends.

Scripp said that the environmental issue was partially addressed during the restoration of Bradford Beach about six years ago but the storm water runoff from the bluff remains a concern.

With pervious pavement – porous concrete – the nonprofit aims to “have storm water that falls on the lighthouse land absorbed there and not run off into the ravines and down onto the beach,” he said.

Much of that water will filter into rain gardens on the property’s lawn.

The pavement will also beautify the historic lighthouse, which is the city’s oldest.

“It will help the lighthouse as far as the integrity and look of the lighthouse because it is a historic landmark,” said Mark Kuehn, curator of the NPLH Friends and a member of its board of directors.

The lighthouse, originally erected in the Milwaukee Bay area, was completed in 1838. Almost 20 years later, it was relocated to the North Point bluff to be more visible to ships, according to the book “Images of America: North Point Milwaukee Lighthouse,” by Ken and Barb Wardius and the NPLH Friends.

Beyond enhancing the aesthetics of the historic preservation site, pervious pavement will ease conditions on the grounds in the winter, when ice and snow that pile onto the bluff freeze the driveway solid.

A collaborative effort

NPLH Friends estimates that the total cost of installing pervious pavers at the site is about $120,000. To bear some of the costs, the organization is applying for several government programs that could cover at least $60,000, though the funds would be contingent on local matches, Scripp said.

The organization has also turned to Milwaukee County for assistance. The county owns the lighthouse and the land surrounding it and has a long-term lease agreement with the nonprofit, which has asked the county board to contribute $30,000 toward the project. Scripp said the nonprofit has been “given assurances” that the board will find the funds.

The NPLH Friends have been working with county park officials on the prospect of implementing pervious pavement for several years, according to Scripp.

When the organization completed restoration of the landmark’s tower and attached house in 2007, transforming the structure from a boarded-up, decaying eyesore into a museum, tour destination and event space, Scripp said the group also wanted to renovate the driveway and parking area but ran out of funds.

That turned out in NPLH Friends’ favor.

“In the last five years, there have been a lot of advances in pervious pavement, and we’ve learned a lot more about what kind of pervious pavement we should put in,” Scripp said.

Since launching its fundraising initiative this spring, NPLH Friends has raised $2,000 toward its $30,000 goal, thanks to a gift from an area foundation. The organization also plans to reach out to Milwaukee’s business community, tap local foundations and individuals, and host fundraising events at the lighthouse.

The nonprofit relies on contributions, museum admission and private events to support its annual budget of about $100,000.

Should NPLH Friends manage to secure government funds, the group anticipates the new pavers will be installed by next fall by contractors selected by the county.

“We are giving the county a model that can be used in other park settings about how to use pavement infrastructure in ways that environmentally improve the park,” he said. “And so this can be an object lesson for the county to use and say, ‘This is what we should be doing.’ And it’s also a lesson that we can teach the people who come to visit the lighthouse – why this place is environmentally sensitive and why it’s important to think carefully when you’re improving it.”

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