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Plug the drain holes PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 19 June 2013 15:35

With lake levels threatened by climate change, the need to close the manmade outlets that are depleting Lake Michigan-Huron is urgent

When sodden 2013 gets tiresome, think of desiccated 2012. Cool, rainy days, fog, soggy lawns and muddy gardens take on a certain charm when compared to last summer’s superheated, landscape-withering aridity.

    Or think of Lake Michigan and what was done to it by that blast furnace of a summer. Like a neglected pot of water that boils away on a stove, it lost so much water to evaporation, with the drought holding back replenishment, that it dropped to the lowest level ever recorded.  

    The wet winter and spring have been a tonic for the lake, which as risen nearly two feet from its low point.

    Lake watchers are heartened, but the realists among them know this is likely temporary relief. The climate-change forecast predicts that frequent droughts will steadily deplete Great Lakes water.

    The list of specific environmental and economic consequences of this is long, but perhaps the scale of the problem can best be understood by simply noting that climate change is going to shrink the world’s most valuable freshwater resource.

    The concept of reversing climate change is still in the fantasy stage, where it will remain until governments accept the scientific consensus that man is causing global warming by overloading the atmosphere with carbon. But the means exist now to slow or even reverse the loss of water from Lake Michigan and Lake Huron due to some manmade causes, and they should be employed.

    The two connected lakes are losing an enormous volume of water, perhaps more than nature accounts for in a drought-ridden year, through manmade outlets at Chicago on Lake Michigan and the St. Clair River at the foot of Lake Huron. These must be closed.

    Chicago diverts about 2.1 billion gallons of water a day from Lake Michigan and returns none of it to the lake. The water flows from the lake into the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal that flushes the city’s sewage into the Illinois and Mississippi rivers. The canal should be closed and Chicago should treat its wastewater and return it to the lake—like every other city on the lake does.

    No exotic technology is needed; it’s just a big project that would cost an estimated $3.5 billion, and probably have to be paid for by the federal government.
There is strong resistance to it because the canal supports shipping traffic with substantial economic impact.

    Recently support for closing the canal came indirectly from a surprising source—the Asian carp that are threatening to ruin the Great Lakes’ ecosystem. The threat of the giant carp, which are numerous in the Illinois River, reaching the lake through the sanitary canal prompted Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn to express support for shutting the canal’s Lake Michigan opening, which he rightly called the only sure way to keep the fish out of the lakes.    

    The combined benefits of conserving lake water and keeping out what could be the worst invasive species yet would seem to justify any financial or political cost.

    Meanwhile, an engineering study commissioned by a Canadian conservation organization found that even more water than is diverted by Chicago is leaving the lake through the St. Clair River, where a botched dredging operation by the Army Corps of Engineers in the 1960s opened the channel—referred to by many as the “drain hole”—so wide that it is being blamed for nearly two feet of lost lake level.

    This, too, is an easy, if expensive, fix that must be done.

    The lakes need help, and there are only a few ways to do that. The United States, like many countries, has not demonstrated the will to take steps to counter climate change. And some acts of nature are purely that—natural forces uncontrollable by man. But these are all the more reasons to do what human effort is fully capable of doing to help ensure the vitality of the Great Lakes—correcting the manmade problems that are depleting their water.

State conservation program should stay big PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 12 June 2013 16:31

The high cost of protecting Wisconsin’s gorgeous pieces of nature is worth every penny

It apparently dawned on the members of the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee as they cobbled together their version of the state budget that it costs quite a bit of money to protect Wisconsin’s natural places and make them available for the public to use.

    Hello. Most of us knew that. And most of us, according to opinion polls, approve of spending taxpayer money on stewardship of Wisconsin’s land and water.

    Yet the committee, acting as though it had discovered an irresistible opportunity to exercise the shrink-the-government ideology most of its members espouse, voted to make deep cuts in funding for the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program.

    There are cases in which the best public policy is to maintain big, expensive government programs as big, expensive government programs. The Stewardship Fund is one of them. There are plenty of good reasons for this, but let’s start with one the committee should find easiest to understand: economic development.

    Much lip service and taxpayer money has been spent by the Legislature in the name of economic development with little to show for it except embarrassing reports of mismanagement of public funds by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. Meanwhile, the lands and waters opened to the public through the Stewardship Fund support a large sector of the state economy.

    Wisconsin’s outdoor recreation industry, with total revenues of more than $12 billion last year, thrives in part because of the resources protected by the Stewardship Fund.

    Wisconsin competes for recreation dollars with two neighboring states that are similarly blessed with resources, Michigan and Minnesota. Both states have acquired more state-owned public land for recreation than Wisconsin and both do more tourism business than Wisconsin.

    The Stewardship Fund was created in 1989 to conserve land of distinctive natural character, but it’s done much more than protect resources; it’s opened land and water that was inaccessible to the public under private ownership. Hunters, fishermen, campers, hikers, snowmobilers, birdwatchers and other outdoor enthusiasts use stewardship land.

    The Legislative Fiscal Bureau reported in January that 90% of the land in the stewardship program is open to hunting. It should be no surprise that sportsmen and their organizations are strong supporters of the Stewardship Fund.

    Wisconsin’s vast “outdoors” is frequently cited as the state’s leading quality-of-life asset. It would not be so vast without the Stewardship Fund.

    Economic benefits aside, the overarching reason stewardship spending should not be curtailed is that if Wisconsin’s best natural places are not protected, they are in danger of being developed as the state’s population grows, and then they are gone. The need for protection is especially acute in the wake of the weakening in the past two years of state land-use regulations as part of efforts to make Wisconsin more friendly to business development.    

    In his budget proposal, Gov. Scott Walker called for spending $60 million for stewardship in each of the next two years. The Joint Finance Committee voted to cut stewardship funding to $47.5 million next year and $54.5 million the second year. Those cuts would be especially impactful because stewardship funding was reduced two years ago from $86 million to $60 million.

    Gov. Walker says the stewardship appropriation he proposed should be restored. He’s right. The full Legislature should reject the budget committee’s cuts.

    Land conservation isn’t cheap. So far, it has cost the state $527 million to buy and protect about 500,000 acres of land under the stewardship program. This prompted State Rep. Dan Knodl to call the program “bloated” in an op-ed piece published in Ozaukee Press two weeks ago. It is no such thing.

    With stringent state oversight, including that of the Joint Finance Committee, which can veto purchases over $250,000, the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund spends money raised by issuing bonds wisely and gives Wisconsin taxpayers incalculable value in return—measured in terms of recreational opportunities, habitat for wildlife, natural beauty, appeal to tourists and new residents, support of the state’s economy and protection of Wisconsin’s most important asset, the gorgeous pieces of nature it calls its own.  

How to be a good small-town police chief PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 05 June 2013 16:21

Saukville Chief Bill Meloy’s 40-year career stands as a lesson in the value of relating to fellow citizens as part of effective community law enforcement

It’s tempting to call Bill Meloy the quintessential small-town cop, but that would be an incomplete description of the man who was the Village of Saukville’s police chief for the past 40 years.

    As far as it goes, the description is about right. Saukville is a small town for sure, with not quite half the population of Port Washington. And Meloy fits the image by being friendly and approachable, even a tad folksy.

    What “small-town cop” misses, however, is that over the years Meloy’s job has morphed from policing a sleepy village to dealing with some of the law enforcement problems often associated with urban areas.

    In terms of the demands on its police force, Saukville is a bigger place than its population suggests, thanks to the freeway that runs through the heart of the village.

    As readers of the police reports on the Ozaukee Press Saukville page know well, a week’s work for Meloy and his officers can include encounters with a variety of bad actors, including fugitives wanted for felonies.

    This is not to say that Saukville is crime ridden. Far from it—it’s a safe community that is dealing with the realities of a shrinking world. It’s a credit to Meloy that he has been able to make that true while still being that friendly small-town police chief.

    He explained how he manages that in a story in last week’s Press: “You have to like people. Be willing to look them in the eye. The key to this job is remembering you are here to serve the public.”

    Those could be words to live by for police officers in small towns everywhere. Yet in some communities these days, citizens interacting with local police get a thousand-yard stare through dark wrap-around sunglasses accompanied by monotone statements ending in “sir” or “ma’am,” terms that may or may not be intended to convey respect.

    This no-nonsense, by-the-book, hard-core police persona may be engendered by the unfortunate truth that no community is too small to be afflicted by grotesque crimes that were unthinkable in another era but are now part of 21st century life. We have only to mention the words “New Town” to know that.

    That is, of course, something for which police must be prepared, but it not a reasonable rationale for ignoring the need for community law enforcers to be friendly and understanding when possible in their encounters with their fellow citizens.

    There is good advice for them in Chief Meloy’s comment that “you would be surprised how easy this job can be when you make a point of relating to people.”

    He proved that time and again after being appointed Saukville’s first full-time police chief in 1973. And he also proved that when the job wasn’t easy an empathetic police officer could still be an effective guardian of the public’s safety.

    Bill Meloy retired Tuesday as a public servant who was a good small-town cop and quite a bit more.

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