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Long live the farms of Ozaukee PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 29 June 2016 17:17

The county with the smallest land area in Wisconsin; rapid population growth (more than doubled in the last 50 years); the highest per capita income in the state; urban sprawl fueled by rampant residential and commercial development with municipalities claiming large tracts of rural land to expand their borders.

That is Ozaukee County.

But so is this: A county that devotes half of its land to farming.

Everyone has heard about the decline in agriculture as a contributor to the state’s economy, so the statistic that 50% of the land in the county is used for farming is probably surprising to many. But it should also be heartening. In fact, it’s a statistic that should be protected as a key contributor to the quality of life in Ozaukee County.

Though it is true that relatively few people now work in agriculture here, many Ozaukee residents care about farming, judging from the thousands who showed up for Breakfast on the Farm Saturday at Bob and Cindy Roden’s dairy farm near Newburg. Besides a hearty breakfast, the visitors got a bit of an education in 21st century farming.

One aspect of agriculture they probably didn’t hear about is the one that is its most important influence on the future of Ozaukee County: Farming is a bulwark against the theft of open spaces by unchecked development.

Most of the open space of the Ozaukee County countryside is farmland. Seen from the many miles of county and town roads that crisscross the county, these fields present more than broad vistas. During the growing season, crops of hay, oats, wheat, corn and soybeans offer views of undulating carpets of green. At harvest time, they turn the landscape golden.

Because not all of the land of farms is tillable, agriculture also preserves features that add natural character to the countryside, such as woodlots, areas of rocky outcroppings and banks of waterways.

The value of farming as a counter to urban sprawl is recognized by the Ozaukee County government with a farmland preservation program that offers tax credits and other incentives to keep farms in business. 

These inducements are not giveaways. Even with the tax breaks, farms more than pay their way with taxes because their service demands on local government are small compared to residential or commercial land uses.

Ozaukee County farming contributes more than open space preservation. As a part of the great American agricultural enterprise, it helps feed this country and some of the world beyond, while adding more than $60 million a year to the county’s economy.

In a society that has a high regard for small business owners (just listen to politicians extoll their virtues), Ozaukee’s farms are quintessential small businesses with operators who exemplify the admired traits of hard work and entrepreneurial courage.

The term “corporate farm” has become somewhat of a pejorative label, but the fact is that virtually every farm in Ozaukee County is a corporate farm, albeit many of them small corporations. Folks of a nostalgic bent may prefer to think of farming in images of cows lowing in the pasture and red wooden barns and windmills dotting the countryside, but today’s farms are businesses that have to evolve and grow—especially grow—to survive.

Farming can be in conflict with the environment in numerous ways, including tilling practices that deplete topsoil, overuse of chemical fertilizers and negligent handling of the tremendous volume of natural fertilizer farm animals produce, and the bigger the farm the bigger the conflict.

There are responsible ways to deal with these problems, and most Ozaukee farmers practice them. A few Ozaukee farms meet the definition of CAFOs, concentrated animal feeding operations with huge confined dairy herds. With this factorylike version of farming, the consequences of any lapses in environmental protection measures are potentially so severe that stringent enforcement of state regulations is essential.

Many would hope, with good reason, thatCAFOs do not proliferate here. The reality is, however, that farms of all sizes are fast leaving those fond pastoral images to history. 

That’s a price worth paying to keep farming alive and well as the guardian of our open spaces.

Anxiety in a risky business PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 22 June 2016 21:31

Trying to make a living by fishing on Lake Michigan is risky business. We’re not referring to the big lake’s potential for violent weather. That can be a hazard, but fisherfolk are generally well prepared to deal with it. The risks that most endanger the fishing business do not come from nature. They’re manmade.
    By all accounts, charter sport fishing operations based in Port Washington and elsewhere on Lake Michigan are having a banner season, with big catches of salmon and plenty of happy customers. But last week a shadow appeared over this sunny fishing scene—a proposal to significantly reduce the stocking of chinook salmon.
    The recommendation to cut chinook stocking by 62% next year came from the Lake Michigan Committee representing fishery management agencies of the four states that border the lake.
    The president of the Port Washington Charter Captains Association told Ozaukee Press what he thought of the recommendation in no uncertain terms: “They’re going to put us out of business. It’s pretty simple—less fish, less business.”
    Although it’s true that a reduced population of the lake’s biggest gamefish could have a negative effect on the charter fishing business, the matter is far from simple. The intent of reducing chinook numbers is not to constrain the sport fishing industry, but rather to improve its long-term prospects for success.
    The goal of the stocking cutback would be to increase the lake’s population of prey fish, chiefly the alewife. Chinook salmon are the most voracious consumers of alewives in the lake.
    The alewife population has been free falling. The decline was so drastic last year that alarmed freshwater scientists likened it to the start of the alewife crash that devastated Lake Huron sport fishing in 2003. A recent University of Michigan report predicted that Huron’s salmon population will never recover.
    With ironic timing, alewives announced their continued presence in waters around Port Washington about the same time as the chinook recommendation came out by dying in greater numbers than have been seen in recent years. There are floating rafts of the corpses and decaying alewife remains on beaches, accompanied by their distinctive odor.
    This is of mild interest, but seeing it as evidence of an alewife comeback would be akin to believing that a cold winter means global warming isn’t happening. The federal government’s trawling survey covering many miles of Lake Michigan in 2015, including sweeps by a 40-foot wide net in the waters off Port Washington, found some of the smallest numbers of alewives since the species’ population peaked about 40 years ago.
    The angst over the possible stocking cutback reflects the shaky state of the lake’s ecosystem, which in some ways is like a human-built house of cards. Move or change one element and the whole affair starts teetering.
    Salmon have to be stocked to sustain a fishery because they don’t naturally reproduce in large enough numbers. The alewives they need for food are threatened because the plankton alewives need for nourishment is being consumed by the billions of quagga mussels that cover the lake bottom.
    Imported in the ballast water of ocean-going ships, the alien mussels don’t belong in the lake. For that matter, neither do alewives, herringlike saltwater fish that colonized the lake after entering through the Welland Canal. Their numbers at first were controlled by native lake trout, but then lake trout were all but wiped out by the sea lamprey, which also invaded via the Welland Canal. Salmon were introduced to feed on the alewives that had reproduced in such extreme numbers they became a blight, fouling beaches, marinas and harbors.
    And the beat goes on: humans trying to adjust the balance of a lake that their actions, whether accidental or intended, knocked out of kilter.
    The worries of the business owners and workers in today’s version of the Port Washington commercial fishing industry are understandable. Their livelihood is at risk. Yet knee-jerk opposition to a chinook stocking cutback should be reconsidered.
    Reducing the chinook population wouldn’t necessarily be a disaster for charter fishing. Other species, especially coho salmon, could increase in numbers without competition from chinook, according to Wisconsin DNR fishery managers. Chinook may be the most prized trophy fish, but the smaller coho provide most of the action and have been the mainstay of this season’s successful start.
    If the case is made at hearings the DNR will hold next week that the prey fish population is truly on the brink of collapse, the chinook cutback would look more like a move to keep charter fishing operators in their risky business, rather than put them out of it.

The development that changed everything PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 15 June 2016 19:38

The Port Washington city government’s decision to sell public marina land as a site for a commercial entertainment complex produced not just a controversy that has polarized the community but also a cliché: “catalytic development.”
    The term, as an often-repeated staple of the cheerleading for the Blues Factory led by Mayor Tom Mlada, is meant to imply that the development, like a catalyst that accelerates a chemical reaction, will spur additional economic development.
    The term may be new to Port Washington, but the effect it describes has been a force here for years as the essential driver of the city’s remarkable downtown resurgence. The Port Washington marina, owned by the taxpayers and operated as a division of the city government, has proven to be the ultimate catalytic development.
    It is not an exaggeration to say that the commercial investments that have powered the revitalization of the downtown, including the Boerner Building, Duluth Trading Co., Harbour Lights commercial and condominium building and other businesses, would not have happened without the marina that brought the beauty of Lake Michigan into the business district and is a magnet for visitors who provide essential fuel for the community’s economic engine.
    City officials reported in January that the marina operation closed its 2015 books in the red, apparently the result of reduced boat traffic caused by unusually cold summer weather and a fuel contract that failed to anticipate the drop in oil prices. But if the marina lost money last year, it was only in a technical accounting sense. By other measures the marina made money for the city, lots of it, as it has for decades.
    Based on a study by the University of Michigan and data compiled by the Wisconsin Department of Tourism, the direct economic impact of the marina is estimated to be about $4 million a year. This consists of the money spent in the city by people who use the marina by launching boats at the marina ramps, renting slips for their boats, cruising to this port in their motor yachts and sailboats and going on sport fishing outings on the vessels of the charter fleet.
    The estimate does not include the money spent by visitors and city residents attracted to downtown dining and shopping by the compelling intimacy with the water offered by a marina complex nestled in the heart of the city a few steps from  the main business street.
     The marina also pumps cash directly into city coffers. It is, in effect, a city department that functions as a business, paying an annual fee into the general fund from revenues generated by launch passes, slip fees and fuel sales, which totalled $736,000 last year. The city collected $45,000 from the marina fee in 2015. With ample reserves built up over years of successful operation, the marina pays the city whether its financial statements show a profit or a loss.
    Marina revenues, besides funding the operating expenses of sprawling harbor facilities, including docks, walkways, landscaping and a staff to manage it all, has also covered some of the infrastructure costs of Rotary Park adjacent to the marina. Over the years, the city government has not been bashful about dipping into marina reserves to cover expenses only loosely related to the harbor operation.
    Widely admired for its first-class facilities and efficient operation by city employees, the Port Washington marina outshines other municipal marinas on the lake whose management is outsourced to private companies, notably Sheboygan and Manitowoc.
    The cliché fits like a glove. When elected officials in the last two decades of the 20th century voted to invest in the harbors, docks and shore facilities that make up the marina complex, they did more than fill a need for safe, accessible boating facilities. They created a development that truly has been catalytic. The marina changed everything.
    As anyone who has taken Chemistry 101 knows, chemical reactions don’t always turn out as hoped. The hope for the Blues Factory iteration of a catalytic development, which requires the sacrifice of marina space and water views, has to be that it will not erode the success of the city’s proven catalytic development.       

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