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The marina that saved downtown Port PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 20 September 2017 19:19

Yippie! High fives! Uncork the champagne! The Port Washington marina is in the black!
    We are as pleased as the officials quoted in last week’s Ozaukee Press news story about the marina being on track to close the year with a healthy profit.
    But we will curb our enthusiasm enough to observe that this is not astonishing news. By reasonable standards, the marina is always in the black. It is a city service, a public amenity and a presence  buoying the city economy that has functioned for decades without cost to taxpayers. In fact, it has generated hundreds of thousands of dollars of revenue for the city.
    Under the operating plan for the marina, the facility is required to make an annual contribution to the city’s general fund described as a “payment in lieu of taxes.” In rare years when the marina falls a bit short of paying the designated amount in full, hand wringing by Common Council members ensues—the marina’s in the red, put it up for bids by private operators, replace the harbormaster, etc., etc.
    The rationale for the payment in lieu of taxes apparently is that if a private development were in business on the space occupied by the marina, the city would collect property taxes. Ergo, the marina should pay a “tax.”
    This ignores the fact that a commercial development on public land at the edge of the harbor would be intolerable.
    This is not to say the marina’s contributions to the city coffer are not welcome. They certainly are, particularly in light of the fact that in recent years the city has been generous in funding lakefront improvements.
    But there are reasons the marina should not be judged by business standards. The small-boat harbor that is an essential element of the marina was built with federal money and the marina was built with the help of state grants. This was federal and state aid awarded to the City of Port Washington to provide a service for the public. It is relevant too that a substantial percentage of marina users are city residents who pay city taxes and pay full price to launch boats at the marina ramps or moor them in marina slips.
    The marina’s pleasing 2017 financial results can be attributed to fine early-summer weather, an improving national economy and a modest increase in rates. Like the water level of Lake Michigan, the finances of the marina have always ebbed and flowed, but over the years it has remained a well-managed, city-operated facility whose performance compares favorably with municipal marinas elsewhere run by private operators.
    The impact of the marina on the community’s economy can be measured not only in the business it generates for local commerce—the shopping, dining and lodging expenditures by visitors attracted by the marina and the fees paid to the boat operators of one the largest charter fishing fleets on the Great Lakes—but also in its influence on downtown investment.
    The brave, visionary aldermen who voted in the late 1970s to build the marina not only gave the city, which was long plagued by a dangerous commercial harbor unfit for recreational boating, a safe harbor of refuge, but launched the renewal of a waterfront blighted by industrial use.
    The original marina improved and claimed the lakefront and its views, water access and maritime ambience for the public. When the brilliantly designed north slip marina addition evolved, this public development that brought the beauty of Lake Michigan into the very heart of the city set Port Washington apart from other lakeshore communities. That unique intimacy with the lake is what drives the private development now surging in the downtown.
    What would the elected officials who made that happen and completed the erasure of the last vestiges of the industrial blight that held the city back for so long think of the Common Council vote in 2016 to sell a part of the marina—the north slip parking lot—for a commercial development that is called a factory (the Blues Factory) and would be housed in a building designed to look like a factory?
    They would be appalled.   

Ozaukee County’s other coast PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 13 September 2017 18:48

Ozaukee Press readers got an eyeful of Ozaukee County’s other coast last week.
    The county’s east coast, its Lake Michigan shoreline, gets most of the attention as an aquatic resource, and deserves it. The Great Lake that defines the county’s eastern border is a majestic gift of nature.
     But so too is that other “coast” —the land embracng the river that runs through almost the entire length of Ozaukee County and is, in fact, much longer than the Lake Michigan shoreline, owing to its many meanders.
    The beauty of that waterway and its banks was captured in last week’s evocative Press cover photo by staff photographer Sam Arendt of two boys fishing in the Milwaukee River in Waubedonia Park.
    More than a few readers, we suspect, found a vision of Mark Twain’s most famous characters in that image of boys on a river on a hot day in late summer. Others may have seen a parallel to art in the composition. Were it not for the sharply defined digital reproduction, the picture might have suggested an Impressionist plein air painting.
    Inside of that issue, written words described the appeal of Ozaukee’s stretch of the Milwaukee River in staff reporter John Morton’s story about the little known overnight campground along the river in Waubedonia Park.
    The comments of people interviewed for the story revealed a remarkable appreciation for the river as a recreational resource. One campground visitor enthused, “You can catch some real fish that you put right on your campfire for cooking, and we’re talking bass and northern pike.”
    He’s right. Smallmouth bass and northern pike thrive in the river. They are part of robust, naturally sustainable populations of native fish that are fun to catch and good to eat.
    The river, which enters Ozaukee County at two spots—directly west of Waubeka and near Newburg, where a loop of the east branch flows into the county—also offers many miles of water that is ideal for canoeing and kayaking, and areas in its southern Ozaukee reaches that are good for powerboating.
    The Milwaukee River whose praises we are singing here is a new generation of the river, cleaner, healthier and far more appealing than the previous one. Today’s Milwaukee River is a symbol of the environmental redemption that is possible when society puts its mind to it.
    The 20th century version of the river in Ozaukee County might not have been called a sewer, as the Milwaukee County part of the river frequently was, but it was a polluted waterway, contaminated by untreated and inadequately treated effluent from municipal sewage plants and industrial pollution sources along its banks, starting in its headwaters in Fond du Lac County.
    That has been fixed, and there is no mystery about how it was done. It was done, beginning with the Clean Water Act in the 1970s, by enacting strong environment regulations and cracking down on the polluters.
    The clean-up of the Milwaukee River and success stories like it across the country stand as pointed rebukes to the folly of the Trump administration’s efforts to dismantle environmental protection regulations and the Walker administration’s willingness to exempt a Taiwanese company’s massive manufacturing plant from wetland protection regulations as an incentive to locate in Wisconsin.
      Credit for the rebound of the river goes well beyond rules enforced by federal and state governments. Local government, notably that of Ozaukee County, has done significant work to improve the river quality, as have a number of conservation organizations. A standout among the latter is the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust, which has restored hundreds of acres of wetlands in the river watershed and protected sizable stretches of riverbanks through conservation easements.
    The work is not done. In spite of its great strides, the river is still affected by agricultural waste, chemical fertilizer runoff and other nonpoint pollution, and remains short of the most ambitious water quality goals.
    But Ozaukee County’s other coast is no less a marvelous resource—and as proven in that photograph that channelled Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer—a beautiful one.

A climate-change lesson for dim students PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 06 September 2017 18:21

Is it possible that politicians who reject global warming, whether through ignorance or political expediency, learned something from Hurricane Harvey?
    There is a lesson in that catastrophe that even those who insist that man-made climate change is a crackpot theory or a Chinese hoax should not be able to ignore.
    The lesson is not that global warming causes hurricanes. It doesn’t. But climate scientists are certain that the heating of the atmosphere is responsible for Harvey exploding into what is, by several measures, the worst natural disaster in American history.
    Harvey’s lesson is not about the existence of  global warming; the lesson is about the consequences of global warming.
    The impact of climate change was once thought to be a problem of the future, something that, if it happened at all, would have to be faced by generations to come. Harvey teaches that it is here now.
    There has also been a sense in the climate-change debate that if a toll were to be exacted by global warming, it would be paid mostly by inhabitants of parts of the world far from U.S. shores, that the foreseen flooding, famines, wars over distressed land and food supplies, obliteration of low-lying territory and threats to the structure of societies and economies would mainly affect already struggling undeveloped countries. President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the climate agreement joined by nearly every other country suggests a belief that the U.S. with its vast economic power is somehow immune to the climate chaos caused by global warming.
    Harvey teaches that there is no immunity and that the prosperity of the U.S. actually makes it more vulnerable to climate disasters.
    With loss estimates now at about $200 billion, Hurricane Harvey is the most costly natural disaster in U.S. history. The combination of the storm’s never-before-seen deluges and the mind-boggling scope of the development of the Houston area made that true.
    Harvey’s lesson in the consequences of global warming is further driven home by the human misery it caused—the loss of lives and the devastation of the well being of tens of thousands of Texas residents—and its spiraling nationwide impact on everything from gasoline prices to the federal budget.
    Hurricanes have been battering the U.S. since long before the earth warmed to its current levels, but never has a hurricane produced as much rainfall. The 50 inches measured in parts of Texas is more rain than ever recorded from a single weather event in this country.
    One of the measures of global warming is the rise of seawater temperatures around the globe. As Harvey spun toward the Texas coast, the surface water of the Gulf of Mexico was as much as 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the gulf’s long-term average surface water temperature. As it fed Harvey, it was one of the hottest ocean-surface spots in the world.
    “This was the main fuel for the storm,” explained Kevin Trenberth, senior scientist at the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research and one of many climate experts who had no doubt about the source of the hurricane’s lethal energy. “It may have been a strong storm anyway, but human-caused climate change amplified the damage.”
    Harvey taught its lesson with a grim preview of the weather extremes that await the world if emissions of carbon gases into the atmosphere aren’t reduced.
    The lesson is so blunt and obvious that even federal elected officials like Rep. Glenn Grothman, who in letters to the editor published in Ozaukee Press and in his town hall meetings resorts to discredited shibboleths and fear-mongering claims about the impact of carbon reduction efforts on the economy to deny human-caused climate change, should be able to get it.
    If not, unfortunately, these dim students will have other opportunities to learn, because more lessons, some perhaps harder than Harvey, are sure to come.

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