Dismantling of historic Door County granary likely to start mid-February

Liz Welter

STURGEON BAY - The dismantling and salvage of the city's historic granary is expected to begin in mid-February. 

The disputed waterfront granary on Jan. 6, 2018.

"We have no start date," said Mark Kiesow, owner of Kiesow Enterprises, which was awarded the $66,000 contract to dismantle, salvage and store the 116-year-old granary.

Kiesow Enterprises, based in Valders, has other contracts to complete before beginning the granary project.

In the meantime, Kiesow said he is working with the Sturgeon Bay Historical Society to prevent the complete dismantling of the project.

If a nearby location was available to store the granary, Kiesow said it could be moved in five sections.

"I am doing everything I can to save this (granary)," Kiesow said. "Taking this down has a huge impact on the history of the area. Being near the water, (the granary) is just as much about the agriculture history and the land as it is about the maritime history."

The anonymous donation for the renovation of the granary is contingent on the structure being located along the city's west side waterfront.

"That complicates things," Kiesow said.

The complication about where the granary could be placed along the city-owned west side waterfront lands in the lap of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, which has failed to deliver a ruling on the ordinary high water mark on the vacant land.

Without a clear location for the ordinary high water mark, it is impossible to determine a new site along the waterfront to reconstruct the granary.

"This is frustrating. We have people who want to donate to save the granary and we can't get answers," said Christi Weber, the president of the Sturgeon Bay Historical Society, which led the failed effort to prevent the dismantling of the granary.

The disputed waterfront granary on Jan. 6, 2018.

The DNR conducted a public hearing in Sturgeon Bay in early September with a ruling expected in about a month. Dan Helsel, the DNR natural resources manager who conducted the public hearing said a ruling would be issued by October.

The DNR continues to study the historical maps, pictures, testimony and evidence for making an ordinary high water mark determination, said Russell Rasmussen, DNR northeast region manager.

"This is a very intricate issue and we want to take our time to ensure we have considered and weighed all of the pertinent and oftentimes conflicting historical maps, pictures and accounts," Rasmussen said.

The decision will have major ramifications for the development of the vacant land along the waterfront. A preliminary DNR location for the high water mark put the granary site in the water.

The ordinary high water mark is the dividing line between public and private ownership along lake waterfronts. Land below the high water mark belongs to the public and is protected by the state's Public Trust Doctrine.

Rasmussen said the DNR's decision in the case will not affect future ordinary high water mark cases.

"(The ordinary high water mark ruling) is very case specific to the facts that pertain to (the) particular property," Rasmussen said.