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Proposed pier location has issues, Corps says

The City of Newport has installed this sign at the end of Sixth Street, warning residents that they use the Mississippi River access at their own risk.

A Mississippi River fishing pier at the end of Newport's Sixth Street being pushed for by the city's mayor would likely meet resistance from the river shipping industry because of its location directly next to the navigation channel, said a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers navigation specialist last week.

The controversial pier proposal will be back on the Newport City Council's agenda Thursday, with a lengthy debate expected after mayor Tim Geraghty encouraged public input last month and the city's park board raised numerous concerns with the plan at its meeting last week.

Geraghty has been a vocal proponent of locating a public fishing pier where Sixth Street meets the Mississippi River. Some have said the location -- which sits next to former mayor Kevin Chapdelaine's home -- is not ideal for river access.

Last week, a Corps of Engineers official agreed, saying a pier in that location would sit immediately adjacent to the river's navigation channel, which is the channel deep enough for large barges or boats to transport goods up and down the Mississippi, marked off by occasional buoys.

The barge industry is "not real big proponents of having anyone or anything close to the (navigation) channel," said navigation specialist Paul Machajewski. "Just because if something happens and they need to get out of the channel" a buffer is needed.

Machajewski assessed the Sixth Street location in late July after he said a citizen contacted the Corps about the proximity a pier would have to the navigable channel.

A location north of Sixth Street would likely work better, Machajewski said.

The pier has not been formally proposed, though Geraghty directed city staff to locate possible grants for the project.

Newport Park Board members addressed the pier issue for a second time last week, airing a number of questions that will be presented at Thursday's city council meeting.

Board member Dale Hamlin repeatedly expressed his opposition to the pier plan, saying the city should think hard before adding another piece to the city's park system, which he said is already behind in maintenance.

"The times, the way they are now, can we afford more maintenance?" Hamlin asked the park board. "I don't know why this came up, this fishing pier."

Last month, the city placed a sign near the river access on Sixth Street warning residents that they use the access at their own risk after city attorney Fritz Knaack told city council members warning signage was needed to absolve the city and adjacent homeowners of liability in the case of an accident or injury at the site.

But former mayor Chapdelaine said the signage has not made him nor his neighbors more comfortable or confident that they won't be sued if someone is injured using the public easement river access that sits next to his home.

"They haven't lessened my fears," he said.

The Newport City Council will discuss the Sixth Street pier plan at Thursday's council meeting. The meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. at Newport City Hall.