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Oak Creek Making Slow, Steady Progress on Lakefront

Remediation work is scheduled to begin next week, bringing the city one small step closer to opening up the lakefront north of Bender Park to the public.

City Administrator Gerald Peterson knows Oak Creek residents have heard this all before.

For more than a decade, Oak Creek has sought to redevelop the city's lakefront from long-shuttered factories to something its residents can actually use and enjoy. And for just as long, the city has been stymied, with blame pointed to the environmental problems caused by those factories.

But starting next month, residents will actually start to see some semblance of progress.

Crews are expected to begin working on the southern end of the 250 vacant acres along Fifth Avenue, just north of Bender Park, sometime next week. They will be removing select areas of trees and concrete slabs, excavating along part of the bluff and treating soils, all in an effort to prepare the land for development.

It may not seem like much but it's more than can be said for the previous 10-plus years, when people talked about cleaning up the land but never got around to actually doing it.

"We can certainly tell you, this time it's for real," Peterson said at a lakefront redevelopment open house Tuesday.

"This is going to end up in city ownership and the public's going to have access to the lakefront. It's going to be a real attribute, I think, for the city."

To be sure, it will still take several more years before Oak Creek can realize its long-term plan for the lakefront: a mix of residential, retail, commercial and public space.

But people working at the site is a start.

The short-term plan is for crews to get a head start on clean-up work before winter sets in. Then, work will be suspended until spring, when about 400,000 yards of dirt the city got from the I-94 construction project will be spread out over the lakefront land.

The clean-up is focused on properties now owned by DuPont and EPEC, on the southern portion of the redevelopment area.

When work is completed and approved by regulatory agencies, ownership of that land will transfer to Oak Creek, which will probably be sometime in 2014. Roughly half of it will be marketed for private development, and the other half maintained for public use.

In late 2014, the city plans to construct a road around the DuPont and EPEC properties. When that's completed, it will mark the first time the public has had access to the Oak Creek lakefront. A park is also expected to be constructed around that time.

City officials look at the upcoming remediation as a big domino toward the ultimate goal of opening up the area to the public.

"From our standpoint, this is a pretty exciting next step in the evolution of this property, ultimately into appropriate private use as well as high-value public use lakefront property," Peterson said. "We're really in a next step and we think in an exciting phase for this course.

"Once we actually start putting the parks and the playgrounds and the activities is when the public is really going to see it, but all this is really (important) to getting to the point."

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