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The enemy below PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 25 May 2016 18:59

Don’t lose sleep over the Keystone pipeline. We have our own oil pipeline worries here in the Great Lakes watershed.

Keystone, the pipeline proposed to run beneath American soil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, is on hold because it has been declared an unacceptable threat to the environment by the Obama administration and some of the states through which it would pass.

But there is no hold up on pipelines that pose environmental threats to the Great Lakes, particularly Michigan and Huron. Expansion of pipelines carrying crude oil from Canada through Wisconsin and Michigan, under tributaries to the lakes and even in the lakes themselves, is advancing unabated.

This is worrisome for two reasons: The oil in these pipes is considered the nastiest, dirtiest and most destructive form of fossil fuel—tar sands oil; and the company pumping it, Enbridge, Inc., of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, is a serial violator of federal pipeline regulations that has been responsible for numerous pollution accidents, including one in 2010 in Michigan that has been called the worst inland oil spill ever in the United States.

The two U.S. senators from Michigan, Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow, put a needed spotlight on this danger to the Lakes last week when they sent the head of the U.S. Transportation Department a letter demanding that he classify underwater pipelines in the Great Lakes region as “offshore” facilities.

The designation is critical because federal law caps liability for pipeline spill cleanup costs at $634 million for onshore facilities, but requires companies operating offshore pipelines to pay all cleanup costs.

The catastrophic spill from an Enbridge pipeline in the Kalamazoo River in southwestern Michigan six years ago reveals the inadequacy of the federal liability limit. Cleaning up that disaster has cost $1.2 billion and the meter is still running.

The federal government needs to be pushed because its environmental regulators seems to have a blind spot where the Great Lakes are concerned. Besides having been slow to react to the devastation wrought by invasive species, they have failed to give the Lakes the level of protection from petroleum pollution they deserve.

Oil spills in Atlantic, Gulf and Pacific coastal waters can do terrible damage to sea life and recreational economies, of course, but the stakes are even higher in the Great Lakes. Here, where there are no cleansing tides to abet the cleanup process, human health is at risk along with ecosystems and recreational use of the water. More than 30 million people get their drinking water from the Great Lakes. 

The Lakes are at risk at many points in Wisconsin and Michigan where Enbridge pipelines pass near waterways flowing into Lakes Superior, Michigan and Huron, but they are most vulnerable in the Straits of Mackinac, where two 20-inch pipelines cross a jagged underwater terrain, including a quarter-mile-wide spot where they are suspended over a canyon 300 feet under the surface.

The 63-year-old pipes carry tar sands oil in a raw form that requires high pressure pumping, increasing the likelihood of a weld or material failure.

Scientists predict that lake currents would carry substantial amounts of crude oil spilled in the Straits south into Lake Michigan to the waters around Beaver Island and Charlevoix, Mich., and east into Lake Huron, the pellucid water of Mackinac Island and even into Georgian Bay in the North Channel. These are some of the most pristine waters on earth. 

It is not far fetched to assume that the taint of such a spill could cover all of Lake Michigan, including the water along the Ozaukee County shore.

Enbridge, which has been the subject of more than 30 enforcement actions by the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration in the last decade, has announced plans to increase the amount of oil pumped through the Straits of Mackinac pipeline, which is part of the company’s Lakehead system, one of the largest pipeline networks in the world.

Wisconsin’s members of Congress should join the Michigan senators in pushing the federal government to change its classification of Great Lakes pipelines to hold the owner responsible for all of the costs of mitigating damage of an oil spill. The point of this is not just to shield taxpayers from financial costs, but to give the pipeline operator a strong incentive to avoid poisoning our freshwater with tar sands oil.

The sky has not fallen PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 18 May 2016 17:27

Chicken Little is too much of an optimist. The sky isn’t falling. It has fallen. It has fallen right on top of America. This country isn’t great any more. And we, the victims of this disastrous decline, are angry about it. Very angry.

This sort of victimhood rationalized by unrelenting pessimism is the fuel that feeds the fire of Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy. The anger that it justifies demands perpetrators to blame—Mexicans, Muslims, Chinese, Republican and Democratic government office holders, among others who are bringing America to its knees.

Pessimism obviously works as a political tool. “Make America great again” can’t be an effective campaign slogan if voters don’t believe America is not great.

The problem with this is that it is a state of mind and not the state of the nation. It might not be prudent to mention this at a rally of angry voters, but there is plenty of evidence that America is already great, still great and, in many ways, the greatest.

The American economy is the world’s greatest in terms of sheer size and other measures. It is bigger by far than the No. 2 and 3 economies, China and Japan, combined. American workers are seven times more productive than Chinese workers. U.S. unemployment is lower today than it was in the prosperous 1990s. Data collected by the Federal Reserve show that American industrial output is just shy of its all-time record and double the level of output recorded during the Reagan administration.

Gregg Easterbrook makes the case in his book “The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse” that the United States is “in the best shape it’s ever been in.”

He writes: “Pollution, discrimination, crime and most diseases are in an extended decline; living standards, longevity and education levels continue to rise. The American military is not only the world’s strongest, it is the strongest ever. The U.S. leads the world in science and engineering, in business innovation, in every aspect of creativity, including the arts.”

Though the middle class has lost ground with average inflation-adjusted household income that is slightly less than its highest level in 1998, a study by the Brookings Institution finds that middle-class buying power has risen 36% in the current generation thanks to lower taxes and improved benefits.

None of this suggests America doesn’t have problems. Failing cities, pockets of poverty afflicting mainly minorities, persistent racism and the corrosive effect on society of income inequality in which the richest 1% of population owns 38% of the country’s wealth are among its worst. 

It’s worth noting that none of these seem to be on the lists of the angry voters who have rallied to Trump. Maybe that is because these are problems that don’t lend themselves to the instant fixes supposedly delivered by the likes of border walls and religion-based immigration bans—and won’t be solved by pessimism and anger.

Annex Coal Dock Park PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 11 May 2016 17:09

The City of Port Washington needs to annex Coal Dock Park.

Technically, the park, just across the harbor from the downtown, is within the city.

Practically, it’s remote. You can get there from here, but not easily.

It’s time to get serious about bridging the gap between the city center and the park with, yes, a bridge.

A pedestrian bridge over the harbor the short distance between Rotary Park and Coal Dock Park is not a new idea. It has been talked about since the idea of turning the power plant coal dock into a park was born in the early days of the 21st century. But it has been treated as a fantasy, science fiction that might come true in a faraway future.

The time for the bridge is now. There are many ideas out there for completing the development of Coal Dock Park, but the bridge should move to the top of the list. The bridge should be the priority.

Don’t get us wrong. Coal Dock Park is a community asset as it is, valued by fishermen, walkers and runners and people who go there just to experience the intimacy with the water that this remarkable piece of land jutting into Lake Michigan offers.

Yet in the two and one-half years the park has been open it has not met the expectation that its 17 acres of space would make it an ideal site for festivals and other large community gatherings. Events held there do not connect with the downtown—and bringing people downtown is the whole point of these events—owing mostly to the perception that the park is separate from the city and difficult to access. 

To its credit, the city provides a public harborwalk that connects the park to the downtown, but it is used little, perhaps because it passes through an environment that can seem inhospitable as it follows the perimeter of the old commercial west harbor slip through a canyon of high buildings. As an alternative, it’s easy enough to walk to and from the park along Wisconsin Street, but that is a walk many visitors aren’t interested in taking.

A bridge would instantly make Coal Dock Park a part of the downtown. Events—a revived Maritime Heritage Festival among many others—could seamlessly spread over the marina area, Rotary Park and Coal Dock Park.

This should not be dismissed as a luxury or expensive frill or some sort of audacious flyer. The City of Port Washington has managed public lakefront development far more daunting than a pedestrian bridge over the 165 feet of water that separates its two harbor parks.

To transform the north harbor slip, which was open to storm seas and unsuitable for recreational watercraft, into the appealing heart-of-the-city marina it is today, the city in the late 1980s, backed by federal and state grants, set in motion the movement of hundreds of tons of earth and stone to form the peninsula that protects the marina and creates the land that is Rotary Park. Now that was audacious!

In 2009, the Ozaukee Interurban Trail opened its pedestrian and bike bridge over I-43 in the Town of Grafton. The bridge, built with state grants and private donations, is 415 feet long. Port Washington’s harbor bridge would be small stuff by comparison.

The harbor bridge would be a wholly positive addition to the city’s lakefront. It should not be a concern that the structure would close the west slip to large powerboats and all sailboats. That part of the harbor is vulnerable to seas rolling in from the lake and has a constant surge that makes it unfit for mooring boats. The few charter fishing boats that put up with the conditions to tie up there could find better accommodations in the marina. Meanwhile, an arched bridge design would allow smaller craft to pass beneath it for fishing or paddling.

Beyond its role of joining Coal Dock Park to the downtown, the harbor bridge would be an appealing attraction in its own right—nirvana for connoisseurs of water views.

Some of the city government resources currently being devoted to promoting private commercial development of the harbor area would be well spent advocating for this public lakefront development—with a greater return of benefit to the community. 

City officials have proven adept at securing grants for rebuilding the breakwater and for creating Coal Dock Park itself. They should take on the harbor bridge challenge with a goal of similar success. Sooner rather than later—because it’s time to annex Coal Dock Park.

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