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Monster carp invasion is no hoax PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 05 July 2017 13:51

The lake killers are in plain sight, close by and ready to lay waste to an ecosystem. Asian carp are a short distance from Lake Michigan and moving this way.
    Other creatures that have devastated the Great Lakes, notably zebra mussels, snuck in. Suddenly they were here, and it was too late to do anything about them, except watch them multiply and tally the damage they do.
    The steady progress of the giant carp toward the lake, on the other hand, has been observed, studied, recorded and verified. There is no surprise and there is no excuse for not stopping them.
    Yet plans to defend the lakes against the carp menace are on hold, hostage to the Trump administration’s hostility to environmental protection and Illinois politics.
    Two weeks ago a commercial fisherman caught a 28-inch silver carp in the Calumet River nine miles from the outlet to Lake Michigan in Chicago. The fish was found beyond three electronic barriers in the Illinois Sanitary and Ship Canal that were supposed to keep the lake safe from a carp migration.
    The Illinois River, which connects to the canal, teems with silver and bighead carp that are the descendants of farm-raised fish that escaped captivity. Since 2010, more that 5.5 million pounds of these carp have been pulled from a 75-mile stretch of the river downstream from the carp barriers.
    The one found recently on the wrong side of the barriers was small by Asian carp standards. Asian carp, which eat 20% of their body weight in plankton every day, can grow to 100 pounds.
    If they colonize the Great Lakes, scientists say, they could wipe out native and stocked fish species—whitefish, trout and perch caught by commercial fishermen and the salmon and trout that sustain sport fishing—by consuming their food supply.
    Aware that the electronic barriers can be breached, the Army Corps of Engineers has a plan ready to establish a poisonous carp-kill zone in the Brandon Road navigation lock, but the Trump administration has refused to allow it to be made public or the Corps to put it into action.
    At the same time, President Trump is proposing to eliminate funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which funds current efforts to try to keep Asian carp out of Lake Michigan.
    The state of Illinois, shirking its responsibility to help protect the lake from which it benefits in many ways, has weighed in to keep the Brandon Road measure under wraps with no chance of being implemented. Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti wrote in an opinion piece in the Chicago Tribune that the plan would “cost too many taxpayer dollars.”
    When compared to the economic damage the carp would cause in the lakes—estimated in the billions—the cost of keeping them out cannot be considered a credible deterrent to acting now. In any case, it’s doubtful that Illinois politicians worry much about U.S. taxpayer dollars. More likely, their concern is that changes to the lock could inconvenience barge operators.
    The ultimate solution—a serious proposal recommended by the Great Lakes Commission and the St. Lawrence Cities Initiative—is to shut off the canal from Lake Michigan. That would require Chicago to do what every other city on the Great Lakes does and treat its sewage instead of sending it down the river. Expensive? Of course, but a small price to pay to save the lakes.
    It will never happen without action by the federal government, the executive branch of which is now led by a man who is trying to eliminate most of the funding for Great Lakes environmental issues. Perhaps the president who said climate change is a hoax thinks the same of the Asian carp invasion.
    Trump’s inaction notwithstanding, the discovery of an Asian carp beyond barriers and within easy swimming distance of Lake Michigan demands a response, and there is a glimmer of hope in one that has come from Congress. A bipartisan group of lawmakers has called on the administration to release the Brandon Road plan at once.
    Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin emphasized the demand by introducing legislation to force the release. All who value the largest freshwater system in the world should hope her colleagues agree with her statement that the carp discovery “is incredibly troubling and shows how urgent our fight is right now.”

Mission abandoned, money gone PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 28 June 2017 16:35

What follows is a cautionary tale.
    But it comes with the caveat that its warning does not apply to the vast majority of nonprofit organizations that seek funding for good local causes in Ozaukee County and can be trusted to be true to their mission.
    People in Port Washington who gave money to an organization named the Great Lakes Safe Harbor Preservation Foundation were led to believe their contributions would be spent to “save the Port lighthouse and breakwater.”
    They weren’t.
    None of the money collected by the organization was used to repair the Port Washington breakwater or lighthouse.
    Instead, most of the funds were spent to pay the organization’s expenses and for something called “educational outreach.” Fundraising proceeds that weren’t spent were given to a Sheboygan nonprofit organization devoted to promoting sailing.
    A meticulously reported investigative news story in last week’s Ozaukee Press revealed that the foundation raised $31,133 before dissolving in 2016.
    The Press investigation found that the foundation reported, in a 2014 filing with the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions, spending $3,442 for organization management and $10,874 for unspecified services it provided, leaving it with a balance of $18,296 at the end of the year.
    Mary Jo Joyce of West Bend, president of the foundation, told Ozaukee Press that most of that balance was given to the Sailing Association of Sheboygan (SEAS). The organization had contributed $10,000 to the foundation, the Press learned.
    The Port Washington donors, who wanted to help the cause of rebuilding their city harbor’s failing breakwater, were misled.
    In advertising its organizational meeting in Port Washington in 2014, the foundation stated that its mission was to “save the Port Washington lighthouse and breakwater.”
    To underscore its connection to Port Washington and establish a local presence, the organization appointed a Port resident as its vice president. It solicited donations with “Save the Harbor” buckets in downtown stores and at city events, sold lighthouse necklaces and sought volunteers, including Boy Scouts who sold kites that featured an image of a life ring around the lighthouse to raise money for the organization.
    In an interview with the Press, Joyce characterized the services provided by her organization that were funded by contributions as “educational outreach” to increase awareness of the breakwater’s “structural deficiencies.”
    In explaining the money given to SEAS—$13,409—Joyce said the foundation’s bylaws required that if the foundation were dissolved, unspent fundraising proceeds were to go to an organization of “similar purpose.”
    There is no mention of a mission to support breakwaters or lighthouses on the SEAS website. Rather, the organization’s purpose is to remove barriers to the enjoyment of safe boating on Lake Michigan “created by financial, physical or cognitive needs,” according to the website.
    Leslie Kohler, chairwoman of the SEAS board of directors, blamed criticism of the Safe Harbor Preservation Foundation’s fundraising practices  on “somebody that must have spent $25 for a necklace and wonders where the money went.”
    The small donors disparaged by that comment have as much right as anyone to wonder where the money went, of course, and they should be complaining. Unlike the big contributor SEAS, which is generously supported by the Kohler family foundation, they didn’t get refunds, even though their contributions were not spent for the advertised purpose.
    The Safe Harbor Preservation Foundation could have lived up to its stated reason for existence if it hadn’t abruptly folded after two years. Though the City of Port Washington, through its own efforts in rallying congressional support for emergency repairs by the Corps of Engineers, managed to get most of the north breakwater rebuilt, it is currently facing more than $30,000 in repairs to the lighthouse and a large expenditure for repairs to the south breakwater.
    A check from the foundation to help meet those expenses would have been at least partial validation of what it claimed was its mission.
    One of the unfortunate consequences of misleading contributors is that such practices can poison the fundraising well.
    People who care about the Port Washington harbor, however, can be confident that their contributions to the Lighthouse Preservation Fund established by the City of Port Washington will be spent exclusively on the pierhead lighthouse.
    That fund has no connection whatsoever with the failed, short-lived Great Lakes Safe Harbor Preservation Foundation.

An attack on local control of schools PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Thursday, 22 June 2017 17:30

People elected to represent the public in government are called leaders, but sometimes it is the forward-looking public that is leading, while the “leaders” follow, trudging along under the burden of their backward ideas.
    You can see that in the way public education is treated by government in Wisconsin. While state government leaders have progressively shrunk K-12 funding by pairing reduced state aid with tax levy limits, the public has responded in school districts across the state by voting for referendums that increase local taxes to fund school facilities and operations.
    This has obviously gotten under the skin of some legislators. State Sen. Duey Stroebel of the Town of Saukville, with half a dozen co-authors, has introduced a package of bills that curtail the ability of voters to make decisions about their schools and punish local taxpayers for approving referendums.
    Stroebel explained his rationale in a statement: “I am tired of being a high tax state, and I’m especially tired of pushing for lower taxes and limited spending only to have the efforts undone in school referenda.”
    Voters in Stroebel’s back yard and elsewhere in the state don’t seem very concerned about his fatigue or his yearning for low-tax bragging rights. In the April election, Grafton School District voters approved a referendum to spend just under $40 million to upgrade neglected and deteriorated school buildings.
    Throughout Wisconsin in April, voters approved 62% of school funding referendums totalling $700 million. In Verona, a $162-million school bonding proposal, one of the biggest in Wisconsin history, was passed by a majority of 73% of the voters.
    In September, the Port Washington-Saukville School District will open the academic wing of its remodeled and expanded high school paid for with borrowing approved by voters in a $49.4 million referendum.
    The takeaway: Wisconsin voters refuse to be led backwards in education.
    Six bills authored by Stroebel and his cohorts would impose various restrictions on school referendums. A particularly mean-spirited one would penalize taxpayers in districts where tax increases for school operating costs are approved in referendums by reducing state aid in an amount equal to 20% of the spending authorized by voters.
    The bills were roundly criticized by public-school officials at a hearing last week. The thrust of their criticism was that revenue limits imposed by the state have made referendums an essential last resort for school districts to meet building needs and in some cases, especially in poorer districts, to fund operating costs.
    A school board member from Baraboo put it well when he told senators at the hearing chaired by Stroebel: “The level of referendums would drop significantly if the state would get behind real education reform.”
    The educational case that these bills should not become law is strong. Beyond that, they are objectionable per se in their manifest contempt for voters. The message this legislation sends is unmistakable: Taxpayers cannot be trusted to make their own decisions about how local taxes are spent.
    This message has been written by legislators who decry big government at every opportunity while singing the praises of local control, but now find it perfectly acceptable to slam the heavy hand of state government down on local school districts and the taxpayers who support them.
    Small wonder that when it comes to schools, the public doesn’t want to follow these leaders.

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