On Thursday morning, crews began moving large, riveted sections of the newly fabricated catwalk down the length of the pier.
“She’s home,” said Erin Turrell, who helped spearhead a community effort to raise $1 million to bring back the catwalk. “I’m excited that this is happening.”
The catwalk was removed in 2016 during the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ pier reconstruction project, but community support ensured the historic fixture would once again run the length of the pier.
Of the 59 “bents” — arches that support the catwalk — the majority have been welded new to replicate the originals. A few of the originals were restored and will return.
Crews with The King Co. on Thursday aimed to erect the first several bents at the end of the pier. However, at around 5 p.m. workers began moving the bents back to shore, as more work was needed to prepare the lighthouse before attaching the structure. A worker at the site said the job requires four sheds of tools that needed to be hauled out to the pier.
The pier beyond the inner light has been closed to the public, and the catwalk will go up in three-bent sections on its way back toward shore. Work is expected to last through July, but the timeline is very much at the mercy of weather conditions.
Historically high Great Lakes water levels may cause hurdles for the installation. Lake Michigan is expected to be over 25 inches higher than the historical average this summer.
Waves lapped over the edge of the pier on Thursday, and increased wind conditions were expected today.
The pier reconstruction project was delayed significantly during choppy conditions and weather events, City Manager Pat McGinnis said.
“It has to be reasonably calm and no rain,” he said. “You can’t always predict that. They do the best they can.”
The first few bents at the end of the pier will be installed directly into the pier’s new concrete surface, while the remainder will require concrete bases that require dry conditions to install. The bents will follow the path of the original catwalk, which has been smoothed over.
McGinnis said once the catwalk work is completed, an electrician will install the conduit and lights on the structure. The new catwalk is expected to last a century, he said. Engineers used welding and design techniques to ensure the metal work is fortified against Lake Michigan’s often ceaseless battering of wind, waves and ice.
“It’s the beginning of the end,” McGinnis said of the catwalk restoration project. “This thing is going to be far more substantial than it was before.”