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Bacteria at the beach PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 19 August 2015 18:20

Everyone knows what’s causing the lake at Belgium beaches to be unfit for swimming—the mystery is why it’s tolerated

On some days, Lake Michigan water along Belgium beaches, including those of Harrington Beach State Park, is so full of E. coli and other bacteria that it is a menace to human health. Accidental ingestion of even a small quantity of it could cause a dangerous infection.  

    Ozaukee County Public Health Director Kirsten Johnson put it like this: “I wouldn’t swim in that water.”

    Many people do swim in it, of course. An estimated 175,000 people visit the park’s beaches every year. The private beaches adjacent to the park are also popular with swimmers and boaters.

    This health threat is not breaking news. Its presence has been known for years—a 2013 national study singled out the Belgium shoreline as a major contributor to Wisconsin’s standing as having the second worst water quality in the nation along its beaches. And its source is common knowledge—manure runoff from farm fields abetted by human waste from illegal septic systems.

    The only mystery about this health menace is why it is tolerated.

    The Ozaukee County Land and Water Management Department has been working on the problem for years, but with limited enforcement powers it has had to rely mainly on education and voluntary compliance.

    That the results have been disappointing was underlined by a recent report by the county health director to the Belgium Town Board indicating that as little as half an inch of rain can cause dangerously high E. coli levels.

    Last year the county used a $20,000 grant to hire an engineering firm to design a stormwater remediation system to stem the flow of polluted runoff into the lake. The results so far have been a study by the engineers that confirms the severity of the problem and a suggestion of installing gravel dams in ditches.

    Band-aids like that can probably help, but the only sure way to keep E. coli-rich runoff out of the lake is to stop it at its source.  

    Some homeowners who have private septic systems were probably surprised to see “failing septic systems” mentioned as one of the sources in the engineering study reported on in last week’s Ozaukee Press. Septic systems, after all, are tightly regulated by the county and homeowners are required to have them tested every three years.

    Andy Holschbach, director of the Land and Water Management Department, explains that some septic systems in rural Belgium, though they pass inspection as functioning systems, may be connected to farm-field drainage tiles. As evidence, he points out that several years ago septic tanks for a restaurant, tavern and several homes in Lake Church were found to be connected to tiles that drained into Sucker Brook.

    Still, dairy cows vastly outnumber humans in the two watersheds that drain into the lake at Belgium beaches, and until the handling of their prodigious output of waste is improved, water at Belgium beaches will often be unfit to swim in.

    There are proven ways to mitigate manure runoff, including manure management plans based on best practices, tilling methods that lessen runoff, avoidance of reckless manure handling such as spreading it on frozen slopes in winter and the creation of buffer zones of runoff-inhibiting vegetation at edges of fields.

    Holschbach has been advocating these remedies to farmers for a long time. Some have responded; some, as the dismal state of Lake Michigan water quality off Belgium shores attests, have not.

    Counties need help in dealing with farm pollution. It’s not just a problem in the Town of Belgium. It’s a problem throughout the state. Water quality—dead zones in Green Bay, lakes and rivers clogged by algae energized by nutrients from farm fields, threatened drinking water, polluted beaches—needs stronger regulatory and enforcement protection from the state.

    Recent sessions of the Legislature have limited the Department of Natural Resources role in environmental protection. That’s the wrong direction to go.

    Every state legislator should be embarrassed that swimming in beautiful Lake Michigan at beautiful Harrington Beach State Park can be dangerous to your health.


Fight for the lighthouse PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 12 August 2015 20:59

It’s an absurd policy that doesn’t give preference to Port Washington to become the next owner of its lighthouse, but the city has a strong case to make

It’s hard to believe the federal government would give Port Washington’s lighthouse to any organization other than the City of Port Washington.

    But then it’s hard to believe the feds are actually giving away their lighthouses.

    Nevertheless, that’s the state of things. Since 2001, the U.S. government has divested itself of 154 lighthouses. Port Washington’s is now on the list of those slated to go to a new owner.

    The new owner will not necessarily be the City of Port Washington, and that is ridiculous.         The city wants the lighthouse. It is Port Washington’s most recognizable symbol, after all. If the lighthouse is no longer going to belong to the federal government, then it must belong to the city. Yet, in its mysterious bureaucratic protocols, the General Services Administration, the agency that disposes of federal lighthouses, has no policy of giving preference to the communities that have lived with these structures since they were built.

    To get ownership of their lighthouses, municipalities have to compete with non-profit organizations that have expressed an interest in acquiring them. And, sure enough, an organization that wants Port’s lighthouse has surfaced.

     The want-to-be owner of our lighthouse is named the Geek Group and describes itself as “a non-profit organization which is dedicated to scientific and technological research and education and having a fun time.”

     As reasons for existence go, those, including having a fun time, are just fine, but that doesn’t mean the group deserves to own and have fun with the Port Washington lighthouse. It would be a blow to the city—a below-the-belt punch—if the GSA gave it to the Geek Group, which is based inland at Grand Rapids, Mich.

    In that event, Port Washington would have no control over the symbol that identifies it in its logo, signs and printed pieces and in the minds of its residents and visitors. The Geek Group could paint it day-glo green or let it fall into ruin. Or the organization could go out of existence and abandon the lighthouse.

    Fortunately, Port Washington officials recognize the value of the lighthouse and are willing to fight for it. The city has submitted a letter to the GSA indicating it is interested in owning the structure and Mayor Tom Mlada has urged the Common Council to approve submitting a formal application to acquire it.

    In another good move, the mayor has appointed a large committee with a membership that spans many interests in the city to guide the application process. The committee needs to make a strong case to the GSA that the lighthouse must go to the city. Here is some ammunition it can use to do that:

    In the 80 years that the lighthouse has resided at the end of the north breakwater, it has become an icon that is of incalculable value as a symbol of this port city. In the hands of non-resident owners, the city would not be able to control the appearance of its symbol.

    The city, with the help of community organizations, is prepared to take responsibility for the maintenance of the structure that has long been neglected by its current owner, the federal government. And it is in its interest, more than that of any organization, to do it right.

    The city has demonstrated its willingness to do that with its commitment to the improvement of its waterfront facilities and its ability to secure funding to rebuild parts of the north breakwater on which the lighthouse sits.

    The City of Port Washington will always be here to take care of the lighthouse. The longevity of the Geek Group, which says it wants to use the lighthouse for unspecified research, is unpredictable, but there certainly are no guarantees of a long-term commitment to the lighthouse.

    And the final point: Giving it to the community that has grown up with the lighthouse, through most of the 20th century and into the 21st century, is simply the right thing to. Even the dispassionate bureaucrats of the federal government should understand that.

The cost of coal PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 05 August 2015 19:21

Wrongly said to be cheap energy, coal is coming back to haunt We Energies ratepayers, and exacting a high cost from area residents who are getting no help from elected officials

Coal is cheap energy.

    That is the conventional, and politically convenient, wisdom, and it is patently false.

    Coal-fired electricity is anything but cheap. After all of its costs are accounted for, it may be the most expensive of any other source of energy.

    We Energies customers, especially those who live in parts of the Town of Grafton and the Town and City of Port Washington, are about to get a reminder about the cost of coal that endures long after it is burned to make electricity.

    A contractor working for the utility will soon dig up 53,000 cubic yards of toxic ash buried in a six-acre landfill near Stonecroft in the Town of Grafton and truck it to a 70-acre landfill near the intersection of Highway 32 and I-43.

    The ash is the residue of coal burned in the old Port Washington coal-fired power plant. It has resided for some 50 years, unbeknownst to officials of the Town of Grafton, in a landfill at the end of Stonecroft Drive that is now considered unsafe for the storage of fly ash that contains numerous elements harmful to humans.

     To move the ash will require 3,500 trips by very large dump trucks on Highways C, CC and 32, six days a week for many weeks, 12 hours a day.

    The financial cost of this massive undertaking, surely well into seven figures, including up to $200,000 to rebuild Stonecroft Drive after it is ruined by the massive trucks, will be paid by We Energies ratepayers.

    The cost in terms of inconvenience, aggravation and danger on the roads will be paid by people who drive their vehicles, ride their bikes, walk or run along the pretty country road that is Highway C, as well as those who use Highway CC (also known as Sunset Road) and Highway 32.

    Homeowners who live along those roads will pay a price in the noise and traffic generated by the parade of trucks.

    Members of the Grafton Town Board, who represent many of the people affected by the ash hauling, last week approved a terrible agreement that gives We Energies absurdly easy restrictions in the fly ash operation, much to the detriment of their constituents and the affected residents of the Town and City of Port Washington.

    Allowing trucks to start hauling at 7 a.m. and work until 7 p.m., as the agreement does, is an intrusion into the lives of residents along the route and puts the trucks on the roads during peak early morning and late afternoon traffic hours.

    Even worse, what were board members thinking when they agreed to allow the ash trucking to be done on Saturdays, the day Highway C is most heavily used by sightseers and bicycle riders and nearby homeowners are likely to be outside enjoying their properties?

    The Town Board needs to rethink its priorities. Pleasing the utility that owns the fly ash and did not even inform the Town Board of its presence when land around the ash dump was rezoned for residential development should certainly not be one of them. The board should move quickly to renegotiate the agreement to limit operations to shorter hours and weekdays only.

    The prices, financial and otherwise, to be charged the public for the ash moving operation can be added to the long list of costs that contradict the notion that coal is cheap energy.

    That list, beyond the price utilities pay for coal as fuel, includes the environmental damage caused when coal is dug out of the earth, the pollution including soot, smog, poisonous mercury and acid rain produced when it is burned, the problem of safely storing its ash forever and coal’s impact as a powerful driver of global warming with the prodigious production of greenhouse gases worldwide.

    This apparently is news to a number of state governors, including Wisconsin’s, who are planning to sue to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from enforcing stricter limits on power plant emissions.

    They’re saying the restrictions will increase the cost of using coal. They will—but for good and necessary reasons.

    Besides, coal never was cheap.

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