• WisBusiness

Thursday, August 27, 2015

MaryBeth Matzek: Reopened Fox Locks good for local economy

By MaryBeth Matzek
For the first time in 30 years, water flowed this week through the city of Kaukauna's five locks along the Fox River. The opening of the locks marks the completion of the $14.5 million Fox River Navigational System Authority's (FRNSA) lock restoration project, which took 10 years and involved restoring and repairing 16 locks on 39 miles of the Fox River, which flows from Lake Winnebago to the Bay of Green Bay.

The restoration of 16 of the 17 locks along the river started in 2005 and construction was completed at sites in De Pere, Appleton, Menasha, Little Chute, Combined Locks and Kaukauna. One of the locks – located at Raptide Croche – remains closed to prevent aquatic invasive species moving from the Great Lakes to Lake Winnebago.

The FRNSA is proposing to build a boat lift/transfer and cleaning station at Raptide Croche, which would allow boats to travel the entire river after being cleaned and inspected. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is reviewing the proposal, which would use a hot water cleaning process to flush each boat's propulsion systems, intakes and exhaust ports to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species.

"Before there were roads, the river was the cultural and economic corridor of Northeast Wisconsin," says FRNSA CEO Bob Stark. "This project has state and national historic significance and we have provided for the sustainable operation of the locks system."

The Fox River lock system is the nation's only fully restored hand-operated lock system. Lock tenders staff the gates from May through October, opening them for both recreational and commercial vessels. Daily permits and seasonal passes are available. Those fees help fund the FRNSA.

Crews from CR Meyer Construction and The Boldt Company worked together carefully on the restoration of the Kaukauna locks, which were originally built in 1850.

"The lock system is on the historical register so lock gates were replicated to the original wood construction with usable existing metal," says Bill Goodall, construction project manager from Boldt. "It's not something you do every day."

The locks were built in the 1840s and 1850s to help boats and ships travel the Fox River, which falls 168 feet between Lake Winnebago and Green Bay. The locks, along with dams and canals, were built to tame the rapids and make it easier to transport people and goods along the river. The Army Corps of Engineers took over the operation of the locks in the late 1800s. In 1984, the Corps announced the locks' closure. The Army Corps of Engineers turned the locks over to the state in 2004, who then created the FRNSA to repair and reopen the locks.

Stark says there are several proposals in the works to attract visitors to the locks, including the boat lift/transfer station and a planned visitor and education center in Appleton.

Ariens expansion

Ariens is spending $9 million to upgrade and expand its product development facility in Brillion. The new Ariens Company Design and Development Center will be built in three phases over the next three years. The 45,000-square-foot facility will include a new engineering and technical center, industrial design studio, model shop, prototyping lab and a complete state-of-the-art validation and testing center.

The center will provide testing and production validation of outdoor power equipment, including the company's snowthrowers, mowing equipment and outdoor products for both the consumer and professional markets.

St. Norbert gift

Businessman Michael Van Asten, a 1975 graduate of St. Norbert College, gave $1.75 million for its new Gehl-Mulva Science Center and to provide scholarships for students. He owns Liberty Hall, a conference facility in Kimberly, and has an ownership stake in six Hilton properties around the country.

The larger portion of the donation, $1 million, is making possible the Michael Van Asten Auditorium, one of the primary teaching spaces in the state-of-the-art Gehl-Mulva Science Center. The remainder will go to establish the Van Asten Fellows program, which provides financial support to students who are in their junior and senior years and who have been exceptional academic achievers.

-- Matzek, a freelance writer and editor, is the owner of 1Bizzy Writer. She has worked in the past as a news editor at Insight Publications and as business editor at the Appleton Post-Crescent.

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