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Brown County eyes water research center as catalyst for Renard Island development

Renard Island (Photo credit: WLUK)
Renard Island (Photo credit: WLUK)
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GREEN BAY (WLUK) -- Brown County is hoping Renard Island is selected as the site for a highly-coveted water research center, which is expected to attract local education groups and visitors from outside the region.

The island was built in the late 1970s as a place to put toxic PCB sediment dredged from the bay harbor. It has since been capped and is ready for development.

At the mouth of the Fox River and neighbors with Bay Beach Amusement Park, Renard Island is being pitched as the perfect spot to put a NERR facility. NERR stands for National Estuarine Research Reserve.

“It elevates our bay to receive additional funding and support for education and research around water,” said Emily Tyner, UW-Green Bay Director of Freshwater Strategy, when explaining the benefits of having Green Bay be designated as a NERR.

Tyner is one of the leaders of the effort to make Green Bay the 31st NERR site in the country and the third in the Great Lakes. The others are in Superior for Lake Superior and in Ohio for Lake Eerie.

“The same way that people have lists of national parks that they want to visit all over the U.S., these facilities, NERRs, are a similar way,” said Tyner. “People have lists of NERRs.”

Before selecting where the NERR facility will be built, a specific natural area of water and coastal land needs to be selected to study. In the running are sites near the Peshtigo River, Sturgeon Bay, Point Sable -- about 3.5 miles north of UW-Green Bay, and the southwest shore of Green Bay.

Tyner says the goal is to have the natural area selected and to the governor's office for approval by the end of October. She says the NERR facility doesn't necessarily need to be built in the same immediate vicinity as the natural area.

“It is a geographic determination and kind of a location that logistically makes sense for where your natural areas are for your reserve,” said Tyner.

Brown County is earmarking more than $3 million next year to get Renard Island ready for development. Brown County executive Troy Streckenbach says it's partly to show the selection committees the county is serious about being home to the NERR facility.

“It just screams that this is a perfect location,” said Streckenbach. “We have this big, 55-acre site that is right in the estuary. Great viewing, catalyst project that could transform and help that whole area kind of develop.”

Streckenbach says the facility compliments the island's master plan, which was developed in 2019. It calls for active use development like recreational trails, fishing piers and perhaps even a walking bridge or zipline connecting to Bay Beach.

Dean Haen, the director of the Port of Green Bay, believes the NERR facility would trigger more development of the island.

“I like to think of it as it’s probably the catalyst to see the whole island developed,” said Haen. “It becomes like the anchor tenant to a mall, and then you can have the walking trails and the fishing piers and the other amenities.”

The Green Bay NERR selection committees are hosting public meetings for site selection of the natural areas on Sept. 7 and 8.

The NERR facility location will likely be selected in 2023.

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Tyner says receiving NERR designation is a five to six-year process. Green Bay’s efforts started in early 2019.

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