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Enjoy the lakes’ ice while you can PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 05 February 2014 16:38

Ice forming on the Great Lakes in an uncommonly cold winter may protect water levels for a while, but repeats aren’t likely in an overheated future

The report in January from Lake Superior’s Isle Royale by Michigan Technological University researchers was optimistic except for this foreboding sentence: “If climate projections are accurate, only one or two more ice bridges are likely before the lake is expected to be perpetually free of any significant ice formation by 2040.”

    The sentence summed up the future that awaits the Great Lakes: a climate too warm to form ice on the lakes, causing accelerated evaporation, resulting in falling water levels in the most important freshwater resource in the world.


    The comment followed the good news that solid ice, or an ice bridge, is forming between the island and the mainland for the first time in years, which may allow wolves from Canada to migrate to the island to refresh its famous but endangered timber wolf population, currently numbering only eight animals.


    Ice now covers more than 60% of the surface of the Great Lakes, which is good not just for wolves, but for the lakes themselves, raising hopes that the recent rapid fall in water levels will be interrupted by the ice’s shield against evaporation.


    Lake Michigan reached it lowest recorded level a year ago, then recovered a bit in a wetter than average year. The ice cover may help sustain that fleeting trend.


    But this uncommonly cold winter, apparently the ironic result of an excess of warm water in the northern Pacific realigning the polar jet stream, will likely provide at best a short respite from the shrinking of the lakes. The writing is on the water: The warming of the earth will take a toll on the Great Lakes.


    The state and national governments that are the stewards of the lakes can’t do much to solve the world’s carbon emissions problem, the root cause of climate change, but they can use every option available to protect the water of the five Great Lakes for as long as possible, and they must.

    That means no relent in the fundamental rule of the Great Lakes Compact: No water diverted from the lakes that is not returned to lakes. The City of Waukesha, in a test case for the compact signed in 2008 by eight states, has applied to take Lake Michigan water to augment groundwater supplies depleted by overdevelopment without satisfactory provisions for returning the water. Approval should be out of the question.

    It also means closing the loophole in the compact that allows water to be removed from the lakes with no requirement that it be returned as long as it is in containers no bigger than 5.7 gallons. It’s an urban myth that shiploads full of bottled water pumped from the lakes are going overseas now to be sold to people in parched regions of the earth, but as water becomes more dear in a drought-plagued world, you can bank on it that technology will be developed to exploit the loophole and sell lake water as a commodity.


    And it means the Army Corps of Engineers must be ordered to fix its dredging mistake and reduce the flow of Lake Michigan-Huron water through the St. Clair River and shut down Chicago’s canal and sewage operation that drains millions of gallons of water from Lake Michigan every year.


    The latter is necessary on two counts—it is also the only sure way to keep the Asian carp now multiplying in the Illinois River from entering the lake.


    Speaking of invasive species, consideration should be given to closing the St. Lawrence Seaway outlet to the ocean, which though declining in economic importance remains the gateway for the mussels and other aquatic creatures that travel in the ballast water of ships and damage the lakes’ ecosystems when released.


    If those steps sound radical, they won’t in a few years when the pressure on the quantity and quality of Great Lakes water will rise apace with the temperature of an overheated planet.


    In the meantime, lake lovers have a reason to tolerate an old-fashioned frigid winter.


 
Eclectic, colorful, untidy signs of life PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 29 January 2014 15:22

The profusion of signboards is testament to the Port Washington downtown’s new vitality; officials bent on regulation should keep their hands off

Once upon a time the City of Port Washington employed a public works director who was so affronted by clutter on downtown sidewalks that he waged war with merchants over signboards and in a remarkable incident recorded in detail by the local newspaper confiscated the folding sign of a defiant business owner.

    All we can add in defense of that crusading engineer is that his signboard war was fought in the early years of the 21st century when such signs were a new phenomenon in Port Washington and were perhaps viewed with suspicion as harbingers of change.

    They were signs of change, all right, the beginning of the commercial rebirth of an economically depressed downtown. Today signboards abound in an eclectic, colorful and slightly disorderly array that is testament to the renewed vitality of the Port Washington business district.

    As a marker of a downtown that is now humming with commercial activity, the abundance of these portable, two-sided signs touting the offerings of shops and restaurants should be cheered. But in a reversion to the mindset manifested in the signboard war of yore, some members of the Plan Commission are not cheering.

    At a recent meeting, the commission separated into pro- and anti-signboard camps. Members of the latter group, complaining that the signs give the downtown an unkempt appearance and interfere with pedestrians, called for increased regulation.

    Imposing the neatness and uniformity the anti group wants seems contrary to the city government’s own vision for the downtown. There is a lot of stuff on the sidewalks along Franklin Street and most of it was put there by the city. This includes trees in protective cages, rubbish containers in decorative enclosures, bicycle racks and a plethora of large concrete planters.


    These items take up far more sidewalk space than signboards, but no one is complaining. They add to the friendly downtown ambience the city sought when it rebuilt Franklin Street several years ago, just as do the benches some businesses place on the sidewalks, the sidewalk dining offered by restaurants during the warm months and those ubiquitous signboards.

    The signboards that some officials see as fodder for a new ordinance are nothing less than signs of life in a resurgent downtown.

    Those signs of life come from merchants and restaurateurs who are working hard to succeed in the challenging business environment of a small-town downtown. If the city government means to be supportive of their efforts—and why wouldn’t it?—it should shun any move toward nitpicking legislation over signboard appearance and location. Better to enjoy the profusion of signs as an expression of the free market, which, by the way, is rarely neat and tidy.

    Several Plan Commission members get it about signboards. Ald. Dan Becker, saying he liked “the individuality of all these little signboards,” urged the commission to not “overanalyze this to the point where we handcuff our businesses.”

    The current public works director, Rob Vanden Noven, joined in, making it clear he won’t be confiscating any sandwich boards. “My opinion,” he said, “is this isn’t something we should over-regulate.”

     On the other side of the debate, Randy Tetzlaff, director of planning and development, submitted a list of 13 proposed new signboard regulations.

    That is 13 too many.



 
Are we there yet? PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 22 January 2014 16:43

Grafton hopes to save money by revamping its transportation operation, but the priority should be shorter rides for kids, some of whom now spend two hours a day on the bus

Imagine a job that requires a morning and afternoon commute of at least an hour each way—two hours or more on the road every day.

    A few workers manage it, but for most of us it would likely be a burden that would diminish our performance at work and diminish the enjoyment of life beyond work by stealing precious time from it.

    Yet many children are made to endure commutes to their schools that require more than two hours daily on school buses. Some of them live in the Grafton School District.

    This came to light in a presentation to the School Board on student transportation problems last week. Following it, the board asked School Supt. Mel Lightner, who has been carrying on an assessment of the district’s transportation plan since September, to prepare proposals for busing changes.

    A revamp of the bus program is needed; that is obvious from the very fact that some children are spending more than two hours a day on school buses, which ought to be unacceptable to all of the district’s decision makers.

    With an improved busing plan, board members and administrators hope to save money and make the system more efficient. Cost cutting is a good thing, and the district certainly needs it, considering the $850,000 deficit it is facing for the 2014-15 year. Increased efficiency serves that end. But what should matter most in the transportation overhaul is the impact on students. Shortening overlong bus rides should be a priority whether or not it saves money.

    Regardless of the priorities, rejiggering the bus routes is a daunting proposition. Grafton’s busing plan is devilishly complex, with 24 morning routes and 25 afternoon routes serving students attending four schools in kindergarten through 12th grade at a cost of $650,000 a year. Changes affect not only the routes buses follow, but the starting times of schools and thus the routines of students and their families.

    Unreasonable travel times aside, Grafton’s current transportation policy is generous. While state law requires bus service for students living two miles or more from their school, Grafton K-5 students get bus transportation if they live more than one mile from their school.

    The district also goes the extra mile, in effect, by allowing 160 students who live within walking distance of school to be picked up by school buses at day-care facilities located in the walking area.

    Eliminating the latter is one of Lightner’s money-saving recommendations. He also proposes changes, some quite radical, in the starting times of school days to allow more efficient use of buses.

    While adjusting school starting times to facilitate double runs of buses makes sense in theory, it can be problematic in practice. Under Lightner’s plan, elementary schools would not start the school day until 8:40 a.m. A parent at last week’s School Board meeting pointed out that children involved in an after-school activity might not be see their parents until 5 p.m. or later.

    The most important recommendation on Lightner’s preliminary list is to require the district’s school bus contractor to use routes that limit the duration of rides to no more than 45 minutes.

    Three-quarters of an hour, or an hour and a half a day, on a bus is still too long, but in this case it would at least be progress.

    Any money saved with the school bus changes should be considered a bonus. The revamping should be judged a success if it merely shortens bus rides.

    Society today demands more than ever from its public school students. Assigned homework that would make their parents and grandparents blanch and pressured to perform at high levels on tests whose results affect not only their college aspirations but ratings of their schools and teachers, they should not have to devote unreasonable amounts of time to the numbing process of getting to an from school on a bus.

 
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