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A coal dock railing? Can do! PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 24 September 2014 14:20

A city that against all odds found ways to rebuild its breakwater can surely use the same spirit to install a life-saving railing in its new waterfront park

The City of Port Washington put on an amazing demonstration of the power of a can-do, make-it-happen, get-it-done spirit with its triumphant campaign to save the breakwater.

    A year ago the breakwater was in danger of falling apart and any hope for repairs by the Army Corps of Engineers was deemed years away. Today the breakwater is sound following a million-dollar reinforcement project and the city has at least $750,000 to spend on further improvements to make the structure not just an essential component of the harbor but a safe and easy-to-use recreation facility.


    This good fortune did not just fall on Port Washington like so much manna from the sky. City officials, led by Mayor Tom Mlada, aggressively sought the expedited Corps of Engineers work that armored the breakwater with hundreds of tons of stone and the grants that will allow the city to complete the breakwater makeover. These remarkable results can be credited in large part to the sense of urgency that propelled officials.


    Across the harbor from the breakwater at Coal Dock Park, however, no such urgency is evident, and the results speak for themselves: The city is no further along than it was a year ago in installing the railing on the dock and promenade that is essential for the safety of park users.


    The absence of a railing is an urgent concern. People come to Coal Dock Park to be near the water. The concrete promenade built on the former coal dock, with its marvelous views of the harbor and the lake, is a particularly appealing feature for visitors. But the edge of the promenade is just the sheer edge of the dock—there is no guardrail, nothing to prevent a careless or unsteady walker, a heedless child chasing a frisbee, a person too absorbed in the views to avoid a misstep or others who could be random victims of misfortune from falling into the water some 10 feet below.

    When the park was made, planners elected not to put in a railing, citing the need to keep the dock free of impediments for ships that might moor there. That dubious rationale has been discarded and there is now a sensible plan for a four-foot railing that will protect the public and not interfere with vessels.

    But it’s only a plan. Nothing has been done to implement it. There have been no assurances that the railing will be in the next city budget.


    Paying for the railing will be a problem. The cost is said to be around $200,000. An application for a DNR grant to partially fund it has been denied. Yet the railing should be viewed as essential infrastructure that simply has to be paid for one way or another. Delay beyond the 2015 budget cycle should not be an option.

    The Common Council should be moved to act by more than the obvious void in park safety. The aldermen should listen to the people. The people want the railing.

    Consider: The Port Washington-Saukville Jaycees attracted more than 200 people to their Land Regatta run-walk fundraiser for the railing and raised $6,265, which included donations, among them $70 from a boy who earned the money with a lemonade stand. The Port Washington Woman’s Club pledged $1,000 for the railing. Letters to the editor published in this newspaper have urged the city to install a guardrail without delay, as have members of the city Parks and Recreation Board, which have been strong advocates of the railing from the beginning.        


    Private fundraising, while admirable and symbolically significant, is not going to get the coal dock railing built. What will do it is a return by city officials to the can-do, make-it-happen, get-it-done spirit that saved the breakwater.


 
Shine a light on election spending PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 17 September 2014 19:10

The country has to live with the high court decision blessing unlimited political donations, but donors should not be allowed to buy their influence in secret

Brave citizens exercising their constitutional right to speak out on social and political issues no matter how unpopular or controversial their beliefs—that is surely what comes to the minds of many Americans when free speech is mentioned. And it is surely what was on the minds of the authors of the United States Constitution.

    Yet now Americans are being told that the constitutional guarantee of free speech makes it legal for corporations and wealthy individuals to spend millions of dollars in craven secrecy to elect candidates and influence legislation.


    The concept is a slur on the Constitution and an invitation to corrupt government. Wisconsin should know. All that is sordid about unlimited anonymous political donations is on graphic display here.


    The company that wants to open the world’s largest open-pit iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin gave $700,000 to a political group supporting Gov. Scott Walker in the 2012 recall election. The money was given secretly and would have stayed secret had not it been revealed in emails released in response to a court order involving a John Doe investigation of Walker’s campaign activities.


    No one of any political persuasion can be naive enough to believe that the mining company, Flordia-based Gogebic Taconite, gave the money just because its board of directors thought Walker was a terrific governor. The company gave it, of course, because it needed the support of the governor and the Legislature to pave the way for the mine.


    Soon after the election, Walker and the Senate and Assembly majorities pushed through  legislation weakening environmental restrictions on mining.


    A Walker spokesman said the donation was not solicited by the governor and that it had no influence on his support for the mine and that it was perfectly legal for the Wisconsin Club for Growth to accept Gogebic Taconite’s donation “without limitations and no donors disclosure.”

    If there was no coordination between Walker’s campaign and the Club for Growth, as claimed by Walker, it was indeed legal, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission holding that political donations of any amount into the millions are protected as free speech.

    It seems a tortured interpretation of the First Amendment to decide that unlimited spending to influence elections is free speech, even when the amounts are so great they in effect drown out the speech of citizens who can’t afford to make large political donations, but that is now the court-made law of the land.

    That would be more tolerable if the donations were not hidden behind a veil of secrecy.  No reasonable argument can be made that the public should not be allowed to know about political donations—who made them, who got them, how much—that seek to wield the powerful influence of large sums of money to benefit interests like Gogebic Taconite.


    It’s a universally accepted axiom that government that is not open to public scrutiny is suspicious in the eyes of the public and vulnerable to corruption, hence the virtually automatic pledges of transparency by elected officials from Scott Walker to Barack Obama. The need for openness is so obvious that the high court gave lip service to the importance of donor disclosure in its Citizens United decision. Nothing came of that, which was a failure by Congress and state legislatures that must be redeemed with laws mandating full, immediate disclosure of political donations.


    Apologists for unlimited election spending by wealthy corporations and individuals without identification of the donors say disclosure would have a chilling effect on the big-spending version of free speech.


    They’re probably right. If Gogebic Taconite had known it would be exposed in an obvious influence-buying ploy as a six-figure donor to a governor it was counting on to sign a law easing mining restrictions, it might not have been so generous.


    A chilling effect on the unlimited gifts of cash to influence elections would not be a bad thing.


 
The fertilizing of Lake Michigan PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 10 September 2014 20:17

Farms are a big part of the problem of phosphorus laden runoff causing algae growth and must be part of the solution

The City of Port Washington has sent samples of the Lake Michigan water it uses for its municipal water supply to be tested for the toxic algae that poisoned the water supply of Toledo, Ohio, this summer. The test is expected to show no sign of the blue-green algae that carries the toxin called microcystin, but it is prudent to take the precaution, for some of the same factors that made Lake Erie water a threat to human health are at work in Lake Michigan.

    Algae blooms in Lake Michigan seem to become bigger and longer lasting each year. Water at Port Washington beaches was fouled by algae for weeks at a time this summer. Sometimes the stuff piled up on shore in awful-smelling, gooey masses. At other times waves were so thick with algae that they broke on the shore in dark green cascades. Calm water was often opaque with suspended algae.

    This was not the dreaded blue-green algae, but it was not some sort of benign natural occurrence either. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources advises that if you are standing in knee-deep water and can’t see your feet, you should get out of the water. Respiratory problems and rashes have been associated with prolonged contact with the algae. There were many days this summer when swimmers at Port beaches could not see their feet.

    Lake Michigan is much bigger and deeper than Lake Erie, so an outbreak of the blue-green algae is not considered likely now, but the explosive growth of other types of algae could be a precursor. Its cause is the same as that of the blue-green algae—phosphorus pollution.

    Phosphorus is carried to the lake and waterways that empty into the lake by runoff polluted with chemical fertilizers and animal waste. It literally fertilizes the water, promoting the growth of algae. The new clarity of lake water, a result of filtering by the invasive mussels that infest the lake, exacerbates the growth by allowing sunlight to add energy to the process.

     Warning signs about the quality of Lake Michigan water in this part of Ozaukee County abound. Sucker Brook, which flows through farmland in the towns of Belgium and Port Washington and empties into the lake three miles north of the City of Port, has been found to be so high in phosphorus content that it is expected to be added to the Wisconsin DNR’s impaired-water list.

    Beaches are frequently closed at Harrington Beach State Park due to unsafe water. Lake water samples taken at the end of Cedar Beach Road on the south edge of the park have shown dangerous levels of E. coli. DNA tests will be performed to determine if the cause is animal or human.

    Phosphorus pollution comes from multiple sources, but where agricultural land use is intense, farm runoff has been identified as the major culprit. It was farm runoff, scientists said, that caused the growth of the toxins that resulted in residents of Toledo being warned not to drink or use their city water in any way, not even after boiling it.

    Regulations that affect runoff from farmland are weak and loosely enforced. Even so, the DNR, responding to complaints, gets after a few Ozaukee farmers each year, usually for improper manure handling.

    Regulators, as well as the public, have been understanding about the challenges farmers face in controlling the animal waste and the high volume of fertilizer that go along with their efforts to make a living producing America’s food supply. And realists know that by their nature farms can never be made environmentally neutral.

    Yet the fact is that farmers generally have taken little initiative to mitigate the environmental problems their businesses create.         

    Recently in Ozaukee County, in response to the high price of corn, many acres of untilled land that acted as runoff-reducing buffers were turned into heavily fertilized cornfields.

    Some farmers still spread manure on frozen fields, from which it is easily washed into waterways.

    On the brighter side, the Ozaukee County Land and Water Management Department reports good cooperation from a number of farmers in programs that compensate them for the cost of runoff-control measures. There is hope for more of that with Ozaukee County’s participation in the new Regional Conservation Partnership Program, part of the federal farm bill that provides matching dollars for farm conservation efforts.

    Everyone should hope it works, because farm runoff is not just an environmental issue focused on the quality of Lake Michigan water; as Toledo demonstrated, it’s a public health problem.



 
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