Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Sham Lead Paint Rules Allow Sales of Lead-Soaked Fake Halloween Teeth

Think of the millions of dollars being spent in Milwaukee and other cities to get lead paint out of homes, or the millions or billions spent to remove lead from gasoline.

Yet the outrages continue over lead contained in or painted onto children's toys, not just because of unscrupulous manufacturers in China and their colluding, profit-driven US importing partners, but because the US has allowable levels of lead in these products and looks the other way on import inspections.

This is the latest disgusting example - - 100 times the allowable (that should read "criminal") level of lead in fake Halloween teeth, a product designed to be put in people's mouths.

Scandalous.

Clean Wisconsin Hosts Superior Meeting On Murphy Oil Issues

Madison-based Clean Wisconsin hosted a community meeting in Superior on Monday, October 29th, to shed more light on the proposed Murphy Oil refinery expansion on up to 500 acres of wetlands near Lake Superior.

Media reports, here, and some earlier blog items are here.

Wisconsin State Senate Committee Adopts Climate Change Resolution

Some progress in the Wisconsin legislature on national and global environmental issues, as a State Senate Committee adopts a climate change resolution and plan, according to Wisconsin Environment.

If the full Senate and Assembly concur, and the Governor executes, state actions would occur to lower greenhouse gas emissions and further conservation in the state.

Local Officials Endorse Strong Great Lakes Compact - - Major Media Blackout

More than a dozen local officials on Tuesday morning publicly endorsed Wisconsin's adoption of a strong Great Lakes Compact implementing bill for the state, but you'd have to read the speciality media to get the details because the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has had no story about it online or in print for more than 24 hours.

Too bad: it was a significant event, organized by the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters and held at Pier Wisconsin on the shores of Lake Michigan.

It proved, that despite pockets of ideological narrow-mindedness centered among some corporate interests in the sprawl areas of Waukesha County, there is growing regional agreement on the need for getting a strong Great Lakes Compact bill adopted now.

The Mayors of Milwaukee, West Allis, Cudahy, Franklin and New Berlin were in attendance, and were joined by several area county board and city councils' members.

Milwaukee Alderman Michael Murphy reported that a Common Council resolution supporting a strong Compact had unanimously passed its first committee vote earlier that morning.

The Small Business Times has a comprehensive article, here, as does the Daily Reporter, here.

The Waukesha Freeman carried a story, with a truncated version available to online readers here.

And the Door County Advocate has run a comprehensive summary of the issues in the wake of the news conferences.

All in all, there was a keen awareness in the room that the Great Lakes are under stress, and that drought and a warming climate will make these international waters a target for diversion and depletion if the Compact's safeguards are not approved.

More than a dozen Wisconsin environmental, civic and outdoors organizations have endorsed the state's adoption of a strong, pro-conservation version of the Great Lakes Compact.

The Daily Reporter piece includes the predictable negative reaction from Compact-basher State Sen. Mary Lazich, (R-New Berlin), who is dedicated to stalling the Compact by re-opening the negotiations among the Great Lakes states and Canadian provinces that produced the draft Compact - - after those discussions began nearly seven years ago.

Lazich is incensed that New Berlin's Mayor Jack Chiovatero is working with Milwaukee to move the Compact forward in the legislature.

Chiovatero understands that getting the Compact approved makes it more likely that his community can successfully apply for and win a diversion of water from Lake Michigan.

The Compact establishes first-ever rules, standards and procedures for such diversions, with conservation and planning among key requirements.

Lazich's opposition continues to make it hard-to-impossible for New Berlin to win such a diversion, but there the Senator is, working against the interests of her own community.

And also against Wisconsin's standing with the other Great Lakes states as the only one without a Compact ratification bill adopted or under discussion.

Is that the way to win the other states' approval for a diversion to New Berlin, and down the road, for the additional diversion applications that will come from the City of Waukesha and throughout the area if a new regional water authority is recommended, as expected, by the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission?

A similar gathering of public officials was held the same morning in Green Bay, with good media there.

Now 48 hours later and counting, still nothing in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the state's larget paper, with more readers effected by Great Lakes water issues than in any other market.

Remember - - The Bush Administration Chooses These People For Leadership

The administration could have picked anyone in the country for key positions, and intentionally chose people like Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, or Michael Brown to run FEMA, or various insider lobbyists to manage regulatory agencies.

It wasn't that long ago that US climate change policy, with a noticeable tilt towards Big Oil and away from renewables, was line-edited by a former Exxon lobbyist, Philip Cooney.

But the recent outrage over John Tanner's supervision of the Justice Department's Voting Rights section takes the cake.

Tanner is the guy who recently said that obstructions. such as voter ID requirements, faced by elderly white voters was a more serious problem than it was for elderly minority voters because whites tended to live longer and minorities died earlier.

Don't believe that a Justice Department official could hold that sort of view, and verbalize it?

Here is the Washington Post story.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Pabst Farms Slow Down...So Why Go Forward With The I-Interchange?

More evidence that housing construction is being delayed at Pabst Farms...but the state still wants to spend $23 in tax money to build the Interstate interchange to NoWhere serving the cancelled Pabst Farms upscale shopping mall.

Why The Murphy Oil Refinery Expansion In Superior Will Be "The Biggest"

So let's define our terms when it comes to the planned expansion of the Murphy Oil refinery in Superior, and why you will see the word "biggest" describing the project.

Wetlands Costs:

State Capitol sources report that building a refinery expansion at the Superior site will require the largest filling of Wisconsin wetlands since the adoption of wetlands filling rules and procedures contained in the 1972 US Clean Water Act.

According to briefing materials obtained under the State Open Records Statute, incoming Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Secretary Matt Frank was told that the potential impact is 300-400 acres.

The figure of "up to 500 acres" has been mentioned by state officials, sources report.

To put that into perspective, the contentious battle last year over the location of a proposed Menards warehouse in Eau Claire involved about two-thirds of one acre.

After an uproar over the possibility that there would be that small wetlands filling, the company cancelled the multi- million project and said it would distribute the warehouse's 900 potential jobs elsewhere.

Because in Wisconsin, wetlands loss is considered a very bad thing, and saving even small parcels of the state's dwindling wetlands legacy has widespread support from constituencies as varied as urban environmentalists, small-town anglers, and farmers.

One reason for why the substantial impact to wetlands at the refinery site is so huge is that much of the City of Superior, WI is wetlands, given its proximity to Lake Superior.

The briefing document captures the significance of the wetlands filling issue in one simple, understated bureaucratic sentence under "related information:

"Wetlands impacts are a major issue and will likely dictate the scope and direction of the project."

Financial Costs:

A number of documents indicate that the potential cost of the expansion is $6 billion, and that while preliminary scoping and planning is underway with the involvement of several local state and federal agencies, Murphy is still searching for a partner to handle some of the investment cost.

When it happens, the project will be big, actually "the biggest."

"The economic impacts of this project are such that it will likely be the largest project in the history of the state of Wisconsin," says the DNR briefing report to Frank.

So the expansion may end up being framed as environment vs. jobs.

That's an unfortunate construct for debate because recent studies have shown a $50 billion payoff for Great Lakes cleanup (oil refineries have a way of leaking and discharging pollutants), and sustainable employment, in cleaner jobs, through alternative energy development.

(A good piece about these issues, by Clean Wisconsin attorney Melissa Malott, is here.)

And It's More Than A Refinery Project:

The DNR/Frank briefing documents also indicate that while the Murphy Oil refinery would process crude oil coming south from Canada's tar sands regions (this is what the earlier fight over the Enbridge Pipeline was all about), another pipeline will be needed to move refined products out of Superior.

"A products pipeline to the Chicago area and points south will also need to be constructed as part of this expansion project," the briefing document says.

The Enbridge pipeline moves from Superior south to the St. Louis area, and has been plagued by construction permitting violations, including illegal damage to wetlands.

So get ready for another pipeline siting and routing struggle, because there are a lot of wetlands, rivers, streams, farms and additional valuable properties between Superior and Chicago.


Monday, October 29, 2007

Broad Scope To The Study Of Falling Great Lake Levels

A major study is about to be launched to discover why water levels are falling in Lake Michigan, and elsewhere in the Great Lakes system, including whether Army Corps of Engineers' dredging in the St. Clair river has caused unexpected outflows of water to the Atlantic Ocean.

The river is part of the Ontario/Michigan boundary.

While the five-year study horizon is flawed, the study's scope is comprehensive and could lead to some solid findings, according to a decent summary of the issues in the Detroit Free Press.

The piece is worth saving.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Business Experts Predict Boom In US, Other Water Sales

According to one business writer, large-scale water sales from our region to Texas and beyond are predictable and calculable - - just a matter of time and economics.

And water sales that dwarf the exploding market in plastic water bottles that people carry around like security blankets these days, filled with Michigan wetlands water branded as Ice Mountain, or other similar fake names and designer labels.

Bad enough as these bottle-by-bottle diversions of water from our region have become, corporate America has something even more troublesome in mind.

The Chief Executive of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange thinks there could soon be a lucrative market in trading water futures contracts, much the way wheat, copper, coffee and pork bellies are bought and sold.

With billions of dollars to be made from very willing (parched) buyers - - tomorrow Atlanta, next decade China? - - is the relatively weak US Water Resources Development Act effective enough to prevent such sales?

Probably not.

Democratic presidential candidate Bill Richardson said a few weeks ago that Wisconsin is "awash in water," so why wouldn't business begin to invest in marketing, pipelines and other delivery mechanisms to move Great Lakes and other fresh water reserves around the country and globe?

For the Great Lakes, and Wisconsin, it's a genuine threat, but still the Wisconsin legislature can't even debate a bill to adopt a pending agreement among the Great Lakes states and Canada to improve on the existing federal law by adding diversion standards and procedures.

The agreement, known as the Great Lakes Compact, would apply standards to restrict bottled water sales and wholesale diversions away from the Great Lakes basin.

Will the Wisconsin legislature move forward and ratify the Great Lakes Compact, or will it continue to be cowed by anti-regionalists like State Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin), who, along with states' rights allies in Ohio, want to torpedo the Compact and make the Great Lakes even easier to divert?

Wisconsin is the only Great Lakes state that has neither approved the Compact or debated such a bill.

Without the Compact, life-supporting, economy-dependent water will become another commodity sold for profit to the highest bidder without regard to local needs or the public interest.

That would leave the Great Lakes - - the world's largest concentration of fresh surface water - - vulnerable to disasterous depletion.

Madison Blogger "Forward Our Motto" Returns Home To Pabst Farms, Oconomowoc...

And finds the 'development, ' which I call The Capitol of Sprawlville, living up to its reviews.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Franklin Wants To Dissolve Its Environmental Commission: The Road To Sprawlville, Chapter V

The Road To Sprawlville, this blog's continuing series of posts about careless 'development' of land and water resources in the region, heads away from Pabst Farms and Waukesha County this week to the City of Franklin (pop. 34,000), our Milwaukee County neighbor to the south.

This small and growing community (Northwestern Mutual Insurance has opened a glitzy new campus there: don't you just love the language...campus?) has been spared some of the worst aspects of environmental degradation, in part through the actions of a strong, and at times, outspoken city Environmental Commission.

How is the government there responding now, as more and more development battles heat up in Franklin?

And where the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources seems to have set the tone for officialdom by declining to stop recent wetlands fillings so developers can keep right on building?

Mayor Tom Taylor, perhaps taking a cue from the DNR's passivity, has gone one step further by proposing, in his 2008 budget, the elimination of the environmental commission.

Now there's a novel approach: it you have watchdogs right in city hall, and they are serious about their role, and they rub some VIP's the wrong way - - well: just throw those environmentalists out.

That'll take care of those pesky problem people who want ridiculous things, like clean air, managed traffic, wetlands preservation and some balance between construction, business expansion and nature's peace and quiet.

Right?

I doubt it.

You can check on Franklin issues at one local blogger, Sprawled Out.

Scientists Point To Climate Change, Greater Fire Danger

In the wake of California's devastating fires, scientists are reminding us that there were findings published last year indicating that forest fires have been on the increase in the US and Canada for many years, with a longer "fire season" due to persistently dry conditions.

UN Reports On Environmentalal Tipping Points

These reports are piling up, but the questions are:
Will government and industry follow through, and will people demand that they do?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Shippers Losing Millions As Great Lakes Water Levels Drop

Shallower Great Lakes mean multi-million dollar losses for shipping companies whose more profitable, fully-loaded cargo freighters run the risk of running aground.

The New York Times of October 22nd and other media have provided useful formulas to translate the falling water levels in the Great Lakes to economic losses suffered by cargo shippers - - which is also bad news for the buyers and users of the goods moving on those ships, too.

The Great Lakes are under great stress from warming temperatures that have led to water loss through evaporation, and also from leakage from channels, through to the St. Lawrence Seaway to the Atlantic Ocean, from suspect dredging by the US Army Corps of Engineers.

Studies are underway to ascertain the extent of the dredging damage and costs to repair it, though that remediation does not address other causes of falling levels.

As as you read about the Great Lakes falling an inch or more, remember the formulas below and don't get fooled into thinking that an inch here and there is insignificant:

For every one-inch drop in water levels:

  • A Great Lakes freighter leaves 540,000 pounds (270 tons per shipload) of cargo on the docks.

  • And costs that ship's owners between $35,000-$45,000.

Here are relevant paragraphs from the Times story.

"Water levels in the Great Lakes are falling; Lake Ontario, for example, is about seven inches below where it was a year ago. And for every inch of water that the lakes lose, the ships that ferry bulk materials across them must lighten their loads by 270 tons — or 540,000 pounds — or risk running aground, according to the Lake Carriers’ Association, a trade group for United States-flag cargo companies.

"As a result, more ships are needed, adding millions of dollars to shipping companies’ operating costs, experts in maritime commerce estimate."

A separate report by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, citing US shipping sources, comes up with the dollar figure.

This problem has become acute on Lake Superior, where new rock islands are protruding near the shoreline and freighters have to ride higher in the water to avoid striking them.

The full Times story is here, which focused on Oswego, New York, where water level declines have not been as dramatic as they are on Lake Superior, where levels have fallen more than three feet since 1999 and are at historic, measurable lows.

Coal shippers carrying supplies to power plants have also indicated that their Great Lakes loads are running lighter: a workable analogy is the inefficiency of flying airplanes with empty seats, something the airlines are loathe to do.

So it's hardly smart policy and good economics to add new large users to the lakes - - such as an expanded Murphy oil refinery in Superior, or out-of-basin communities looking to divert water - - as water levels are on the decline.

All the more reason to press the Wisconsin legislature to adopt a strong Great Lakes Compact because the eight-state agreement establishes first-even rules and standards for diversions and water conservation planning - - all designed to minimize more water losses in the Great Lakes basin.

Patrick McIlheran's Wrong Turn On Traffic Data

Patrick McIlheran, the Journal Sentinel's in-house conservative columnist and blogger, says Milwaukee rates extremely high on one survey of easy commutes.

He uses the findings to buttress his argument that commuting by train is inefficient.

Isn't the best use of the data to suggest that with such relatively short commuting times, the state and regional planning commission are wrong to shove a fresh $6.5 billion into rebuilding and adding more lanes on the 127-mile regional freeway system?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Rough News About Hales Corners Village President Jim Ryan

The news circulating recently in political circles about Jim Ryan's struggle with cancer produced a nice feature story about the long-time Milwaukee County and Hales Corners leader in today's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

We all wish Jim and his family the best: he is an uncommonly wise and gracious elected official - - a true public servant and citizen - - and we sure could use more just like him.

Cities Putting Hybrid Cabs On The Road: What Is Your City Doing?

New York City is putting fuel-saving hybrid cabs on city streets: cabbies are making more money and the air is getting cleaner, too.

So why not Madison, Milwaukee, Green Bay, Racine, Kenosha and so on?

Are there proposals before Common Councils? Cab Commissions? Licensing boards?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

James Kuntsler 101

If you've never had the pleasure of reading a James Kuntsler essay on cities, sprawl and energy policies, have a look.

The eventual topic in the sample linked is Peak Oil, after a long digression about what it feels like on a hot day in Houston.

Punches are not pulled.

CNN Must-See TV Tonight

Good reviews for CNN's two-part series on our endangered planet that runs tonight and Wednesday. Either DVR/Tivo it, or watch it live, as The Daily Show is in reruns this week.

Waukesha County Board Pledges $1.75 Million To The Interchange To Nowhere

Looks like Waukesha County has officially joined the Tax-and-Spend crowd, voting this afternoon 21-12 in favor of throwing $1.75 million in local dollars at the I-94 interchange serving the cancelled Pabst Farms mall.

I still think the way that the state Department of Transportation pulled $23.1 million share out of the regional freeway budget after a couple of meetings with local politicos and business leaders should be investigated by the State Audit Bureau.

If that's legal, why have a legislative Joint Committee on Finance, or a state budgetary process - - albeit the sluggish one that may have finally spit out a 2007-09 state spending plan.

Michigan Paper Suggests "Lake Looters" May Be In Communities Just Outside The Great Lakes Basin

Though the Ann Arbor News takes New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson to task for his suggestion that the Great Lakes states should ship water out to the dry (but water-wasting) southwest, the paper also suggests that the real threat to Great Lakes supplies could come from communities that sit just outside the Great Lakes basin.

That's often code for communities in Waukesha County - - from which some leaders have lobbied Michigan leaders to look favorably on potential diversion applications.

Could be that the message from just west of the basin is not getting through.

Murphy Oil Expansion "Ready To Be Called A Project," DNR Official Says

There's less mystery about whether there will be a giant oil refinery expansion just a stone's throw from Lake Superior, the Greatest of the Great Lakes.

While no permit applications have been received, both technical and senior regulators have met and communicated frequently with Murphy Oil representatives since 2006 regarding the company's efforts to expand refining capacity at its Superior, WI, facility from 35,000 barrels daily to 235,000 daily, according to records obtained from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources under the Wisconsin Open Records law.

The $6 billion expansion would process Alberta, Canadian tar sand crude oil, as exploitation of that vast resource is expanding and North American refineries are needed to process and ship it.

"As you recall, at the kick-off meeting with the Secretary's Office on 10/23/06," said DNR Energy Office Director David Siebert in an April 9, 2007 email to fifteen DNR colleagues, "Murphy said they were seeking a partner before publicly announcing a project. At a meeting with Murphy last week, they indicated the project was ready to be called a project."

Continued Siebert: "While Murphy still says they are developing a "potential project," they also felt comfortable with us moving forward on bringing in key staff to get ready for review."

"Because the project would involve impacts to 300-400 acres of wetlands," Siebert said, there would be involvement with the US Army Corps of Engineers, other federal agencies, company consultants, and that federal and state reviews would occur.

The documents indicate that:

  • a federal environmental impact statement will be required as well as permits from the federal and state government.

  • bird and plant field surveys on the proposed 425-acre Superior site have already begun;

  • federal officials in Illinois and Minnesota have joined in the discussions;

  • Army Corps of Engineers regulators outlined the applicable federal processes to Murphy and DNR representatives as early as May 18, 2006.

I'll post additional details later.

Budget Compromise Disses Rail

It's telling that the compromised proposed state budget omitted funding for the Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee (KRM) commuter rail project.

The Daily Reporter offers good background, here.

WisPolitics reports that a move by State Rep. Jim Kreuser, (D-Kenosha) to restore the project to the draft budget in the conference committee was defeated in a party line vote, 4-4, with all Democrats supporting it and all Republicans opposed.

One vote against came from Republican Senate leader Scott Fitzgerald, (R-Juneau), whose district represents a portion of Waukesha County in southeastern Wisconsin.

The same region that would have been the primary beneficiary of the KRM.

So much for regional cooperation, and Republicans who allegedly support economic development and job growth that would occur along the KRM's three-county regional corridor.

Once again, rail falls away as a priority in our highway-happy state, where $23 million in state funding is still committed for an interchange in Western Waukesha County to service a cancelled upscale shopping mall at Pabst Farms.

So a special-interest shopping destination that may or may not get built, in some incarnation of stores or businesses still remains funded - - and got into planners' hands out of sequence in the larger scheme of $6.5 billion in regional highway "improvements"and outright added-lane expansion.

But a regional rail system that has taken years to get on track to serve commuters in three counties that would spur sustainable development and help get congestion and air pollution off the I-94 corridor - - well, that can wait for another budget cycle.

There's only word for this continual distortion, this one-dimensional addiction to highway spending in a region where the air quality fails to meet clean air standards, and job development is a widely-acknowledged problem.

Pathetic

Monday, October 22, 2007

Another Day, Another Report On The Falling Great Lakes

Monday's New York Times keeps the story going.

Wisconsinites, readers of this blog, and activists trying to press our legislature to endorse the pending Great Lakes Compact, know this story well.

Media Discovering Water Issues: An Indifferent Wisconsin Dawdles

It's hard to escape the sudden focus on water and drought.

Atlanta's reservoirs are disappearing. Lake Superior is falling. The Arctic is melting, as is the snow pack in the Rockies, the Andes and the Alps.

A warming earth, along with growing and demanding populations, suggests water shortages with profound consequences around the globe, and certainly in the US West - - summed up in a long magazine story in the Sunday (10/21) New York Times - - that will make the Great Lakes even more tempting to redistribute.

And despite the controversial remarks a few weeks ago by New Mexico's Gov. Bill Richardson that Wisconsin was "awash" in water to send to the parched West, our state's leaders can't muster the will to adopt a modest compact among the eight Great Lakes states to rationally manage the region's water and produce conservation programs.

Having worked in government, I understand that policy-makers focus on one thing at a time, and that the state budget, or lack of one, has consumed our leaders for much of the summer and early fall.

But the pending Great Lakes Compact was created for the region's legislatures to consider in December, 2005, and was four years in the making: Wisconsin, as 2007 ends, is the only Great Lakes state without a Great Lakes Compact implementing bill either adopted or under discussion.

This is primarily because a handful of legislators from Waukesha County have placed shortsightedly what they perceive as their communities' development interests ahead of other considerations - - while encouraging water-dependent sprawl, or "progress," as they like to call it, as normal, even virtuous.

Now it appears that there is an emergent state budget, so one leading justification for delaying action on approving the Great Lakes Compact for Wisconsin can be put aside.

So let the work begin, and end, quickly to adopt a strong, relevant and productive Great Lakes Compact.

We don't need to repeat the lost 2006-07 year at the Capitol when a study committee charged with drafting Wisconsin's Great Lakes implementing bill disbanded due to flawed leadership, phony property-rights' concerns and a host of other diversions thrown into the process by people more interested in watering down the Great Lakes Compact than in approving and implementing it.

Too many people on the committee shared the Rush Limbaugh vision of government and the environment.

We live in Wisconsin. We border two of the five Great Lakes. They drive our economy and define our history. We need policy inspired by Aldo Leopold, John Muir, and Gaylord Nelson.

As it exists now, the pending Compact is too loose on bottled water exports from the region.

And it is not strong enough on conservation performance and citizen inputs to guarantee that public interests are served first.

Another weakness: it's too permissive on diversions of water that can be piped out of the Great Lakes basin.

The bar needs to be raised so that diversions and other new losses of water from the Great Lakes are truly the exception and not won as easily sending in a coupon and a UPC label for a free prize.

Wisconsin needs a solid implementing bill that protects the state and region's water, and leads the other states to do the same.

Right now, Wisconsin is not a leader on the field. It is not even a follower. It is something of a spectator, and given our history and responsibilities, that is not acceptable.

The times are a-changin': legislation and practices for our communities and state must reflect the urgency demanded by what Nobel Peace Laureate Al Gore rightly calls a global emergency.

And if our elected officials refuse to keep pace with public opinion and modern science, then we need to replace them (Thomas Friedman makes much the same point in the Sunday Times about elections and energy policy, too) with people who will act as the stewards of the water we have, not as placeholders of the offices occupied.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Short Documentary On Lake Superior's Falling Levels

The Canadian Broadcasting Company has produced a nice 15-minute documentary about the decline in Lake Superior, here.

Minnesotans Define Great Lakes Leadership

Our neighbors to the northwest have a clearer role of mission when it comes to the Great Lakes than our leaders here in Wisconsin.

Speak Up About The Pabst Farms Interchange Boondoggle

So you think it's crazy that the state wants to spend more than $20 million of your tax dollars to build an interstate highway interchange to service the cancelled Pabst Farms shopping mall?

(Background here.)

You think the state needs to focus transportation spending on transit improvements?

You want state and local planners to stop accelerating sprawl and inducing more traffic in Waukesha County?

You know that ripping up the landscape to build roads to nowhere, without an authentic environmental impact statement, should be blocked before a bulldozer is allowed to scoop up a single cubic yard of what remains of prime Waukesha County agricultural lands?

Then do something: get your comments into the interchange review process, through a comment link, here, before October 29th.

Get your friends to participate. Send them the link. Call your alderman and county board supervisor and state legislator and urge them to do the same.

We don't have to settle for the status quo, allowing state transportation planners and local politicos to decide behind closed doors that highway expansion schedules and public budgets can be altered for a special interest on whims and spin and the thinnest of motives.

Maybe this is the tipping point, the moment at which people decided enough was enough, that we want genuine planning and democratic decision-making and have to approach these issues with real urgency and intention.

Or we will look back and say it was an opportunity missed.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Budget Deal Could Trim Highway Spending, Aid Transit - - If There Is The Will To Change

If the proposed state budget deal removes Gov.Doyle's oil company tax, it could force a serious review of highway spending in the state.

Because there could be less money for WisDOT to spend.

The major highway account is already overcommitted to the tune of $4-5 billion; the southeastern wisconsin freeway plan could be substantially trimmed, as it's $5.5 billion in commitments is based on gasoline and vehicle usage at $2.30-a-gallon - - preposterously unrealistic.

Fewer billions on highways - - targeted investments in rail and bus improvements - - and the state can easily adjust to lower transportation revenues.

Faster Fix For Great Lakes Leakage

It's good to see that the pace is accelerating to probe why the Great Lakes are losing so much water daily.

Wisconsin legislators should take their cues from this new sense of urgency and tackle the Great Lakes Compact, adding more conservation planning to Wisconsin's water usage and policy-making.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Looks Like There's Plenty of Water in Las Vegas

Presidential candidate Bill Richardson made waves a while ago by suggesting that Wisconsin export Great Lakes water to Nevada.

He was in Nevada when he made his remarks.

Looks like Las Vegas has plenty of water already: maybe it's just a matter of how it uses it?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Bottled Water Sales Can Be Slowed Further If Wisconsin Approves A Strong Great Lakes Compact

Bottled water sales are still rising, but at a slower pace, The Detroit News tells us.

But it still takes millions of barrels of oil (at 42 gallons a barrel) to produce the plastic in the water bottles that do not get recycled, while tap water, certainly from municipal water treatment systems, is a perfectly acceptable and far cheaper alternative.

That message is getting wider distribution.

The good news also is that bottlers are scrambling to deal with the negative publicity that has begun to seep into the issue and has figured out a way to use less petroleum-derived plastic in their bottles.

The issue is particularly relevant in the Great Lakes region, where bottlers like Nestle will be allowed under the draft Great Lakes Compact to continue to export bottled water from the Great Lakes watershed in containers smaller than 5.7 gallons (20 liters).

Wisconsin activists are pushing to close that loophole; unfortunately, the Wisconsin legislature has no bill before it that would implement the Compact.

Business interests and their political allies in Waukesha County, wanting diversion standards in the draft Compact watered-down or eliminated, kept a legislative study committee from earlier this year from drafting a proposed bill.

Nestle's "Ice Mountain" brand uses water from a Michigan wetlands stream as the supply it bottles in the Great Lakes area, and the bottles can be shipped far from the Great Lakes.

That means water from the Lake Michigan basin is lost permanently to a bottle-by-bottle diversion - - which is why that loophole needs to be closed.

That will happen only if the legislature adopts a strong Compact that closes the loophole - - an outcome that will require the legislature to put regional water conservation at the top of its priorities.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Whitney Gould's Prescience On Pabst Farms

More than four-and-a-half years ago, when Pabst Farms was being converted from farm land to subdivisions, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Columnist Whitney Gould predicted the project would add to the automobile-induced degradation of Western Waukesha County's landscape.

As local and state governments continue to pledge millions for a new interchange into Pabst Farms for an upscale mall project the developers have abandoned, you have to hand it Gould for foresight.

"The development may not be textbook sprawl, since Oconomowoc will provide sewer and water, thanks to $24 million in tax-incremental financing," she wrote in January, 2003.

"But it will almost certainly encourage sprawl nearby, dumping thousands of additional cars onto I-94 and fueling the push for freeway expansion." [Emphasis added.]

Gould said the project was going to teach us all some lessons about land use, preservation, tax policy and transportation.

Here's a political lesson: Governments with too much tax money to spend will throw it at developments that are not sustainable on their own, even in purportedly conservative Waukesha County.

Another Day, Another Climate Change Warning

And as these stories go, this one is alarming.

Building Green Homes In Milwaukee

Julilly Kohler is putting her principles into practice by designing a small grouping of green homes in the heart of Milwaukee.

The Daily Reporter has nice story about it, here.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

A Commentary On Scott Walker

From today's Capital Times.

No Big Box Stores, No Mall, "We Can Just Wait," Says The Mayor - - So Why Rush The Interchange?

City of Oconomowoc Mayor Maury Sullivan tells the Journal Sentinel that the Pabst Farm site from which a mall developer pulled out will not be converted to a big box center, despite speculation to the contrary earlier this week.

"'That ground has been idle for years. We can just wait and see what comes along," Sullivan said.'"

Empty? Remember: this was farm land.

Also empty: some projected Pabst Farms' subdivision developments, now postponed due to the diving housing market.

So why is a $25 million interstate interchange - - actually a complex of interchange ramps and roundabouts, some of which is a considerable distance from the former mall location - - still moving forward?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

4th St. Forum Thursday at Turner Hall Deals With Local, World Environment

Get there early for a good seat. Lunch is optional. Hear local, state and international experts, or watch the program on television.

Details below:

"OUR GLOBAL ENVIRONMENT AND WISCONSIN."

There's no hiding from worldwide environmental issues. Will we work locally toward global solutions? Could the today's problems become tomorrow's opportunities?

Each forum is taped in front of a live audience for later broadcast on Milwaukee Public Television, Channels 10/36. The forums are free and open to the public.

Come and be a part of the discussion. Participate by asking questions of the panelists. Bring your lunch or purchase it from Historic Turner Restaurant.

OCTOBER 11, at Noon: Milwaukee Turner Hall, 2nd Floor, 1034 N. 4th Street (4th and Highland),

WATCH: Milwaukee Public Television will broadcast this forum on Friday, OCTOBER 12 , Channel 10, 10:00 PM and Sunday, OCTOBER 14, Channel 36, 3:00 PM.

It will also run on Time Warner's, "Wisconsin on Demand," (WIOD), Channel 1111. Podcasts of the programs will be posted two weeks after broadcast at http://www.4thstreetforum.org/. Some of the programs will webcast at http://www.wispolitics.com/. All programs will be available for checkout from your local public library.

MODERATOR DENISE CALLAWAY, director of communications, Greater Milwaukee Foundation

GUEST PANELIST:

SUDO SIMONIS is a professor and researcher of global environment and international environment policy. His appointment is at the Social Science Research Center of Berlin, Germany. For the past three years, Professor Simonis has co-chaired the Task Force on Environmental Governance for China. For almost a decade, he was a member of the United Nations' Committee for Development Policy, which included working on development and the effects of climate change. Professor Simonis' visit is sponsored by the Goethe House.

MEL BROMBERG has worked on global and national water issues for twenty years. She is the coordinator of a large grant awarded to the Institute of Environmental Health at UW-Milwaukee. The goal of the grant is to educate science teachers and their students on the effect toxins have on the environment and, in turn, on the health of the community. Ms. Bromberg works with the Milwaukee United Nations Association to help determine the environmental and water goals for the next millennium.

KARYN ROTKER is a senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Wisconsin, where she directs the Poverty, Race and Civil Liberties Project. In her work, Ms. Rotker applies environmental justice to important regional issues to protect low income and minority people.

MICHAEL HOWARD began working on environmental issues after reading a City of Chicago report that described his neighborhood, Fuller Park, as the most lead contaminated area in the city. He founded Eden Place Nature Center, which is dedicated to educating children and their parents about how to better protect themselves from environmental pollutants and hazards. A Clean Wisconsin activist described Mr. Howard's center as a "good example of how an urban neighborhood, stuck between rail lines and a highway, can make a difference for ecology and the world environment."

How Will Climate Change Deniers Deal With An Historic Acid Rain Admission?

It wasn't so long ago that some people called acid rain a hoax.

Now a huge settlement on the eve of a trial delayed for eight years has been agreed to by the plaintiff - - one of the nation's largest acid rain polluters.

Will this $4.6 billion admission help the climate change deniers grasp that human activity does influence what goes on in the atmosphere?

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

City Spends To Repair City Hall: Walker Lets County Courthouse Fall Apart

Call it emblematic of the differences between the way that the City of Milwaukee goes about its basic business, and Milwaukee County lets it slide.

The city has ponied up the money that has to be spent to repair and preserve its historic City Hall.

The County is letting its historic courthouse disintegrate, evidence here.

Scott Walker will no doubt claim that Tom Ament was spotted in the rafters with wire cutters and a hacksaw.

Ethanol, Corn and Corn Candy

The air is leaking from the ethanol bubble, but Monsanto is forging ahead with seed production, Forbes magazine tells us.

OK, I hear you: can't you lighten up this blog?

Well, how about this segue way?

Q. How many actual corn kernels does it take to make the corn syrup in a single kernel of candy corn.

A. Three.

Q. What is the ratio of the calories in that candy-corn kernel to the calories in a real corn kernel?

A. 8:1.

Happy early Halloween.

(Diet crushing information courtesy of the Harper's Index, October, 2007)

Mary Lazich Rambles On About Water, Wants Separate Peace Wiith Ohio

State Sen. Mary Lazich, (R-New Berlin), tells the Waukesha Freeman in an 'update' on the work of a now-defunt legislative committee she helped to obstruct that Wisconsin should join Ohio in essentially wrecking the Great Lakes Compact.

Lazich's interest in water is more about carrying it for the Waukesha County Chamber of Commerce and less about conserving the Great Lakes in coordination with the seven other Great Lakes states and two Canadian provinces.

The Waukesha County Chamber of Commerce opposes adoption of the Great Lakes Compact, according to its website, still suggesting inaccurately that a foreign county (Canada) has decision-making power over diversions of water to Wisconsin communities.

Lazich also calls Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett an "extortionist," putting her own special spin on regional cooperation and efforts by New Berlin city government to make a water sale deal with the City of Milwaukee.

Little wonder that Gov. Jim Doyle left Lazich off the working group he put together to pick up the pieces left behind by the moribund legislative committee.

If the goal is to draft a bill to implement, not demolish the Compact, then Lazich had no place on the Governor's bi-partisan working group.

It does, however, still contain members who do not support a strong Compact for Wisconsin, such as Matt Monroney, the executive director of the Metropolitan Builders Association.

Among his positions forwarded to the legislative committee was this memo.

Another person on the working group, water law expert Lawrie Kobza, had also sent information and opinion to the legislative committee taking similar positions that opposed a strong Compact.

Kobza is a paid consultant also to the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission's water supply advisory committee - - supplying SEWRPC with the legal foundation for creation of a regional water authority.

Such an authority, if creatively drawn and headquartered, could conceivably end-run the Compact's water diversion procedures by making a large region, including all of Waukesha County, eligible for Lake Michigan water under easier rules intended for individual municipalities like New Berlin that straddle the boundary of the Lake Michigan basin.

And that would satisfy Mary Lazich and her allies in Ohio, all of whom want relatively easier access to Great Lakes water.

Former Bush Advisor Rips The GOP Field

Dan Bartlett has little good to say about most of the possible GOP successors to the incumbent president, Bartlett's former boss.

Is Tommy still available?

Daily Reporter On-Line Poll About Pabst Farm Interchange

The Daily Reporter, voice of the Wisconsin construction industry, is running an online poll about whether an interstate interchange should be built, as recently-planned on a fast-track schedule, to a Pabst Farm mall whose developer has pulled out of the project.

Vote here.

And a few related remarks, here.

New Conservative Core Value: Secret Shopping?

Apologies in advance if I've missed it, but why haven't our government-bashing talk radio jocks been ripping the plan to spend more than $23 million in public funds to build that interstate highway interchange to nowhere out at Pabst Farms?

The Pabst Farms planned (sic) community was to include an upscale mega-mall, but no one thought about providing its shoppers with appropriate easy-on-and-off access from the interstate in Western Waukesha County.

(Forget a transit line linking Pabst Farms to downtown Waukesha or points farther away in, gasp, Milwaukee: the deliberately tonied-up Pabst Farms has nothing to do with transit.)

So the state, Waukesha County, the City of Oconomowoc and the then-mall developer rushed forward a plan last month to break ground on the fast-tracked interchange by next spring.

And even though the mall developer bailed out of the Pabst Farm picture a few days ago, the subsidized interchange plan is still on track - - to a now-mallless site that might have a big box store or stores instead.

Does that justify a taxpayer-paid interstate interchange, slapped onto the drawing boards with little public input, or awareness of what it will do to nearby lakes, streams, and underground water reserves?

Talk about big government moving at Warp speed, and in denial at the same time - - the state transportation department had enough fat in its budgets to commit and keep committed more than $20 million, while Waukesha County has pledged $1.75 million and the City of Oconomowoc pledged another $400,000, too.

All this is tax money, mind you: you'd think conservatives on the air and in political organizations would be howling about bloated government throwing subsidies at a private business, but there's been a virtual blackout from the Right on the entire subject (save for the blogger James Widgerson).

I keep expecting to hear from the Waukesha County contingent in the once-visible, anti-tax group Committee for Responsible Government, but I guess it's less interested in cutting taxes and more interested in clipping coupons.

Is this a case of the emperor wearing no clothes, or hiding out in case Brooks Brothers moves in?

Monday, October 8, 2007

John Torinus Gets the Region's Water and WATER Opportunities

Business leader John Torinus, in a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel opinion piece, correctly identifies UW-M's WATER Institute as a potential Great Lakes regional asset.

Great minds think alike - - check out this March blog item about the need for UW-M to build the visibility and role of its WATER Institute.

Investigate The Pabst Farm Mall Interchange - - Now

It's time to bring in the investigators.

The Joint Legislative Audit Committee and its partner, the Legislative Audit Bureau, exist to double-check state spending, and they need turn their attention immediately to the emerging fiscal fiasco at Highway P off Interstate 94 in semi-rural Western Waukesha County.

That is where the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, (WisDOT), administratively decided to commit at least $21.3 million in state funds to create a full-scale "Diamond Interchange" for a shopping mall at the Pabst Farms project in Western Waukesha County - - mall construction now abandoned by the developer.

WisDOT made this commitment in discussions with Waukesha area government and business interests at Pabst Farms without any hearings, and before the legislature approved funding for the potential expansion of that segment of interstate.

If WisDOT officials didn't know that the mall was on life-support, and the developer was about to drop its project, then WisDOT's people, especially those at the department's District Two offices in Waukesha County, were not doing their jobs.

And if they knew, but continued with the interchange commitment while guessing/hoping that the site would fill in with something - - man, oh man - - they have some explaining to do, because betting on the come with $21 million of other people's money should not be how state bureaucrats manage our business.

And did they even consider a transit connection to Pabst Farms, for workers, residents and shoppers?

Did they forget that transit planning and assistance is also part of the WisDOT mission?

Were they told to forget about it?

Is anybody minding the store at WisDOT, or is it back to the bad old days when Tommy Thompson pal Chuck ("no relation") Thompson was WisDOT secretary, and said the agency's job was just to let contracts?

The public needs answers to these questions, and that's why the legislature has trusted mechanisms to get them answered.

If there is no inquiry, and no hearings, then WisDOT can continue to spend money and make land use policy in the region without the control of elected officials and the public's authentic participation.

And the same questions need to be asked of local officials and governments in Waukesha County, where more than $2 million additional public dollars were committed in the same hurried fashion for the interchange, despite allegedly tight budgets everywhere, and public pressures for lower taxes and reduced spending.

Remember: the interchange financing pressure became something of an 'emergency' because the state, Waukesha County and City of Oconomowoc didn't coordinate planning at Pabst Farms with the project owners.

For some time, a huge, regional, upscale mega-mall was on its drawing boards, but no one penciled in the interchange financing.

Now the mall has come and gone, but the interchange planning continues.

The state's fiscal watchdogs need to get to the bottom of this mess, and if the local governments are smart, they will take their shares out of their budgets before final adoption later this fall.

For the locals, the budgets schedules are in their favor. Money can be saved.

Face, too.

But WisDOT operates with such insularity and arrogance that it can't be counseled to do the right thing with any expectation of a reasonable outcome - - which in this case is simply to pull the plug on having earmarked money for a road to no where without permission.

So quick and unambiguous pressure delivered by legislators and watchdog auditors at the State Capitol is a necessity to get WisDOT's attention, and action.

How To Brake Our Driving Addiction

Steve Hiniker, executive director of the land use organization 1000 Friends of Wisconsin, lays out the costs of our "autobesity," and says we need a lifestyle change.

His remarks are on Monday's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel op-ed page, and deal directly with the folly of spending $25 million - - 93% of which is still ticketed as public funds - - to create an Interstate Highway Interchange to Nowhere at Pabst Farms' abandoned shopping mall site.

Commentary on Talk Radio Stirs Up Its Base

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's media columnist Tim Cuprisin wrote last week about the recent, strong backlash against some big-name national right-wing talk show hosts.

Not surprisingly, some intemperate name-calling came Cuprisin's way on his "Inside Radio and TV" blog from the talkers' angry devotees.

My, how the worm has turned for the talkers and the ditto-heads (I am using this description of Limbaugh's passionate listeners somewhat generically, fyi).

For years, conservative talkers had a pretty free hand to rip and mock whomever they wanted, as liberal responses were inchoate and ineffective.

But now there's a functioning echo chamber on the left and it seems that the right's big boys have frail egos and weak chins.

I've heard Limbaugh and Savage suggesting that free speech as we know it (even in this era of rightist government snooping and other Constitutional abuses), is imperiled by the left's talker attack.

The squawkers' grandiosity aside, the ironies in the brouhaha aren't hard to miss.

Noted Cuprisin on his blog:

"The bottom line on my point in the column is that the opponents of conservative talk radio, spearheaded by Media Matters, have adopted the talk radio strategy of attack, attack, attack. I didn't attack Limbaugh or O'Reilly or Michael Savage. I simple said I don't have a lot of sympathy, since their style of discourse is being turned on them."

My take on this:

Right-wing hosts like Michael Savage (real last name "Weiner"), Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh are getting weaker because their mean-spirited, high-decibel rants of war, more war and anti-liberal anger, anger, anger have turned cooky from cocky.

The permanent Republican Majority, which supports talk radio, is crashing to earth because of the endless war in Iraq.

And disintegrating because the Federal Government under the GOP can't do what most people really want from it: a stable foreign policy, bridges that don't fall, and health-care costs that don't skyrocket.

In other words, O'Reilly, Savage and Limbaugh (and I have suggested elsewhere on this blog, even some of our local talker mini-me's) are receiving true feedback, getting back some of what they have been dishing out.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

#79: As Xoff Would Ask, "How Many More?"

The latest Wisconsin war fatality in Iraq is a 24-year-old soldier from Madison's east side.

Texans Discovering Downtown Living

Seems even Texans in conservative areas, according to USA Today, along with their counterparts in neighboring Arizona, are liking downtowns with light rail lines, as opposed to fading southwestern sprawl.

Why?

"As people pour in," says USA Today, "the state is starting to rein in its historical outward spread and venturing into un-Texan territory: high-density development, downtown living, mass transit and neighborhoods built not just for cars, but for walkers and all things urban."

Yet here in Wisconsin, Milwaukee can't get rail past its narrow-minded County Executive and his mouthpieces on certain AM radio stations, while state and local governments continue to throw billions into more freeways.

Who'd have thought that Dallas, Houston, and Phoenix would set the progressive bar so high, while one-note, concrete-happy southeastern Wisconsin falls even farther behind?

Excellent Summary Of Global Warming Facts, Solutions

The Minnesota Star Tribune covers a conference on global warming, making it relevant to its readers.

Special thanks for the lead to Dave Dempsey and his ever-valuable blog.

Blockbuster Waukesha Water Report Ignored By Milwaukee Media

A report prepared for the Town of Waukesha by a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee hydrologist says significant problems could occur if groundwater close to the Vernon Marsh is pumped for export to the neighboring City of Waukesha - - but the report, which implicates water issues across southeastern Wisconsin and across the Great Lakes, has received coverage only in the Waukesha Freeman.

That's unfortunate, because if the City of Waukesha is unable to obtain water in the Town of Waukesha - -- and the report to the Town lays out substantial consequences if the water export is permitted, or is done without extensive protections and agreements - - then the City may work instead even more aggressively for a pipeline to Lake Michigan.

That could create political and legal problems with other Great Lakes states, where an unratified agreement setting up rules and standards for diversions of Great Lakes water is bogged down in controversy and inertia - - including in the Wisconsin legislature.

(The lack of coverage about the content and significance of the report for the Town is at least the second time that major and relevant documentation about water issues facing southeastern Wisconsin has not made it into mainstream media.

Since December, 2006, there has been no coverage (except on this blog: one example of several postings is here) of a detailed Wisconsin Attorney General's opinion on Great Lakes diversions. The opinion tells the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources that it does not have the authority to approve a diversion to the Cities of New Berlin and Waukesha that are outside the Great Lakes basin without the approval of all eight Great Lakes states' governors.)

Prof. Douglas Cherkauer, a renown expert on groundwater, produced the water report as a consultant for the Town. It wanted an examination of the City of Waukesha's plan to condemn a 43-acre parcel in the adjoining Town to obtain well sites for a new City source of drinking water.

Among Cherkauer's findings:

1. Using available data - - (Cherkauer also noted the absence of important information for continuing analyses) - - the report finds that water levels in Town wells and in the Vernon Marsh could drop substantially if the City's new high-capacity wells became operational. A portion of the marsh could cease to function as a wetland, Cherkauer suggests.

2. The pumping could change the way surface and groundwater interact in the area. That means that discharged wastewater from the city's treatment plant could end up flowing into the underground water and introducing contaminates.

3. Cherkauer says that "real future problems could develop," underscoring, I think, the need for both cautious, detailed scientific and inter-governmental action and much better continuing reporting of these issues to the public.

Though it is a bit lengthy, here is the executive summary of Cherkauer's very readable report, dated September 17th, 2007. I have highlighted portions, in boldface.

When I get a link to the entire report, I will post it, though I have appended at the end two short sections indicating the breadth of problems that Cherkauer's report pinpoints:

"The City of Waukesha is considering the possibility of constructing a high capacity well or wells in the shallow aquifer beneath the Lathers property in the Town of Waukesha.

"They would extract an unknown amount of water (estimated to be between 1.5 and 3 million gallons per day or mgd) from the same aquifer used be nearby private well owners as their sole source of supply.

"The pumping will cause water level drawdowns and will alter the exchange of water between the shallow aquifer and nearby surface water bodies, most notably the Fox River and Vernon Marsh.

"Before such a project goes forward, a full assessment is needed of what the sustainable supply at this site is and what the impacts of the extraction will be. An analysis should also be undertaken of all available water supply alternatives for Waukesha to determine if this one is the best.

"This report presents an interpretation of the ground water conditions at the site based on the available information.

"The property lies above a bedrock valley filled with glacial sediments consisting of alternating and interwoven sand and gravel aquifer units and clay-rich barrier or aquitard units.

"It appears likely that the aquifer material extends underneath both the Fox River and the Vernon Marsh and that the unit to be tapped by the proposed well(s) is essentially the same aquifer used by nearby households.

"Within a year, drawdowns could be as much as 10 feet under the river and marsh. After 15 years, drawdowns could range from 20 to 25 feet at the nearest private wells, and from 33 to 38 feet at the river and the marsh.

"This indicates a very real probability that there will be significant impacts to private wells and northern portions of the Vernon Marsh complex which need to be fully assessed before the project proceeds.

"Effects on flow in the Fox River are not a concern, but the well could reverse ground water flow and draw river water into the aquifer, possibly altering aquifer water quality.

"These conditions suggest real future problems may develop. Three steps need to be taken to safeguard both the Town of Waukesha’s residents and their water resources:

"1. Monitor water levels regularly,
2. Expand on existing information, and
3. Establish an agreement with the City that, if they do proceed with wells at the site, they will fix problems they cause.

"Monitoring is needed to provide a better understanding of the ground water flow system and to allow the quantification of impacts from the proposed wells if they go forward. It should be undertaken as soon as possible.

"A well-designed aquifer test on the site will provide much of the information needed to predict future impacts. Coupling the results with a calibrated flow model will allow a good assessment of the magnitude and extent of the effects of the wells.

"The suggested agreement will be the only protection for homeowners in the Town of Waukesha, short of taking the City to court after a problem occurs.

"Such legal action is slow and acrimonious, while an amicable, cooperative agreement could produce rapid solutions to water supply problems."

Cherkauer, on the staff of UW-M's WATER Institute, is also a member of the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission's water supply advisory committee. That committee is writing a recommended plan to address several water supply issues in a seven-county region, including Waukesha.

City of Waukesha Mayor Larry Nelson has said the City would work out any problems with the Town if the water export plan created them.

That the City billed the Town $2,700 to meet the Town's request for information to help Cherkauer produce his report indicates how rocky is the relationship between the Town and the City - - a not uncommon circumstance between bordering communities in southeastern Wisconsin.

Two final items that I pulled from the full report that should not go unnoticed, which I have labeled "A" and "B." Both touch on past practices.

A. " Well inventory:

"An inventory of all the nearby wells has not been undertaken for this report. Such an inventory will be time consuming and will probably succeed in identifying only a small portion of the wells. A significant number of the well construction reports available from the WDNR could not be used in the creation of the cross sections because they had insufficient or inconsistent location information. Reports for other wells have either not been filed or have been lost over time."

B. "Does the City of Waukesha have other options in the shallow aquifer?

"Waukesha has examined a variety of possible locations for the construction of high capacity wells in the shallow aquifer (AS&T 2004, 2005 a to d, 2006 a to c, 2007 for example).

"Most of these lie outside the City limits. They are commonly on undeveloped, often agricultural lands.

"As part of the assessment of the viability of each site, a search is done for all the potential contamination sources within the distance from the site required by the Department of Natural Resources. There are often many, many such sources identified near these relatively rural test properties, mostly associated with nearby human development.

"It appears from these site assessments that society has not done a particularly good job in the past of protecting the shallow aquifer as a source of water supply.

"The City of Waukesha will either need to go outside its boundaries to find a suitable site for wells in the shallow aquifer, or they will need to remove the existing potential contamination sources and any associated contamination.

"This past track record also suggests that any new sites they develop for wells should be protected against future contamination, and it makes it difficult to imagine how this could be done if the City also allows development on these sites.

"The City has examined the possibility of using treated wastewater as a means of augmenting their water supply (CH2M-Hill, 2002). The idea was dismissed due to water quality concerns in favor of other sources.

"Waukesha's wells 11 and 12, however, may be in a position to draw some water from the Fox River. As they are located downstream from the wastewater plant's discharge point, the river water will contain treated wastewater. As suggested above, the same may be true if wells are developed on the Lathers site.

"In the materials provided by the City of Waukesha, there appears to be no consideration of augmenting recharge to the shallow aquifer with runoff from rainfall or snowmelt.

"This is another large volume source of water available for use, although it would likely need to be treated due to quality concerns associated with roadway and land surface chemical applications in developed areas."

A Sulfide Mine In the Upper Peninsula? Bad Idea

A bad idea if you love the Porcupine Mountains and Lake Superior, writes Eric Hansen in the Capital Times.

Bill Richardson On Water II

Saturday's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has a page-one story about presidential candidate and Democratic New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson's opinion that Great Lakes water could be shipped to the arid west.

Richardson made his remarks to a Las Vegas, Nevada newspaper.

The importance for Wisconsin readers is the damage that such water diversion could do to the Great Lakes, even as our legislature cannot craft a bill to adopt a compact with the other Great Lakes states that would make such diversions illegal.

Readers of this blog, however, already knew about Richardson's views, if they remembered this posting from five weeks ago as part of the blog's focus on Great Lakes water issues:

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Bill Richardson On Water

Democratic presidential hopeful Bill Richardson tells Nevadans that he would elevate water to cabinet-level importance.

That makes sense, since he's the Governor of arid New Mexico and is known as a big-picture thinker, though his thinking aloud about Wisconsin making water deals with arid states raises a heck of a lot of questions.

Posted by James Rowen at 1:56 PM

"Bush's Veto Lies" Column Headline Tells The Real Health Care Story

Turns out that the much-ballyhooed $83,000 eligibility income limit in the popular, bi-partisan health insurance expansion bill that Pres. George W. Bush vetoed...isn't in the bill after all.

So for those of you who said the whole story wasn't being told, even though this is not what you meant, well, now you know the rest of the story.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Officials Who Approved Mall Interchange Funding Have Some Explaining To Do

What did they know and when did they know it?

There's no way that officials at the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, the Waukesha County Board and County Executive's Office, and in the City of Oconomowoc hadn't heard the rumors about the possible collapse of the Pabst Farm mall plan while they went ahead and cut the deal to spend $25 million to build an interstate interchange to the now-scrubbed mall.

Officials are telling the Daily Reporter that they continue to support the interchange spending, either betting on the come that a mall substitute will materialize, or to service Big Box stores instead.

But the right questions to ask are: were you pitching this plan to the Waukesha County Board's executive committee earlier this week in favor of approving the county's $1.75 million share knowing the mall plan was shaky or dead?

And the same question needs to be answered by WisDOT.

I know that the legislature is consumed with budget deliberations, but this is certainly a matter for the Joint Committee on Finance to address, or perhaps the audit committee, too, because this entire fiasco raises fundamental questions about the way that a state agency finds and commits big dollars.

Good-bye Upscale Mall, Hello Big-Box Stores: What, a Targette?

So the other shoe drops, and the million-square foot upscale mall at Pabst Farms is toast.

That's good news for the regional small town commercial districts and mainstreets - - a subsidized mall 20 minutes away would have killed a lot of established businesses and devalued a lot of property.

But the rumored alternative to the lost mall - - once a key element in the entire Pabst Farm concept - - might be another Big Box store, or a grouping of same - - what Waukesha's Mayor Larry Nelson might call The Centre of Big Boxx Shoppes ?

(That's an inside joke: you'll have to click on the link.)

There is absolutely no way that local and state government taxpayers should spend tax money ripping up the Western Waukesha County landscape to build a free Diamond Interchange for that kind of development.

State, Waukesha County Highway Budgets Resemble Game Shows

Will the state transportation department continue to reserve more than $20 million for a Pabst Farm mall interchange so the project owners can woo a developer to an interchange-serviced site?

Is this how it works? Dangle the prize money and the developers come calling?

Will Waukesha County set aside $1.75 million for a mall developer, any developer, or for that matter, any big project planner, too?

Is public budgeting when highway spending is involved now an episode of "Oprah."

"You get an interchange! You get a TIF. You get a blank check? You get whatever you want," even if all the existing competing businesses established themselves in nearby towns and commercial districts without gobs of subsidies.

I-94 Raceway, Once You Get Out Of Milwaukee County

Spent the afternoon in Waukesha County and observed, for the umpteenth time, that traffic in the left lane bolts westward averaging 80 mph once you clear Brookfield.

A bit of guesstimating on my part, but I can tell based on my cruise control locked in 68 mph that traffic to my left leaves me in the dust.

Same phenomenon when you head towards Chicago: traffic move along dutifully near the speed limit past the airport, then boom: off to the races.

The word of mouth in this area has always been that speed enforcement in Jefferson County is much more aggressive than in Waukesha, and forget about speeding into Dane County near Madison, but on I-94 in Waukesha County, there seems to be minimal enforcement.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Widgerson Speaks Truth To Power

I had wondered when some Waukesha conservatives would see the folly in pouring more public subsidies into a privately-owned mall at Pabst Farms, and at the expense of existing businesses - - and blogger James Widgerson has come through with scintillating commentary, here.

Take the rest of the night off, James.

Pabst Farms Mall Builder Clearly Rethinking Malls

GGP, the developer of the Pabst Farms mall that appears to be pulling out of the project isn't much of a mall fan anymore, according to the company itself.

According to an article reprinted by the Congress for the New Urbanism, "GGP’s acquisitions, and an awareness of changing living patterns and widespread opposition to sprawl, have given the company a growing appreciation of mixed-use development. “We’re looking, going forward, at being a different company,” D’Alesandro told a CNU audience May 19."

GGP is sticking with a major project in St. Louis, an urban project - - 100% different than building on converted W. Waukesha County farmland.

The Congress for the New Urbanism is headed by former Milwaukee Mayor John O. Norquist, for whom I worked from 1996-2004.

Public Comment Period On the Pabst Farms Interchange Ends October 29th

Citizens can register their opposition to the proposed Pabst Farms mall highway interchange - - even as the mall developer appears to be pulling out of the deal - - through October 29th.

Details about how and where to register comments are here.

The comment process is being managed by the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission: ironically, its executive director emeritus, Kurt Bauer, who is still a SEWRPC consultant and chair of its water supply advisory committee, has said the Pabst Farms project conflicted with the original recommendations for the site in the commission's regional land use plan.

Spending more than $20 million in public funds to build an interchange to nowhere is a ridiculous step for government to take; it can be slowed down or stopped if enough taxpaying citizens say "no."

Don't Build The Interchange To Nowhere

So the developer of the million-square-foot upscale mall at Pabst Farms is pulling out; maybe asking them to pay 7% of the cost of the $25 million Diamond Interchange so shoppers could get to the mall was asking too much?

Rumors about this were circulating earlier this week.

If those developers don't think the area can sustain the mall, why should the state, county and City of Oconomowoc press ahead with the fast-tracked construction of the Interchange?

When it comes to planning in Western Waukesha County, this could actually be a good thing - - a moment to slow down and do some serious planning where the tail does not wag the dog.

Even Kurt Bauer, executive director emeritus of the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, has criticized the Pabst Farm project as an inappropriate use of agricultural land.

A little-publicized public comment period on the interchange plan ends October 29th: Details about how to send in comments are here.

The $25 million price tag for the interchange exceeds the amount of Tax Incremental Financing from local governments that went into the Pabst Farms project to begin with.

A recent discussion about how TIF should be used is available, here.

If the mall component conceived as part of the 1,500-acre housing and retail/commercial Pabst Farms complex is in such flux, government should step back and see if the private market is really committed to a mall construction, and on which site, and in what configurations.

And for the municipalities throughout the region to more carefully study Pabst Farms, and other developments and plans in the region, to see how they impact the region's land use, water, employment, housing, transportation and fiscal resources.

For example, Pabst Farms includes a hospital, a shopping center and other commercial buildings, along with hundreds of high-end single-family homes.

The mall would have added hundreds of additional relatively low-paying jobs to the entire project's commercial components, yet Pabst Farms has no transit service and no market-rate, apartment or multi-family housing for people who might work at Pabst Farms properties.

Is this planning?

Or is it emblematic of the reasons why the Waukesha County Board turned back the regional planning commission's latest long-range plan for the county as insufficient?

Until these questions are addressed in depth - - don't use public funds to build an interchange to nowhere.

What Are The Best Uses of TIF

Sean Ryan at Daily Reporter, one of the state's best reporters at an under-appreciated resource, summarizes the policy questions surrounding the spreading and controversial uses of Tax Increment Financing (TIF).

Without TIF, Pabst Farms would still be the prime agricultural land that the regional planning commission said was its recommended use: now it's a new city, the unofficial Capital of Sprawlville, which is the area west of Brookfield across Waukesha into Jefferson County, south into Walworth County, and north through the remaining scattered elements of the Kettle Moraine.

More on Pabst Farms here, as the mall component is collapsing there for which a new interstate interchange was being rushed to groundbreaking.

Is this what TIF was intended to do?

I think not.

Bush Child Insurance Veto Is The GOP 2008 Dagger

Some Republicans in Congress are as upset as Democrats over Pres. George W. Bush's veto of expanded health coverage for children.

The veto of this bi-partisan and popular measure will make it harder for Republicans to convince voters that there is anything remotely resembling a compassionate conservative in their party, handing Democrats another political leg up.

Another GOP stalwart, Pete Dominici of New Mexico, has announced that he will not run for re-election, as more and more Republicans step away from elections knowing they face defeat, or at best, a lonely and politically powerless life in the Congressional minority.

For Democrats and for the common good, November, 2008 can't come fast enough.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

A Club That Mary Lazich Might Join

States' rights advocates are getting together to plot a way out of the union that holds the country together.

State Sen. Mary Lazich, (R-New Berlin) and her states' rights allies in Ohio that are blocking the Great Lakes Compact over sovereignty complaints might find comfort there.

Tommy Thompson Is Mulling: Everyone Hold Your Breath

I can't take the suspense: Whom will Tommy Thompson endorse, and will Thompson's presidential supporters all ride in one car to the lucky endorsee's next event?

'Led' by Scott Walker, The Region Is Letting Transit Die

There's going to be a quick, $25 million ponied by the state and some junior partners so upscale shoppers can drive a direct route off I-94 to the Pabst Farms proposed glitzy mega-mall - - but Waukesha's County Executive Dan Vrakas and Milwaukee County's Scott Walker closed ranks against the region's lower-income residents and said "no" to a regional transit system.

The region's big-city Mayors, including Waukesha's Larry Nelson, want a regional transportation system because they run cities, where people of all classes and needs live, work, and require transportation options.

The crazy anomaly in the dysfunctional regional transportation non-system is that Walker is in charge of Milwaukee's buses, which he's willing to help drive into oblivion with fare hikes and service cuts because his private-sector-first mentality, if you can call it that, wishes upon a star that someday everyone will own a car, will have no use for the bus, and can happily motor on over to Mayfair, even to Pabst Farms.

The losers here are Milwaukee central city residents, many without access to a car, let alone to vehicle ownership, whom Walker wants to pay more of their already meager incomes for shrinking transit services - - services that will not take them to jobs in expanding suburbs that Walker's anti-city policies are helping to grow.

Milwaukee Aldermen Seek To Bar Certain Water Sale Negotiations

Four City of Milwaukee Common Council members have introduced a resolution to prohibit city negotiations with any community outside of the Great Lakes basin for the sale of city water until the Great Lakes Compact is adopted by all eight Great Lakes states and approved by the US Congress.

The text of the resolution, which indicates the resolution reinforces existing city policy, is here, and is sponsored by Alds. Michael Murphy, Michael D'Amato, Joseph Dudzik and Robert Bauman.

The impact of the resolution is unclear.

Adoption of the resolution could further slow the efforts of New Berlin to obtain a diversion of Lake Michigan water, and push New Berlin to find fresher sources of water either from another lakefront city, or by installing equipment on its existing wells that would remove naturally-occuring radium.

Ideally, however, it could serve as a wake-up call to state legislators whom, to date, have not moved with any urgency to consider and adopt a strong bill that will ensure what is the Compact's goal: sustainable water supplies in the entire Great Lakes region in perpetuity.

Rejection of the resolution would essentially enforce the status quo, which is that legal hurdles that existed in federal law since 1986 remain in place, barring any community's movement of Great Lakes water beyond the boundaries of the Great Lakes basin without the unanimous approval of all eight Great Lakes governors.

Earlier this year, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources gave the go-ahead to discussions between Milwaukee and the City of New Berlin for a potential water sale by Milwaukee to that portion of New Berlin that is west of, and outside of, the Great Lakes basin.

Observers said at the time that the DNR did not need to authorize such discussions, and did so to satisfy New Berlin that progress was being made on its quest for Lake Michigan water without actually granting that permission - - something that would surely rile both the City of Milwaukee and the other Great Lakes states, or scuttle the pending Compact altogether.

New Berlin has completed an application for such a diversion, but the DNR has not approved it (reviewed it, yes: approved it, no), in part because the Compact, which establishes first-ever rules and standards for such diversions, has not been approved by the Wisconsin legislature, and only the states of Illinois and Minnesota.

Approval by the Congress would come after all the Great Lakes states had approved versions of the Compact that were very similar, and did not have substantial changes from the draft Compact signed by all the Great Lakes Governors, and Canadian provincial premiers, at a Milwaukee ceremony in December, 2005.

Approval is going slowly in most of the states, including Wisconsin.

A year of discussions by a blue-ribbon panel in Madison to draft a bill to approve and implement the Compact for Wisconsin collapsed late this summer over objections from some Waukesha County legislators and business representatives.

They were led by State Sen. Mary Lazich, (R-New Berlin) and others who feel that the Compact's regional rule-and-decision-making gave other states too much power over Wisconsin communities' ability to easily tap into the Great Lakes.

Last year, the DNR sent New Berlin's first application for a diversion to the other Great Lakes states, where there was substantial, written opposition to the application's thoroughness and accuracy.

A subsequent and revised application got a favorable review by the DNR; the agency indicated that the application also had met the other states' earlier objections.

DNR officials said those other states' approvals were verbal; an Open Records request for the other states' reviews of the revised New Berlin application produced no documentation.

A Wisconsin Attorney General's opinion from December, 2006, indicated that the DNR did not have the authority to approve a diversion for a Wisconsin community outside of the Great Lakes basin without the approval of all the other states.

That is because such approvals are required by existing federal law and the spirit of the Compact, which was designed after years of multi-state and national negotiations to refine and replace the current federal legal standards.

Curiously, the Attorney General opinion has not been reported on by the traditional media.

It is unclear whether the review the DNR has said that the application has received would meet the Attorney General guidelines.

No public hearing has been held on the New Berlin application.

The Milwaukee resolution has been referred to a committee for initial consideration.

New Berlin has indicated its preference for purchasing Milwaukee water over installing radium-removal filtration or buying water from another lakefront community.

Any community agreeing to move Lake Michigan water to New Berlin would have to receive approvals from the DNR.

And until the Compact is approved, the Attorney General's opinion says approval from the other states is needed under the federal WRDA process.

All the more reason why New Berlin should be leading the charge in the legislature to get the Compact approved if it wants Lake Michigan water - - and why Sen. Lazich's obstructionism, at odds with the wishes of Jack Chiovatero, New Berlin's Mayor, is so bafflingly counter-productive.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Stunned Scientists Witness Arctic Heat Wave

The evidence of ongoing climate change is piling up - - literally - - but we still have an administration only engaged at the rhetorical margins, disconnected from reality, and basically unconcerned.

You can tell your grandchildren that the pivotal global warming years came after 2000, during the administration of a Texas oil man, George W. Bush..

That's was when the biggest consuming fossil-fuel and carbon dioxide emitting nation on the planet was guided by a secretly-drafted energy-gorging policy determined by an All Powerful Vice President Dick Cheney, a wealthy energy company insider, who famously observed that conservation was a "personal virtue...not a sound basis for a comprehensive energy policy."

About That State Budget...Can You Say "Fore" Instead?

When you consider the budget stalemate and all the other public issues that are stalled or moving backward in Wisconsin - - can you react with anything but disgust when you read the details about the following two golf fundraisers in the coming days for legislators, at $500-$700 a pop.

And while you're reading, ask yourself:

Who do you think attends these high-dollar events?

And why do you think legislators hold them?

First the Democrats:

"Save the Date," begins the invitation from the Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee (ADCC), sent via the Internets from a faithful blog reader.

"Thursday, Oct. 18, 2007

ADCC FALL CLASSIC GOLF OUTING

Edelweiss Chalet Country Club
W4764 Edelweiss Rd
New Glarus , WI

Registration 10:30 am – Shotgun start – 11:00 am – Buffet Reception 4 – 6 pm

$700 per player - $2500 foursome (includes golf, cart, sleeve of balls, practice balls, hole & team prizes, buffet reception)

Golf/Hole Sponsor - $3000 foursome / Hole Sponsor only, $750
Buffet Reception Only - $250

Conduit and Individual contributions accepted, no corporate or PAC contributions."

And not to be outdone, and in the bi-partisan spirit, let's tee off on a similar event for State Sen. Alberta Darling, (R-River Hills):

"Seventh Annual Darling Classic 10/2/2007

11:00 am The Bog, 3121 County Highway I, Saukville.

11:00 am Registration/Lunch

Driving Range Opens 12:00 pm

Shotgun Start 5:00-6:00 pm

Cocktail Reception & Award Ceremony $500 Golf and Reception (Includes all associated costs)

$100 Reception Only

$2000 Hole Sponsorship."

Bush Administration Finally Recognizes Environmental Degradation - - It's Caused By Illegal Immigrants

Hmm...so the worst thing that can be done to the environment is the trail of trash left behind by illegal immigrants?

Worse than, say...spilling oil in Alaska? Heating up the atmosphere and melting Greenland? Clear-cutting the rain forest?

Yes, apparently, the worst thing that can happen to the environment is littering, says Michael Chertoff, our Homeland Security chief.

Monday, October 1, 2007

CNN Video Shows Great Lakes Decline

CNN sent a reporter/pilot to the Great Lakes in both the US and Canada, and his report tells the story:

Water levels are declining, water and air temperatures are rising, and drought is adding to the problems.

Yet Wisconsin still has no Great Lakes Compact on its books or under consideration so it can do its part along with the other Great Lakes states and Canadian provinces to conserve these global and regional fresh water reserves.