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The council responds to an appeal PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 23 September 2015 20:14

No, not that appeal; the Port Washington Common Council is not giving 900 petition signers what they want, but it is (properly) granting the request of a single resident

Would you believe a little pig has cowed the Common Council?

    Believe it.

    The same Port Washington Common Council that with unwavering, implacable, rock-solid unanimity has refused the demands of hundreds of citizens to yield on its plan to sell public lakefront land for development has gone all open-minded and accommodating for a single resident asking for permission to keep a pig as a pet.

    To this, we say—hurray!

    Unlike its position in support of sacrificing lake views for a two-story building overlooking the marina, the council is on the right side of the pig-as-a-pet issue.

    Give the aldermen credit for setting aside common porcine perceptions and listening to the persuasive case Rebecca Casarez made for allowing her and other Port Washington residents to have Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs as pets.

    At last week’s council meeting, she described the diminutive though somewhat rotund animals as loving, caring pets. They are also known to be intelligent, quiet and, unlike their cousins that are destined to become bacon and pork chops, quite clean.

    What’s more, their behavior compares favorably with that of the animals that have always been allowed to be kept as pets in Port households. Pot-bellied pigs are gentle and unaggressive and unlikely to be involved in anything like the dog fights that have occasionally broken out among canines being paraded by owners at the farmers market. And in contrast to pet cats allowed to roam, they pose no threat to the songbird population.

    Aldermen were generous in their responses. Even Ald. Bill Driscoll, who is sometimes seen as the Dr. No of the council for his negative stances on such matters as spending for the senior center and city ownership of small neighborhood parks, offered a friendly yes to pot-bellied pigs.

    Driscoll is well informed about the pets thanks to a sister-in-law who owns two of them and, according to the alderman, considers them “as good or better than a dog.”

    Ald. Kevin Rudser made the sensible and fair suggestion to allow two pigs per home, just as two dogs and two cats are permitted. A pet pig, he said, “might like a friend.” (No, not that kind of friend; any ordinance allowing pigs will likely prohibit breeding.)

    The council went on to do the right thing and voted to instruct the city attorney to draft an ordinance allowing pet pot-bellied pigs.

    It was disappointing, however, that on this issue the council could not duplicate the seamless wall of unanimity it has displayed on every vote contrary to the wishes of citizens who have protested the sale of lakefront land for development.

    The single dissenter on the pig vote was Ald. Doug Biggs. Nothing against pet pigs, he said; he just thinks it would be “fiscally irresponsible” to spend the money needed to enact an ordinance at the request of a single citizen.

    The alderman’s fiscal watchfulness is commendable, but if a defacto ban on the right of citizens to own a certain type of pet is found to be an improper limit on their freedom, it should be removed regardless of the administrative expense. Chalk it up to the cost of good government.

    Pot-bellied pigs, of course, have nothing to do with selling public lakefront property, but the alderman’s point that the council is acting on the request of just one citizen has quite a bit to do with it.

    More than 900 citizens signed petitions requesting the council to refrain from selling public lakefront land for the proposed Blues Factory development and have not been able to get a single council vote in their favor.

    A good many of them will no doubt be watching to see if Ald. Biggs and his council colleagues apply the “fiscally irresponsible” test when they vote on the proposed $1 million taxpayer subsidy for the Blues Factory.

    In the meantime, it seems citizens who want Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs as pets, and the pigs themselves, are getting a fair shake.

An invitation to lake invaders PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 16 September 2015 16:31

Proposed legislation would restrict Coast Guard in fight against invasive species arriving in ships’ ballast water

Given that the way the current Congress deals with threats to the environment has been to weaken environmental protection regulations at virtually every turn, it should be no surprise that proposed legislation affecting invasive species in the Great Lakes protects the interests of shipping companies more than the fragile ecosystems of the lakes.

    Still, it boggles the mind that the legislation would exempt the ballast water carried by ships from more stringent regulation under the Clean Water Act. Ballast water is the culprit that delivered the invasive species that have wreaked havoc on the lakes’ ecosystems.

    The legislation, attached as a rider to the Senate Coast Guard authorization bill, would limit the Coast Guard’s ability to enforce ballast water standards more demanding than the requirements that took effect in 2012. This is precisely the outcome the shipping industry wants. The bill’s authors obviously were persuaded more by the industry’s lobbyists than the environmental experts who consider the current ballast water restrictions inadequate.

    Members of the congressional majority have made it an ideological mission to scale back government regulation in many areas, but the ballast water proposal smells more of ignorance than political bent. Perhaps they haven’t heard about the devastation wrought by foreign life forms transported to the lakes in ships’ ballast water.

    Everyone familiar with the recent history of Lake Michigan knows about it. The bloater chub, mainstay of the Port Washington fishing industry as recently as 20 years ago, has essentially disappeared. The yellow perch population is so depleted that commercial fishing for it has been banned and recreational fishermen rarely hook one of the panfish that were once caught here by the thousands on a single weekend. Native whitefish and lake trout are struggling to survive. All of which is blamed on changes in the lake’s ecosystem inflicted by fast-reproducing quagga muscles, a hideous fish called the round goby and other creatures carried from European and Asian waters by ships.

    Even the salmon and trout species introduced into the lake for sport fishing are showing signs of stress, and their future is threatened by viral hemorrhagic septicemia, a fatal fish disease brought to the lake from foreign fish farms in ballast water.

    The cost to Great Lakes states of dealing with invasive species, including protecting municipal systems from the mussels, is estimated at more than $250 million a year.

    As for the prolific quagga mussels, they are beyond counting. There are thought to be billions of them in Lake Michigan alone. Their shells now cover vast areas of the lake bottom.

    Nature being the amazing force that it is, Lake Michigan is showing nascent signs of struggling to adapt to the predations of the invaders. In the waters around the Beaver Island archipelago near the top of the lake, smallmouth bass are thriving in numbers and sizes not seen in many years.

    Icthyologists attribute this to the decline of the bullhead, a fish that competed with bass for food, caused by the clarified water that results from the filtering action of quagga mussels. They also think the bass are finding a new food source in the waste pellets excreted by the mussels.

    This may be a source of hope, but it’s a small victory at best for a gasping lake. Native fish remain threatened by the invasive species currently in the lake and new ones that will likely come if stricter ballast rules are not adopted.

    The Great Lakes need stronger protection, not the weaker safeguards that would result from legislation that favors shipping interests over the health of the world’s largest freshwater source.

    If the ballast water provision becomes law, it will be a compelling argument for taking the one step that would ensure that no more invasive species arrive in ballast water: Closing the St. Lawrence Seaway, an option that is gaining favor as the economic benefit of international shipping to and from the Great Lakes diminishes and the danger to the lakes increases.

Vibrant new downtown trumps nostalgia PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 09 September 2015 23:25

It’s fitting that Port Washington gives Harry’s Restaurant a celebratory farewell, but it has no need to look to the past for inspiration in a new era

Newspaper feature stories don’t get much more appealing than the one that appeared last week on the front page of Ozaukee Press under the headline, “Cooking their way into Port’s heart.” In it, Press staff writer Kristyn Halbig-Ziehm traced the history of Harry’s Restaurant, which will close this month after 79 years as a downtown Port Washington eatery.

    The story of how a tiny enterprise started on a proverbial shoestring by a high school dropout grew into a family business and then into a Port Washington institution so beloved that it will be the object of a community celebration on Sept. 20 surely warmed the hearts of readers.

    No doubt it fascinated many of them too, with the glimpses it gave of the mid-20th century life and culture in the city. Prices in the Harry’s Restaurant menu of 1943 (the International Photoengravers Union label on the back attests that it was printed by Ozaukee Press) reproduced with the story provided a graphic measure of changing times. Younger readers may have had difficulty believing there actually was a time when, as at Harry’s, hamburgers cost a dime and the most expensive item on the menu was a T-bone steak for 45 cents.

    Someone who is handy with inflation tables might calculate that a McDonald’s burger in 2015 costs less in inflation-adjusted money than a 10-cent Harry’s hamburger in 1943, but other societal changes evident in the story are not so easily explained away. It is hard to find many parallels today, for example, to what restaurant founder Harry Burton accomplished in the humblest of circumstances. The man who left high school after two years to go to work in a diner not only started his own business, but with his wife Mabel raised four children in a small flat above the restaurant at the corner of Franklin and Main and sent them off to colleges and successful careers.

    A photo taken in the 1950s showing the restaurant with the factory buildings of the Wisconsin Chair Co. looming behind it added more context to the Harry’s story and sparked memories among those old enough to have them of a downtown that in three blocks boasted four grocery stores, pairs of drug stores, bakeries, meat markets and hardware stores, a fish market and a “five and dime” Ben Franklin store, not to mention eight taverns.

    Gilded by nostalgia, those times are pleasant to contemplate, but they belong to history. A few of the bars remain, but everything else is gone, including the grim chair factory buildings that walled the downtown off from the adjacent lakefront. It is a new era and the downtown that comes with it is a vibrant, exciting heart of the city.

    Harry’s will be missed, of course, and the send-off at the “Hurrah for Harry’s celebration in honor of the founders and those who carried on the business after them is well deserved. Yet the condominium and commercial building that will replace the restaurant should be welcomed with equal fervor. The sleek new building will replace a deteriorating structure of little character and an abandoned drive-in banking facility and spur economic activity with a new resident downtown population, all of which trumps nostalgia.

    Regardless of the era, it seems every community needs a coffee shop type of gathering place, the role that Harry’s filled nearly every morning for eight decades. Perhaps one of the existing downtown coffee and food purveyors will fill the void or maybe it will be a new restaurant in the building on the Harry’s site.

    If the latter is the case, please, don’t let it be called Harry’s Restaurant. Like the jersey number of a legendary athlete, that name should be retired to posterity.

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