Anyone who wishes to get a small taste of what the Meinecke Sewer Project will look like during the next year and a half need only pay a visit to the neighborhood of North 90th Street and Menomonee River Parkway.
The parkway is closed from Swan Boulevard to Hoyt Park Drive (the short connector between the parkway and Ludington Avenue) and excavation there has begun. Traffic has been detoured onto West North Avenue and Ludington.
At 91st Street on the parkway, in a deep hole sheathed in steel retainers, a worker attacks a 1930s-era sewer connection. Lines there will be replaced with new 30-inch PVC plastic pipes, just a small forerunner of what's to come elsewhere.
Sections of huge concrete pipe have been delivered and sit waiting their turn, the biggest bearing the notation, Meinecke – 84", denoting their 7-foot diameter. Even they aren't the largest the project will entail – some stormwater pipes coming down the last stretch of Meinecke Avenue from North 86th Street and then down 90th to the parkway will be 9 and 10 feet in diameter.
Crews from Globe Contractors, the winning bidder on the project, are also beginning work on the "box" collector across from the foot of 90th Street, where all the waters from the project area will pour into the Menomonee River.
Fate of trees determined
On 90th Street, city forestry crews began trimming some trees on Monday.
Those are the trees that will be saved – or at least that's the intention. Some of the cuts are intended to protect trees that might otherwise be damaged or destroyed by being in the way of 30-foot crane arms swinging buckets of dirt or gravel or lifting massive pipes.
In some cases, the trimming is being done just to improve the health and shapeliness of the trees. Some of those, however, may be found to be diseased or unsound. If so, they will go.
For many trees – about half of them, it turns out – no trimming and shaping is being done at all. They are done for.
A city forester on the job Wednesday afternoon said that soon – perhaps still this week – the Globe crews will start taking down the trees that won't be saved.
Those trees are not marked with the red or orange paint splotches that usually denote doom for a tree. They don't have to be. It's a simple equation, the city worker said.
From Menomonee River Parkway to Jackson Park Boulevard, all the trees on the west side of the street will be taken down. From Jackson Park to Meinecke Avenue, all the trees on the east side will go down.
That's more or less true, said City Engineer Bill Wehrley, although there are some few exceptions.
"In one place, there are two big old elms right across from one another," he said. "We're asking the contractor to try and save them both.
"But in another case, north of there, there's another big elm that we wanted to save, but the foresters took a good look at it and, they said – 'Oh, no, it's got Dutch elm disease.' So it would go, regardless – either way."
Wehrley said that residents of 90th have been informed of the fate of the trees fronting their homes, insofar as the city now knows.
The Meinecke Project is a $15 million flood mitigation project designed to protect homes that are north and west of 90th Street. In repeated large floods since 1997, basements in scores of residences north of Meinecke and between 80th and 90th streets have been inundated by sewer backups, often to the rafters, often five, six and seven times.
The 80-year-old sewer system is failing, in part because of age and in part because there is just more rain falling these days. According to researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, rainfall has increased 25 percent in the Milwaukee area in the past 50 years, by up to 7 inches on average.
Nobody in City Hall is talking about climate change, but the facts have been noted: In 1997, 1998, 2008, 2009 and twice in 2010, at or near the 100-year, or 1 percent likelihood, rain event level have occurred. The last, on July 22, 2010, was a 500-year event, flooding more than 600 homes.
The Meinecke area incorporated in the project has been one of the most affected by flooding in the whole city. That's because it sits in a shallow basin, or "bowl," carved out by the last glacier to visit the neighborhood about 11,000 years ago.
The shortest route to the river from that basin runs down 90th Street, which is the route of the existing and now inadequate 54-inch outfall pipe from the Meinecke neighborhood.
Neighbors on 90th, though, are understandably miffed. They haven't suffered much in the way of flooding. Geology has favored them by giving them a steeper and more direct grade to the river.
And that, of course, is why their street provides the shortest and cheapest route for gravity to deliver water from above to below.
A worker for Globe Contractors put it succinctly.
"It isn't pretty," he said. "But this is where it is, and it has to be done."
For more information, visit the city's Meinecke project website - www.wauwatosa.net/meinecke.