GEI Consultants to conduct study on Founders Landing pier

The Founders Landing pier consists of two piling structures on Lake Superior, south of the Ellwood A. Mattson Lower Harbor ore dock. The Marquette City Commission approved a proposal Monday night from national engineering firm GEI Consultants to conduct a feasibility study on the pilings. (Journal photo by Jaymie Depew)

MARQUETTE — The Marquette City Commission unanimously approved an $83,500 proposal Monday from GEI Consultants, allowing the nationwide engineering firm to conduct a feasibility study on an aged pier at Founders Landing in downtown Marquette.

City Manager Mike Angeli said the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and Department of Natural Resources requires that the city either reuse or remove the old pier’s pilings — which are essentially long wooden cylinders driven to bedrock — within a certain timeframe. Being located in Lake Superior, the structures are technically on state property, though the DEQ has a bottomlands lease and use agreement with the city. Funding for the redevelopment project has been secured through a brownfield plan and the Marquette Brownfield Redevelopment Authority.

“We are nearing the end of the time period where that money can be spent — so we’re coming up on a hard date to complete this project,” Angeli said. “Once that money became available, we decided to move forward with a concept of reusing the pilings in form of a public pier.”

Jon Swenson, director of community services, said the study is an important step of the process.

“As we set out to kind of wrap our heads around what’s going on down there with the piles, it became very evident that we needed to have a more clear understanding of what’s there and how the lake interacts with what’s there,” Swenson said. “The wave action that bounces off the ore dock there and comes back into this area can be very substantial at times. This process is really to gain an understanding of what’s there, what’s in the water, what the conditions of these piles are.”

Ultimately GEI Consultants — which received the highest score — had “the best bang for the buck,” Swenson said, and “they’re offering the most services for the dollar.”

Although there has been questions about whether the city intends to create another marina, Swenson said that’s not the case.

“The city is currently working very diligently to have the two marinas that we operate no longer require subsidies from the general fund,” he said. “Whatever the conceptual design may be, it will not be a place where people store their boats.”

In June, community services staff issued a request for qualifications for the project, which includes the feasibility study and conceptual design services. Qualification statements were due July 26.

Four firms responded to the request, including GEI Consultants, which bid $83,500; Smith Group JJR, which bid $179,900; AMI Consulting Engineers P.A., which bid $129,950; and AECOM, which bid $67,000.

Each firm’s proposal was evaluated and scored by a team made up of city staff, consisting of the community services director, community development director, community services assistant director and the city hydrology engineer.

Founders Landing is a 29-acre parcel of land along Lake Superior shoreline that was formerly owned by the Wisconsin Central Ltd. Railroad. The city of Marquette acquired the land in 2001 to foster private redevelopment and increase public access to the waterfront, according to the Marquette Brownfield Redevelopment Authority website.

The city, with the help of the state and federal government, has invested over $11 million in demolition, environmental remediation and public infrastructure on the property.

The Founders Landing pier consists of two piling structures, which are the remains of the Spear Merchant Dock complex that was constructed in the late 1800s.

The northern pier is directly east of Baraga Avenue and is around 600 feet long and 80 feet wide, containing about 1,800 wooden piles.

The southern structure is about 500 feet long and 40 feet wide with roughly 1,400 wooden piles. The piles are about 10 to 12 inches in diameter and are arranged in rows of 20 to 30. Rows are spaced about 10 feet apart.

The land adjacent to the piers was once called the North Tank Farm, which was constructed on roughly 2 acres in 1950 by the International Oil Company and consisted of four above-ground storage tanks. Petroleum products stored consisted of various grades of oil, industrial fuels and gasoline, city documents state.

According to the documents, the lease was amended in 1978 to include the storage of caustic soda that originated from the Dow Chemical Company. A spill of caustic soda occurred in 1986 and operations were discontinued later that year.

The decommissioning of the storage tanks, demolition of the remaining onsite buildings and site remediation was completed in the fall of 1997.

Since 2002, nearby land as well as the former railroad site has been developed by the city of Marquette and private partnerships.

Nearing the final phases of completion, One Marquette Place, which is part of the development site, will include office, commercial, residential and underground parking areas. The first residents are expected to move in by October, officials say.

Mayor Pro Tem Frederick Stonehouse said the addition of a pier accessible to the public is a “tremendous opportunity for the city.”

“It’s not a game-changer but an enhancement,” he said.