Safety study released on McKinley Beach as county supervisors push to 'fast-track' restoration

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Several Milwaukee County supervisors are calling for immediate action to improve safety at the currently-closed McKinley Beach.

Tuesday a long-awaited safety study was released after the beach was shut down two years ago after several drownings.

Fences surround McKinley Beach, warning people to stay away for their own safety. But supervisors say they're being ignored, putting adults and children at risk, and the problem will only worsen as the weather heats up.

And there's a good chance these fences won't come down this summer.

Engineering consultant Heather Stabo said, "There is no solution which completely eliminates them, that's just a fact of hydrodynamics and geography."

Rip currents will not be completely eliminated at McKinley Beach, according to Stabo.

The group of experts studied beach construction, swim safety and water quality after several drownings and near-drownings shut down the beach in August 2020.

Right now fences are up.

But Milwaukee County Supervisor Sheldon Wasserman said, "People don't see that fence. They jump over it, I saw 2-year-olds in the water, I saw 3-year-olds in the water, and they're going in the water because they don't care if it says it's closed."

Rip currents occur when waves bring a lot of energy into the beach, then rush out through a narrow area.

According to the study, possible solutions include closing part of beach or closing all of the beach.

But the experts say the preferred option is to restore the beach to the original design, by filling in scour holes and adding sand.

Stabo said, "We feel that restoring the beach to its intended design would accomplish the objective of reducing rip currents."

Supervisors want to push the project as soon as possible.

County Supervisor Ryan Clancy said, "We're clearly putting the conditions in place to make this worse, by opening fewer pools, I'm sure we'll be talking about the lack of lifeguards."

The price tag is expected to be $500,000, a small sum relative to the overall budget.

Wasserman said, "For $500,000 we can save lives. And I think lives are more important than building and that we need something now."

Planning and Development Manager Sarah Toomsen said the Parks Department is still a few months away from construction. They need to line up funding and then contracts for design and construction.

So while Supervisor Wasserman wants to fast-track a design solution, she says a restored beach will not be ready for this swim season.

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