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Breaking news: City officials discover lake views PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 29 November 2017 16:05

Eureka!
    A remarkable discovery has been made at City Hall. Port Washington officials have found the lake views that would be destroyed by the Blues Factory.
    The discovery is significant because some in the city government seemed to doubt the views exist. Others said that even if they do exist they aren’t worth saving.
     Now Plan Commission members are saying there really are views from the Blues Factory site at the edge of the marina that should be preserved and, what’s more, the development should be modified to enhance them. Even an alderman who is one of the last surviving Blues Factory advocates on the Common Council (others having been removed by voters opposed to the development) agrees.
    How to account for this discovery? Developers led the city to it.
    Readers couldn’t be blamed for thinking this is further evidence that Port’s elected and appointed officials listen more to developers than to the public. It is true that many citizens have told Common Council members and the mayor the Blues Factory should not be built on the marina site because it would shut off public lake views, and there were few if any signs the elected representatives were listening as they bent over backwards to accommodate the developer of the entertainment complex.
    But the developers the city is now listening to are speaking the public’s language. In their plans for a 10-unit condominium building on the Port Harbor Center property, owners Jim Vollmar and Don Voight are proposing that the adjacent Blues Factory be scaled back to allow expanded visual and physical lakefront access between the two buildings.
    As the plan for the Blues Factory stands, the building, which in an unfortunate play on the name of the enterprise is designed to resemble a factory, would be built close to the proposed condos with only an alleyway in between.
    Drawings of the handsomely designed condominium structure show the space between the buildings widened to accommodate an expanded public area overlooking the marina.
    The proposal is a waft of fresh air over the yearslong controversy. It already seems to have opened some eyes and some minds. It could do even more good for the community by serving as the impetus for a move to end altogether the threat of a commercial building on the marina site.
    That site will soon be virtually surrounded by high residential buildings, making it more necessary than ever that it remain under public ownership as an island of open space from which to appreciate the fortunate proximity of the downtown to Lake Michigan.
    The land, now a parking lot, is an ideal candidate to be improved as a “pocket park” (while retaining some space for much needed marina district parking).
    The term was used at a recent Plan Commission meeting by member Brenda Fritsch in some thoughtful comments on the Harbor Center condo proposal for enhanced public space. “There has been a huge concern about green space there,” she said, alluding to the enduring  public opposition to the Blues Factory. “These pocket parks are essential.” Praising the idea of preserving space for people to enjoy the waterfront and its views, she added, “A view only exists if you go down there and sit.”
    At the same meeting, Ald. Mike Ehrlich contributed the statement, “The entry to the harbor is pivotal.”
    That’s another discovery, a welcome one by a council member who has at every opportunity heretofore supported a brick and mortar impediment to that entry to the harbor.
    It’s time for another discovery at city hall, time to discover what is becoming more obvious by the day—that the north slip lot beside the marina, with its views and intimacy with the water, should not be taken from the public for an entertainment business.

 
Start draining the swamp by draining the ethanol tanks PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Tuesday, 21 November 2017 18:46

“I will drain the swamp.”
    Donald Trump’s catchy and cleverly memorable slogan encapsulating a promise to rid Washington of the special interest lobbies that wield influence and money to bend government policy in their favor helped get him elected president.
    A year later, the swamp remains full to its slimy brim.
    So we have a suggestion for the president as a surefire way to start to make good on his pledge. Tell the American people: “I will drain the tanks.”
    The ethanol tanks, we mean.
    The ethanol mandate—federal law forcing the manufacture of a biofuel that helps no one except businesses that profit from it—is a stinky hunk of corporate welfare dripping with swamp ooze.
    The ethanol mandate proposed for 2018 will require the production of 19.24 billion gallons of the fuel, almost all of which will come from corn. This is testimony to the power of the swamp, because there is no doubt remaining that every one of those billions of gallons will do more harm than good.
    The last glimmer of a rationale for the ethanol mandate was that, in spite of all of its negative trappings, it might at least be a bit of hedge against global warming by providing an alternative to fossil fuel. Our own University of Wisconsin-Madison has now exposed that as either wishful thinking or propaganda from the swamp.
    A study by the UW Department of Geography published last week showed that ethanol contributes significantly to the carbon emissions that cause global warming. The research found that the cultivating of more than 7 million acres of land expressly to grow corn to meet the ethanol quota released a massive amount of carbon into the atmosphere.
    The researchers calculated that the carbon emissions caused by tilling land to produce corn for ethanol is equivalent to 20 million additional vehicles driving on American roads every year.
    The UW findings add an exclamation point to the litany of reasons the ethanol mandate should be scrapped. First among them is that it hurts taxpayers and consumers.
    The more than $12 billion given annually by the federal government to ethanol producers and growers of corn for ethanol in tax breaks, direct cash payments and crop insurance subsidies takes tax dollars away from other needs—infrastructure for one—and adds to the deficit.
    The ethanol mandate penalizes consumers with rising food costs by driving up the price of corn needed for livestock feed and as an ingredient in numerous food products.
    At the same time, it reduces the food supply needed for a hungry world. American farmers grow 40% of the planet’s corn. Thanks to the ethanol mandate, a steadily increasing amount of it is being used to power internal combustion engines instead of feeding starving humans.
    In creating a huge artificial demand for ethanol, the mandate has become an environmental blight, causing vast areas of prairies, wetlands, pastures and farmland once used for crops more benign than the soil-depleting, fertilizer and pesticide-dependant corn to be converted to corn production.
    For good measure, ethanol is a lousy fuel. Even when it makes up only 10% of a gallon of gasoline it can make car and truck engines less fuel efficient and prone to corrosion and is harmful to small gas engines.
    The ethanol mandate is a bipartisan sin, supported by Democrats and Republicans. It could once be said in defense of the members of Congress who enacted the mandate in 2007 that they at least had a plausible reason, which was to lessen America’s need for foreign oil. That reason is now null and void. The U.S. is essentially tied with Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest oil producer and dependence on imported petroleum is no longer an issue.
    Well, then, what is President Trump doing about draining the part of the swamp occupied by the ethanol lobby? Nothing. Actually, less then nothing.
    He instructed Environmental Protection Agency  chief Scott Pruitt to not just support the 2018 ethanol quota but to consider increasing it. We can’t help wonder whether either one of them sees the irony in crippling or killing effective environmental protection regulations, as they have been doing relentlessly, while bestowing their blessing on one that is demonstrably harmful.                     The swamp rules.
    Drain the swamp.
    Start by draining the tanks.       

 
Insult on top of injury for frugal school districts PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 15 November 2017 18:08

It’s a pity Gov. Scott Walker and a delegation of influential members of the Wisconsin Legislature did not attend the Oct. 25 meeting of the Cedar Grove-Belgium School Board.
    No one expected them to be there, of course. Some of these powerful politicians might never even have heard of the school district that serves the residents of two small villages and the surrounding rural area in northern Ozaukee County and southern Sheboygan County.
    Well, maybe some of them read the news story about the meeting in Ozaukee Press. That might have opened their eyes a bit. In the article by Belgium reporter Mitch Maersch, board members voiced angst over the plight of small school districts that seemed so deeply felt it was almost palpable.
    “Do you think the legislators even understand what they’re doing?” Board President Chad Hoopman asked at one point. The answer from Kris DeBruine, the district’s business manager, was succinct: “No, they don’t.”
    The dialogue took place at a special meeting called to approve the budget and tax levy. The board accomplished that, with the result that school taxes will be slightly lower next year. But the process was painful nonetheless because it was affected by the profound unfairness of state mandates on public school funding.
    The unfairness is that small school districts like Cedar Grove-Belgium that for years demonstrated spending restraint are forced to subsist on far less funding per student than big districts with histories of extravagant spending.
    The state revenue limits on school districts are based on the level of per-student spending in effect in 1993. Districts that were frugal have been penalized ever since with more stringent revenue limits than the big spenders. DeBruine gave the example of the Nicolet High School District of Glendale. It operates with state and local tax revenue of $19,000 per student per year, about twice as much as the limit for Cedar Grove-Belgium.
    Especially galling to the CG-B board members was the fact that a measure of relief from this glaring inequity was in sight before it was snatched away. The budget approved by the Legislature in September raised the revenue limit for low-spending districts. The increase, described by its sponsor, Rep. John Nygren (R-Marquette), as “an opportunity to correct a long-term inequity in our K-12 funding system,” was about to become law—and then the governor vetoed it.
    The severely tilted revenue playing field also makes it harder for low-spending districts to deal with the erosion of public school funding caused by the Legislature’s expansion of the private school voucher program.
    The same budget that in the end gave no help to beleaguered low-revenue districts increased voucher amounts and raised the income limit, making more families eligible for taxpayer-paid private school tuition subsidies. Public school districts in effect pay the subsidies by having to forfeit state aid for every student from the district who attends a private school with vouchers.
    The voucher program will cost the Cedar Grove-Belgium district $112,000 in state aid this year.
    “Really,” the business manager explained accurately, “the local taxpayers are paying for the vouchers.”
    The nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimates that the voucher program will shift as much as $800 million in state funding from public schools to private schools over the next decade.
    Wisconsin public schools have taken one hit after the other during the Walker years. For the first time in his tenure, state aid to public schools was increased in the new budget. It’s long overdue, but at $200 per student it does little to make up for the prolonged squeeze on public school funding and has no effect on the skewed revenue limits.
    Members of the Cedar Grove-Belgium School Board could give state officials an earful about that. Actually, they did. The governor and legislators just weren’t there to hear it.

 
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