Thursday, April 30, 2009

Area Officials Looking To Repair Giant State Pothole

There's a huge pothole in Madison, but it's in the minds of the managers at the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, (WisDOT), and not in the street that runs in front of their offices out at Hill Farms.

WisDOT wants to disregard the federal stimulus legal requirement that local transportation project spending be directed to economically-distressed populations.

Instead, WisDOT wants first to fund road and bridge work in upscale River Hills, Mequon and other Milwaukee-area suburbs, rather than in the City of Milwaukee, where the region and state's poverty is concentrated.

Tom Held of the Journal Sentinel brings us the latest chapter in this outrageous charade.

It's crazy that the Mayor of Milwaukee has to keep lobbying the local decision-making committee, and read to it the law and regional demographic data chapter and verse, to steer the local committee around the WisDOT pothole.

Actually, more like a sinkhole. It threatens to swallow millions is misdirected federal aid, to keep poor people unemployed, and to force Milwaukee to keep its degraded infrastructure unrepaired.

I think this has reached the point where the Governor has to step in and direct his transportation secretary to follow the law and use commonsense.

If Mequon and River Hills can get the first crack at stimulus dollars for economically-distressed communities, then the world has really gone mad.

Ideology, Connections Won Bush-Era Grants

More sleaze dribbling out.

Land In St. Francis Could Go Into Conservancy

Now that Cardinal Stritch University has backed out, there is an 87-acre parcel belonging to WE Energies back on the market.

Some background here.

With fundraising, state stewardship funds and perhaps a write-down by the utility, this special parcel could indeed become a preservation haven.

Conservative Makes Case For Transit

If you listen to local conservative talk radio, you'd get the impression that all conservatives think transit services are toxic.

And light rail? Fatal.

But here's an articulate, pro-transit argument written from the conservative point of view.

Public Sector Assumes More Costs At Pabst Farms

Ye who swear that development adds tax base per se, read further.

This time, the public sector, in the form of the City of Oconomowoc, is going to absorb the cost of building a fire station in the Pabst Farms development that had been assigned to the developer.

Oconomowoc already has invested millions of tax incremental financing dollars into streets, lights, sewer and water on to former ag land in the project, but housing starts and subdivisions have been suspended at Pabst Farms, and the long-touted upscale shopping mall there has been twice-postponed, is still without any tenants and construction, and may end up being a collection of big box stores.

Yet the State of Wisconsin Department of Transportation has already spent nearly $9 million acquiring land and preparing it to build an interstate interchange to serve the non-existent mall, having rushed the project forward on construction schedules even though it knew the mall was dead in the water.

This borders on scandal and insanity, yet WisDOT forges ahead with a $25 million Interchange to Nowhere project to which it will pay $22 million.

Like the state, I guess the city and its taxpayers have money to burn - - Oconomowoc has also pledged $400,000 in local dollars to the interchange, and Waukesha County - - apparently something of a developers' Welfare Haven - - is on the hook for a generous $1.75 million contribution, too.

The city's excuse is that the new Aurora Hospital on the south side of the project off I-94 is getting ready to open.


If Aurora thinks it needs a fire station closer than what is nearer the traditional city center on the other side of the interstate, let it pick up the tab.

Or go after the developer and make it pay for the fire station. Or let the developer and the hospital split the costs.

Not the taxpayers: they may loose their shirts on the initial public investment, and the people that bought into the community shoudl really be angry that now they have yet more bills to pay.

The fire station was part of the deal that allowed the hospital to be built - - a decision held up for years because its need in Western Waukesha County was dubious.

Now the area has an extra hospital, and added costs in a planned community where the housing and retail components are moribund.

Planning and building on 1,500 acres of farmland that drains to the underground water table has all sorts of hidden social and public expenses, but this latest waste of dollars and common sense is right out in the open.

Tom Foley Tweaks Jeff Wagner

A delightful posting that puts the Milwaukee radio talk show host Jeff Wagner in his place.

DNR Green-Lights Big Dairy Operation In Rosendale

Neighbors want a tighter permit.

And in light of today's headlines and breaking news, can you blame them?

On Stimulus Recommendations, WisDOT Is An Embarrassment

Again, the state's transportation department wants to spend money specifically designated for economically-distressed communities in River Hills, Germantown and other upper-income Milwaukee-area suburbs.

As I have said here before: enough is enough.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

City Of Mequon Municipalizes Its Water; Ends Privatization

Fed up with paying WE Energies a premium to supply its municipal water, Mequon ends the arrangement and will supply the city's water itself.

In the context of what may be in the pipeline in Milwaukee, just to the south, interesting.

Town Destroyed By Tornado, Goes Green

And not just because it's named Greensburg. Great story.

New Nukes Too Costly

Missouri project plan melts down, so to speak.

And kudos to the Daily Reporter on a nicely-redesigned website, where this story appears.

Development Specialist To Join SEWRPC May 4th

Milwaukee community development specialist Steven Adams will begin May 4th as Public Involvement and Outreach Manager at the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission.

It is a new position.

From Adams' profile on the social networking site Linkedin are some recent professional highlights:

Board Chairperson at Community Enterprises of Greater Milwaukee
Owner at Community Development Management Partnerships
Past Economic Development Manager at Riverworks Development Corporation
Public Works Dept.--Divisional Manager at City of Milwaukee
SEWRPC has had rocky relationships with some disadvantaged communities in recent years over agency policies, planning and employment, so Adams could be a key figure in SEWRPC work.

Specter's Party Switch Shows GOP's Isolation, Decline

Arlen Specter's switch to the Democratic Party is a sign that someone moderate-to-liberal is an alien in the modern GOP.

Republican true believers will ventilate that Specter is a traitor, and good riddance, etc., and worse, but the GOP is a small tent getting smaller.

Of course Specter is trying to hang on to his Pennsylvania Senate seat, so his motives are highly personal.

So what? That's politics.

What Specter realized was that he would probably lose in a primary to a more conservative candidate - - who would then get wiped out in the 2010 general election, since Pennsylvania, which went for Obama in 2008, is going to go Democratic again.

So why should he stick around in the GOP and sacrifice his career, and pretty decent voting record, to try and move his state's political party where it doesn't want to be - - the mainstream?

Under Bush/Cheney, the GOP crippled itself. Now it's on its way to the political graveyard as a noisy, but small fringe party - - strong in parts of the west and south and parts of places like Waukesha County, too - - too extreme to win national majorities.

Call this the resurrection of the Goldwaterites, circa 1964, who also drove the middle into the arms of the Democratic Party.

History repeats itself. Again. So be it.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Milwaukee Water Works Lease Could Involve More Than Its Management

It appears that I had not accurately described the potential scope of the City of Milwaukee Comptroller's proposal, and now ongoing study, to lease assets of the city's Water Works to private operators.

The Comptroller is studying whether to recommend approval of a 99-year lease to private operators of city water utility assets to create a trust fund that could supply revenue directly to the city's general fund.

In this posting - - based on my reading of the Comptroller's request for proposals due April 9th - - I had said what was up for potential leasing was the system's management in an arrangement similar to that now in place at the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District.

After some more analysis on my part, I began to conclude that I might have been underestimating the extent of the assets that could be leased, so I sent an email on April 22nd for clarification to officials at the Comptroller's Office, including to Comptroller W. Martin (Wally) Morics, a city-wide elected official.

Here is the email I sent, and then text of a letter I received today in response.

"Just trying to get a lay explanation of the assets that could be leased: Is this the management of the utility, a la the MMSD's contract with its current operator, or is this [leasing] of the actual physical assets of the utility - - treatment plants, pipes, pumps, infrastructure, billing services, etc?"
By letter April 27th, Morics' response does not rule out the broader leasing of assets I asked about in my email.

"Dear Mr. Rowen:

This letter is in response to your email of April 22nd to Wally Morics and Richard Li regarding questions surrounding the analysis of a potential City Water Works Public Private Partnership. The Comptroller's Office has received 17 proposals in response to the Water PPP Request for Proposal. We are in the process of conducting a detailed review of each proposal. Regarding your questions about the specific water facilities/assets involved and the related contractual arrangements, these are matters yet to be decided but within the scope of the analysis we are about to undertake. Any public information will be promptly posted on the Comptroller's Office page of the City of Milwaukee website."

So asset leasing beyond management is within the scope of the review, though no decisions or recommendations have been made - - action s that would need the approval of a majority of the Common Council, and the Mayor.

PA US Sen. Arlen Specter, (R), Now A (D)

Change is gonna happen now!

WisDOT Should Not Be Allowed To Disregard Federal Stimulus Law

Enough is enough:

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation wants to designate suburbs in the Milwaukee area eligible for stimulus funding that federal legislation says should be going first to economically distressed areas.

Meaning, in this region, Milwaukee, and to the east, certainly to Racine.

Not To Waukesha County, where the anti-government region now wants all the federal money it can commandeer, and not to places like Germantown, or to other suburbs to which WisDOT seems willing to give priority because projects may be shovel ready.

So are the potholes in Milwaukee's streets - - where people in huge numbers are out of work.

The stimulus bill says:

"Provided further, That in selecting projects to be carried out with funds apportioned under this heading, priority shall be given to projects that are projected for completion within a 3-year time frame, and are located in economically distressed areas as defined by section 301 of the Public Works and Economic Development Act of 1965, as amended (42 U.S.C. 3161). . .”
Here is how chapter 42, section 3161, of the U.S. Code defines economically distressed communities that are in larger, non-distressed areas, of which the cities of Milwaukee and Racine, unfortunately, certainly are.
"(b) Political boundaries of areas
An area that meets 1 or more of the criteria of subsection (a) of this section, including a small area of poverty or high unemployment within a larger community in less economic distress, shall be eligible for assistance under section 3141 or 3149 of this title without regard to political or other subdivisions or boundaries."
WisDOT should not be allowed to play fast and loose with the law, and with people's well-being in southeastern Wisconsin's most economically-distressed communities.

Enough is enough.

Some background here.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Online Maps Shows Potential Alternative Power Grids

Very cool map and accompanying functions.

Kohl's Wins National Green Recognition, But...

Good for Kohl's Department Stores for being recognized for its green power purchasing.

Now if they would adjust the business model and start locating new stores on transit lines, not on big-box-exurban lots - - its green profile could get even better.

Fine Print, Skewed Interpretations Block Milwaukee From Stimulus Funding

Fine reporting in the Journal Sentinel today explaining why Racine and Milwaukee, where the state and region's poor are concentrated, are getting shafted in the distribution of federal transportation funding.

We saw this a few weeks ago, when regional planners tried to make River Hills and other upper-income suburbs priority designations for regional transportation stimulus spending - - even though Milwaukee should have taken precedence because it is an economically distressed area that stimulus legislation says is priority #1.

The bigger picture here is that Wisconsin's Department of Transportation continues to see Milwaukee as a trucking corridor, so the WisDOT priority is pouring money into the interstate system.

And the regional planning commission is still dominated by suburban staff, commissioner representatives and spending goals.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

I 'Upgraded' My Time Warner Service: What Was I Thinking?

A few days ago I added a land line for faxes and to knock down the number of cell phone minutes we pay for - - and also added some other features, too, but - - no phone, Internet or TV service since Saturday.

And the service tech didn't show up today during the scheduled three-hour window, 5- 8 p.m., that a Time Warner person told us Sunday morning was our slot.

And maybe sooner, she said.
Now the word is Tuesday.

So here I am online at a local Internet hot-spot, which is great, but my Time Warner upgrade definitely feels like a downgrade.

[Monday update: Back online today at a loaned office: After a 38-minute call to Time Warner this morning with five different people (and thanks to that supervisor who transferred me to phone sales), there is a promise that someone will come out today - - at an unspecified time. We'll see. Had to laugh when today's mail brought a flyer from AT&T that said: "James - - You Deserve Better Cable Service."]

[Final final update: 3 p.m. Monday. Things back to 'normal' through some telephone signal adjustments without the service call - - though it never did get scheduled for today, Monday, and apparently had been set for Tuesday, 5-8 p.m. Since things are working, and the service rep said that there was nothing that a tech could do at the house that was better than what had been restored by phone, I agreed to cancel the Tuesday appointment. I did tell the service rep on the phone I was agreeing to give up the Tuesday appointment doing this against my better judgement because I had no faith that the service would stay restores. I will switch providers is there is a repeat service failure.]

[Here's another update: Tuesday arrived, and we have no phone, no TV, slow Internet. Burning up more cell phone minutes calling TW again. The Tuesday appointment was restored, and when the tech got here, he confirmed that the signal coming from the box on the pole was too weak, and a different tech would come with a fix on the pole in 24-72 hours.]

Hence. More waiting. Heavy cell phone call demands, as family emergencies and other important things, along with routine work and regular life, all seem to come at the same time.

[Thursday afternoon: Still waiting. We're closing in on the 48-hour marker, and still no fix on the pole, no phone, no TV, problematic Internet. As I said, this was all to buy added services and features - - turbo speed Internet, more TV options, and a land line that has been dead since Saturday - - and today is Thursday.

Some upgrade. What was I thinking?]

[Friday afternoon: 12:30 p.m. That 72-hour window is closing. Still no phone. Internet slower than old-fashioned dial-up. TV working. So that weak signal - - if any of that is true - - can't get the three services working at the same time. This bundling three-in-one is what TW is hawking. All in all: ridiculous.]

GOP Death Wish

Politically, it's a pleasure to see Dick Cheney casting his dark, pro-torture shadow across the face of the leaderless, rudderless Republican Party.

Polls show most Americans intelligently do not support torture, and the lawlessless from which it emerged.

Some memos and photos of torture are hardly the end of the documentation likely to surface about the Bush era; more will come out about its disregard for clean air and fresh water, or corrupt military contracting, unjustifiable Justice Department manipulations and in other areas where the law was skirted or broken.

I'm waiting for Republicans to make a clean break with the Bush administration, as some of their more moderate members must know that without a new vision and positive agenda, their party is headed for further electoral defeats and more obvious marginalization.

Neumann Is A Big Problem For Walker

Former Cong. Mark Neumann's declared intention to run in the 2010 GOP gubernatorial primary is a big problem for Scott Walker, Milwaukee's County Executive and the other wannabe candidate.

Neumann is a flat-out conservative ideologue, which means he has more appeal to the intensely-right wing base of the party.

Walker has cobbled together some conservative fiscal credentials, but Neumann has those and also corners the social conservatives - - and the more Walker runs towards that crowd, the further he moves from some moderate business sector voters in his Milwaukee County base.

To win the GOP nomination, it's a run to the right: For Neumann, not even a stroll, but for Walker, more of a sprint - - then a constant dance to walk that walk.

A messy metaphor, but you get the point. Walker will be in constant motion to spin his way through the primary, while Neumann will simply be Neumann

In a primary, advantage Neumann.

But in a statewide general election, disadvantage Neumann, because Wisconsin is no where nearly as conservative as he is.
He lost a run against Sen. Russ Feingold, and Barack Obama's landslide victory just last November gives Democrats momentum going forward.

I'm not taking anything for granted, but I think it's reasonable to assume that Neumann hurts Walker in the GOP base, but that strength parlays into vulnerability statewide, where few voters joined the teaparties, or define themselves as far to the edge as do Neumann's true-believing core.

[Adding the blogger MAL Contends commentary here.]

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Santiago Staying: Now The Reconciliation...

So Florida International U. went in-house for its next President, leaving UW-Milwaukee's chancellor Carlos Santiago as the #2 finalist.

These are the risks of public searches, for sure, but I'm betting that Milwaukee will re-embrace Santiago and try to make him happier here with a bumped-up compensation package.

If the private sector boosters want Santiago to stay and pursue his campus research goals, they will have to step up with arrangements to make that happen.

OWI Enforcement Stepped Up - - Belatedly And Temporarily

Lots of hoopla Friday over the beginning Saturday of a targeted effort to catch drunk drivers.

Wisconsin is woefully behind other states in OWI legislation, so enforcement in the state suffers, too.

The crackdown, focused on better coordination and communication among police agencies, is timed to begin on the one-year anniversary of a high-profile crash in Oconomowoc, allegedly caused by a repeat OWN offender, that killed pregnant school teacher Jennifer Bukosky and her daughter Courtney Bella.

The program gets more publicity because it is tied to the anniversary of the Oconomowoc crash, but this effort and other alternatives could have been underway months, even years ago.

What will follow this every-other Saturday intensified effort, scheduled in the area into June?

Better laws? Tougher enforcement? Political leadership?

I doubt it.

The legislative process in Wisconsin is distorted by powerful alcohol lobbies and institutional thoughtlessness that coddles drunken drivers and makes life cheap on our highways.

Friday, April 24, 2009

First Solar-Powered Electric Vehicle Station Is In Chicago

Move over Portland. Or San Francisco: Chicago opens the country's first solar-powered electric vehicle charging station.

We may be annoyned by our neighbors to the south, with their Cubbies and toll-roads, but their Mayor Daley takes his environmentalism seriously and Chicago - - with a fleet of electric vehicles that will use the station - - keeps raising the bar for the rest of us.

Hat tip: MM.

Horrible Violence, Again, In Iraq

Can we have less of those "victory" claims, please, and more cognition about what it is that we let loose on that country?

The Associated Press says that more than 110,000 Iraqi civilians have died since Shock and Awe came their way.

Earth Day McIlheran Column Is Disposable

You may recall that Patrick McIheran, the Journal Sentinel's in-house conservative columnist, used Earth Day to pooh-pooh all this pesky concern about pollution.

His column is here.

McIlheran found an environmental skeptic who said all the un-recycled garbage created in the US for the next century isn't much to worry about.

Here's how McIlheran put it - - though when you click on the source link at "each side," you get the entire text of a 400+-page book:

"There's no shortage of space for it, say the government's own regulators. Americans now recycle a third of their garbage. Much of what's thrown out takes up less space than it used to because packages are thinner. A dump holding all of America's garbage for the next century would only be a square 10 miles on each side."

And how tall might that pile be?

Maybe the answer is in the book. Or not.

[Online, I find that there is a spirited debate over the value of this oft-cited 10-square-mile trash estimate, originated in 2001 by Bjorn Lomborg, a Dutch statistician, which apparently includes the depth of the big pile: 255 feet.]

Lomborg and McIlheran aside - - here's another statistical estimate: there is a mass, heavy on plastic, that floats permanently in the Pacific Ocean trapped by currents - - and is also connected to another such "patch" in the Atlantic - - covering in the Pacific between 700,000 and 15 million square kilometers.

Even I can do that math, with a kilometer being 5/8ths of a mile - - and that mass is a lot more than ten square miles.

Sure: I know that a lot of that floating plastic didn't originate here, and yes, it's out of sight, out of mind, perhaps - - but it's our planet, and we eat fish from that trashed ecosystem.

No newspaper has been more focused on the health perils of plastic than the Journal Sentinel, with its award-winning reportage by Suzanne Rust and Meg Kissinger.

They get the big picture.

Having worked at the paper, and been raised in a journalism family, I recognize the value of varied voices in media.

But the paper's reporting on this issue certainly isolates McIlheran, or at least ironizes him.

More here about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

MATC Wants To Turn "Blue Hole" Green

Cool proposal.

Transit Experts Convening April 29th At Racine Conference

Looks like a good program.

Rail expansion is coming to Wisconsin; great to see dedicated folks laying the groundwork early.

Energy Industries Sandbagged Their Own Global Warming Science

Talk about fouling the air.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Walker's Campaign Stunt Provokes Call For Probe

We'll see if fact-finders can find anything but politics in Milwaukee County Executive and presumptive gubernatorial candidate (we'll know Friday for sure!) Scott Walker's taxpayer-paid statewide morotcycle jaunt.

I'd love to see some proof that actual tourism somehow developed from previous rides, as claimed by Walker reps.

Story here.

Quadgraphics Gives Conservancy Group, Public, A Valuable Easement

Nice gesture by the company. Details here.

Milwaukee Riverkeeper Gets Central Park Planning Grant

$30,000 in state coastal management grant funding goes to the good folks at Milwaukee Riverkeeper, and its allies, who are working to preserve 800 acres along the Milwaukee River in what is known as Central Park as the river moves through the city's east side.

Cool project: I remember when former Ald. Mike D'Amato pushed through the zoning changes that meant Central Park would be a reality. It was a nice partnership with advocacy at the grassroots.

Whitney Gould, prior to her retirement from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, wrote a great piece about the project.

Details from the state:

Project Name: Master Plan for Recreation and Natural Resource Management in Milwaukee's Central Park

Applicant: Milwaukee Riverkeeper

Grant Amount: $30,000.00

This project will develop a master plan for recreational usage and environmental restoration of 800 acres that are adjacent to the Milwaukee River and which are currently protected by a zoning overlay district.

More information through Milwaukee Riverkeeper project coordinator Ann Brummitt.

Earth Day Posting Ignores Climate Change

The issues are a lot more serious and insidious than one conservative writer's posting about "dirty" pollution - - because greenhouse chemicals and toxins are often invisible.

That's why you can have progress on cleaning up air pollution - - through government regulation, let's not forget - - but still have harmful levels of soot that harm your lungs.

And a greenhouse effect that is melting polar ice, with serious consequences for nationa' shorelines, for example.

Environmentalism is about more than trash collection, as the author of the posting must know.

The Right loves to mock Earth Day activities, and deny that climate change is taking place.

How will they react when there are dirty alerts this summer in Milwaukee. making one think twice about a job along the lakeshore, or an outing with the kids to the park?

They'll say the standards and rules are too tough - - even though without the Clean Air Act, there would have been little progress in the US towards safer air.

Walker's Campaign Turns To Grandstanding

No: he isn't going to ride around the state on the handlebars of his Harley.

Just trying to resolve (sic) a dispute with the state by threatening to sue.

Swapping Oil Company Taxes For Traditional Gas Taxes Puts GOP On The Hook

The GOP has blasted the proposed oil company tax proposed by Gov. Jim Doyle.

So if the GOP wants their precious highway expansions, they'll have to vote for fresh gas tax, perhaps three cents or more a gallon.

Cutting the highway budget would relieve this pressure, but no one is willing to do what's logical, so now the game is to make someone bear the political burden of raising taxes.

My guess is that the GOP will take the bait.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Invasive Species Rules Are Good For The Great Lakes: Now How About Those Conservation Rules, Too?

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources approved first-time, tough rules to regulate invasive species in the Great Lakes.

Great step forward.

Now how about applying the same rule-writing process towards the Great Lakes Compact, too - - in other words, writing the rules called for in Wisconsin's Great Lakes Compact implementing bill of 2008, and then reviewing applications for diversions under the Compact?

MerleFest Music Link Available Thursday

Thanks to the miracles of the Internets, a legendary bluegrass fest that begins tomorrow in North Carolina is available online Thursday.

MerleFest opens Thursday and you can listen to the greats, here.

History of the festival is here.

So tomorrow, blogging and bluegrass: what could be more better?

Environmental Journalism Returning To Journal Sentinel

Don Behm provides a fascinating account of how controlled burns and other management practices are literally creating valuable habitat acreage in Southeastern Wisconsin.

Great piece.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Waukesha Concedes It Wants Great Lakes Water For Growth

So says the Journal Sentinel in a story about a new, radium-free well.

The relevant information:

" water consumption has shown steady decreases in recent years as the city pursues conservation measures, including summer lawn and garden sprinkling restrictions. The city also has implemented a water rate structure that penalizes residences with higher consumption and is seeking state permission to expand the rate structure.

"The city is seeking to demonstrate a commitment to conservation as it considers pursuing the purchase of Lake Michigan water."
The Great Lakes Compact says diversions from the Great Lakes are to address public interest circumstances that have no other remedy.

Growth is not considered such a need: Waukesha's claim to a diversion just got harder to justify.

[Late Monday morning add: Let me also link to an earlier post wherein I discussed the existing obstacles to Waukesha's diversion application and the Department of Natural Resources signalled willingness to review it without its administrative rules in place. Given Waukesha's admission that it wants diverted Great Lakes water for growth, and can now provide water without a diversion that complies with the federal radium standard, it's apparent that the DNR absolutely needs to get its house in order before green-lighting an application from Waukesha that's getting less defensible by the minute.]

Maybe Cheney & Co. Shouldn't Have Complained So Loudly

Pres. Barack Obama initially said he didn't support legal action against those who perpetrated the abuses at Guantanamo. Time to say what happened, and move on.

Then former Veep Dick Cheney, who seemed to think he still has some leverage, blasted Obama's actions, and now the administration is saying, well, maybe we need to hold accountable those who set the whole torture process in motion.

Maybe Cheney and his cronies should have keep their mouths shut?

Santiago's Escape Plan To Florida Undercuts Local Efforts

It's not earth-shaking news that UW-Milwaukee's chancellor Carlos Santiago is vying for the top post at Florida International University, in Miami.

Nancy Zimpher before him bolted in 2004 to Cincinnati: college and university administrators are usually looking for greener pastures and bigger territories to manage, and Santiago would more than double his $300,000 UW-Milwaukee annual salary if he gets the Florida post.

And he has family and other links to Florida, so if you're Santiago, it makes perfect sense to go for it.

Santiago, however, is in the middle of ambitious expansion plans in Milwaukee and its environs, and has convinced the state and donors to contribute heavily to new, research-oriented programs; his unequivocal signal that he wants to be elsewhere does undercut his planning as long as he's here.

No one likes to feel as if they were merely a stepping stone, thus stepped on.

24-Hour Earthcast09 Available On-Line

For the second year, the Internet will bring a 24-hour Earthcast about Earth Day to your screen.

Details here.

Housing Trust Fund Meeting Set For Wednesday In Waukesha

People pressing for the creation of a Waukesha Housing Trust fund are meeting Wednesday night.

Details here.

Looks like another Earth Day event to me, in that 'think-globally, act-locally' frame of mind.

Monday, April 20, 2009

State Of City Address In Waukesha: Expect Compact Application Hype

I expect we'll hear more fast-track messaging about a Lake Michigan diversion plan for Waukesha Tuesday from Mayor Larry Nelson.

Pressure from Waukesha to forge ahead with the diversion application is one reason why the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is considering accepting the application for study before it has its rules in place that define what an application should include, how it will be reviewed, and what a water return flow plan will include.

Talk about the tail wagging the dog...and putting Great Lakes regional cooperation at risk.

Extensive Water-Boarding: We Need An Investigative Commission

Maybe you can make a case that low-level torturers shouldn't be charged - - though it would seem that the Nuremberg precedents say otherwise - - but the people at the top who issued the orders and crafted the twisted legal protections for the operatives and hundreds of water-boarding episodes absolutely need to be brought to justice.

The first step is an independent commission, with subpeona power.

Energy Savings And Climate Protection Can Be Achieved: US Energy Secretary

One major consequence of Barack Obama's election: the Nobel Prize winning Dr. Steven Chu has been named Energy Secretary, and his recent Newsweek interview about energy savings and climate protection shows that the country now has a fully-engaged scientist in a most important job.

Consider this one small section of that interview. Said Chu:

"We now make refrigerators that are four times more energy-efficient than the refrigerators of 1975—for half the inflation-adjusted cost. The energy we save with these refrigerators is more than all of the wind and solar photovoltaic energy we produce in the United States today. Just refrigerators."

Bottle Rocket, Not Shooting Star: Scott Walker's Anticlimatic Campaign Announcement

Surprise, surprise...not: Scott Walker will announce his run for Wisconsin Governor.

Has there been a less stimulating, and more telegraphed political punch in Wisconsin - - ever - - and one that carries the sting of a jab thrown by "The Simpson's" Mr. Burns?

Update: Jim Klasuer , former Gov. Tommy Thompson's former Department of Administration Secretary, is signalling that the Thompson money and organization should shift to prospective candidate Mark Neumann.

Neumann is a former very-far rightwing member of Congress whose seat is now held by Paul Ryan, with a statewide loss to US Senator Russ Feingold on the Neumann resume.

Klauser was Thompson's alter ego, unofficial Deputy Governor, lead strategist and fund-raiser (his wife was the Thompson campaign treasurer), and is deeply embedded in the upper echelons of Wisconsin's private sector and the Waukesha County GOP base.

In other words: where the money is.

I'd say the GOP is heading for a primary blood letting, with Walker likely again to lose a primary struggle, as he did the last time around to what was exposed as a weak candidacy put forward by then-Green Bay Congressman Mark Green.

Poor Walker: trapped in a job he never really wanted to solve - - Milwaukee County Executive - - but with over-reaching ambition, and when all is said and done, another electoral smack down on the way.

Advantage, Doyle.

DNR Should Celebrate Earth Day by Writing Water Diversion Rules

Wednesday is the 39th Earth Day - - an international event begun by former US Senator Gaylord Nelson - - and there will be events and speeches galore across the state.

Which is appropriate - - as is the schedule of Earth Day activities to be undertaken by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

What better day could there be for the DNR to announce that it will write administrative rules to govern diversions from the Great Lakes to Wisconsin communities - - a process called for in the eight-state, regional Great Lakes Compact of 2008 - - to make sure there are understandable procedures, required conservation planning and other regulations in place before the DNR approves any diversions?

The DNR, with New Berlin's application at the agency, and Waukesha's in preparation, has said it believes it has the authority to review and approve these applications prior to the writing of its rules.

Of course, the DNR knows better.

It knows that putting rules in place after decisions are implemented is backwards, and, in fact has said when it comes to controlling invasive species in the Great Lakes, it very much wants to get rules in place now, without waiting for more damage to occur.

The DNR's crucial role in Wisconsin's economy and quality of life revolves around stewardship of natural resources.

And the Great Lakes Compact is at the center of relations among the eight Great Lakes states, and with the two Canadian provinces that also border these international bodies of fresh water - - the largest on the planet.

If the DNR really wants to celebrate Earth Day, it should announce it takes seriously its responsibilities under the Compact and Wisconsin law, and will create the necessary legal structure to guarantee that science and public input will trump politics and expediency when it comes to scrutinizing applications to move water out of the Great Lakes basin.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

State Highway Project Not Paved With Good Intentions

Actually, with less concrete than was billed. Details here.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

After Tea Bag Day, A Few Thoughts...

I've noticed the last couple of days that the sky had not fallen, though that Communist/Fascist/Extremist/Foreigner Barack Obama was still President.

And I enjoyed a nice cup of tea Friday afternoon, reassured to discover that tea was once again a simple beverage, not a Fox News-sponsored commodity.

The stock market went up again Friday, and even the Midwest had warm sun.

Not a bad day. Over and out.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Midge Miller Led A Model Life

Former state legislator and Dane County political leader Midge Miller passed away this morning.

It's a loss for a huge network of friends and allies in Madison, statewide and across the country, but Midge always set the highest standard and leaves an unparalleled legacy.

We send our best to her family, and we consider ourselves fortunate to have known her.

Let's Get A Milwaukeean In The State Stimulus Office

There's a vacancy; let's expand that office's perspective to the state's largest city.

Cognitive Dissidence Blog Exposes Scott Walker, Again

Mr. Walker makes it easy.

SEWRPC Rewards Another Retired Executive Director With Nifty Perks

Somehow I missed a Dan Bice item last month documenting the tailored retirement package the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission laid on former Executive Director Philip Evenson who retired in December:

Two days of consulting a week (though my sources say it's more like three or four, but who's counting?) and the right to buy the 2006 Chrysler Town and Country van which the agency had assigned him from the motor pool.

It's a small agency, with a small motor pool. Why Evenson just had to have that particular used van is, well, odd.

I have blogged about the way SEWRPC treats its insiders and senior staffers, behaving more like a private business than a public agency; other employees have been able to buy vehicles, and lotteries are held to give away perfectly fine and working Dell computers.

In that posting, here, Evenson himself says that employees sometimes are allowed to buy old vehicles, but a retiring boss' preference isn't cited as a reason.

The Evenson deal is reminiscent of the long, no-bid consulting contract SEWRPC renews annually with Kurt Bauer, Evenson's predecessor and SEWRPC's first Executive Director dating to the eraly 1960's: A gas-guzzling Ford Crown Victoria, $6,500 monthly, and an office.

In fact, when rumors began circulating last year that Evenson would retire, I said in a March, 2008 posting that Evenson could end up back at SEWRPC after his retirement as a full-time employee

So there's really no such thing as retirement from the senior position at SEWRPC - - now both former executive directors are back on the premises, where they can continue to meet in their second-floor offices in the morning, then go to lunch.

Here is the text of Dan Bice's item:

Retirement gift
It's no longer enough to give high-ranking public employees just a pension and a party when they leave.

Now, it seems, they are also entitled to a lucrative consulting deal.

Phil Evenson stepped down as head of the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission late last year. Then last month his successor, Ken Yunker, hired Evenson as a $50-per-hour part-time staffer through June 30.

That's good coin in the middle of a recession.

Yunker, the longtime deputy director under Evenson, said recently that his predecessor will not receive any fringe benefits while putting in two days a week at the regional agency. Among other things, the former boss will be responsible for upgrading the commission's Web site and overseeing new aerial photography of the seven-county region.

"Frankly, I'm stretched a little too thin," Yunker said.

He earns $122,700 annually.

Most Texans Do Not Want to Secede

75% want to remain Americans, according to a Rasmussen poll - - so let's end this stupid conversation, Gov. Perry.

Not a surprise. Becoming "Teaxas" would cost a lot of money to raise an army, patrol the border, deliver the mail, pay for highways, staff embassies and cover the rest of the costs of nationhood - - after the litigation.

Scott Walker's Hypocrisy Is Grist For Dan Bice

Where Walker's stimulus double talk gets ground exceedingly fine.

Don't Flush Pharmaceuticals: Collection Available Saturday

A coalition of groups and the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District this Saturday, April 18th, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. is hosting four regional collection sites that will help keep pharmaceuticals out of our water supply.

Drugs that are poured down the drain or flushed end up in Lake Michigan, which provides drinking water to the lakefront counties and other communities; residents there don't want trace amounts of your Viagra, vicodin, birth control pills or other drugs in the water supply.

Details on the collection are here, and some additional background, here.

Climate Change And Science: What Geological Experts Say

Someone leaving a comment on a previous posting about climate change quoted the Geological Society of America, so I went to the group's website to read the position statement for myself.

Here is the text:

Position statement
The Geological Society of America (GSA) supports the scientific conclusions that Earth’s climate is changing; the climate changes are due in part to human activities; and the probable consequences of the climate changes will be significant and blind to geopolitical boundaries. Furthermore, the potential implications of global climate change and the time scale over which such changes will likely occur require active, effective, long-term planning. GSA also supports statements on the global climate change issue made by the joint national academies of science (June 2005), American Geophysical Union (December, 2003), and American Chemical Society (2004).

GSA strongly encourages that the following efforts be undertaken internationally:
(1) adequately research climate change at all time scales, (2) develop thoughtful, science-based policy appropriate for the multifaceted issues of global climate change, (3) organize global planning to recognize, prepare for, and adapt to the causes and consequences of global climate change, and (4) organize and develop comprehensive, long-term strategies for sustainable energy, particularly focused on minimizing impacts on global climate.


The geologic record provides a direct measure of the frequency, range, and duration of significant global climate changes throughout Earth’s history. Natural phenomena and processes have caused significant alterations of Earth’s climate. Of significance to the issue of modern global climate change are the interpretations of the geologic record showing that the rate of change in atmospheric composition, especially with respect to carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, is unprecedented in Earth’s recent history. Specifically, the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere is higher than at any time in the past 650,000 years, and probably higher than at any time in the past 30 million years. In addition, the geologic record shows that global climate change can have significant consequences to Earth’s life systems, with effects ranging from global modification of ecosystem distribution to large-scale extinctions. Because the geologic record provides the important archive of the consequences of global climate changes and harbors examples of icehouse-greenhouse transitions potentially analogous to modern climate change, the current nature and magnitude of global climate change should be evaluated in the context of Earth’s full geologic record.

Many earth-science disciplines contribute to the scientific and public understanding of the complex, global climate change issue, including sedimentary geology, Quaternary geology, geochemistry, paleontology, and paleohydrology, in addition to oceanography and atmospheric sciences. The understanding of the full spectrum of magnitudes and rates of climate change over geologic time provides boundary conditions for evaluating any human impacts on climate and for producing more reliable predictions of the extent of future climate change. In addition, understanding of active geologic processes provides invaluable information to better understand and monitor ongoing climate change and to develop approaches for adapting to the consequences of climate change. Earth scientists also contribute to research on carbon capture and storage — potential methods for preventing atmospheric carbon dioxide from building up as a result of the burning of fossil fuels and biomass and the production of cement and lime.

Current predictions of the consequences of global climate change include: (1) rising sea level, (2) significant alteration of global and regional climatic patterns with an impact on water availability, (3) fundamental changes in global temperature distribution, (4) melting of polar ice, and (5) major changes in the distribution of plant and animal species. While the precise magnitude and rate of climate change cannot be predicted with absolute certainty, significant change will affect the planet and stress its inhabitants.

In summary, the geologic record, from both near- and deep time, is a sensitive indicator of the magnitude and extent of global climate change over time and the potential consequences of such changes. Furthermore, knowledge of geologic processes is fundamental to identifying and developing effective measures to mitigate any impact on global climate due to human activities (for example, future energy production and utilization).


The GSA adopts this statement as a reflection of our institutional and individual commitment to the following:

Given the importance of integrating information from a variety of scientific disciplines to understand and predict effects of global climate change, GSA issues the following challenges to global policy makers, funding agencies, the scientific community, and the GSA membership at large.

Climate change science and policy needs to further incorporate an earth-science perspective. Significant research remains to be done to understand the causes and consequences of global climate change, formulate sustainable energy strategies and policies for the future, and adapt to changes in Earth’s climate. Appropriate and sustained funding should be made available to address these research issues.

As policy makers address the issue of global climate change, the scientific community needs to continue to provide objective science as a basis for policy decisions.

GSA members should work actively to communicate with the general public and policy makers regarding the importance of earth-science research and publication to the global climate change dialogue.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

High-Speed Rail In Midwest, Through Wisconsin, Moves Forward

Midwest High-Speed rail, with a Chicago hub and Wisconsin service, makes the initial cut in President Barack Obama's announced plan to put America's lagging passenger rail service on the faster track.

Ten potential corridors nationally will compete for billions over the next five years, with the initial infusion totalling $9 billion.

The Midwest plan should get some funding, as Obama hails from Chicago, and the Midwest effort builds on a grassroots movement and existing successes, like the Hiawatha run between Milwaukee and Chicago.

Said the Detroit Free Press Washington, DC bureau:

"The White House replaced a plan for funding investment in high speed rail, identifying 10 corridors which could receive federal funding. Among them are:

"• A Chicago Hub network, which Obama called “something close to my heart” in reference to his adopted hometown, linking much of Midwest, including Toledo and Detroit with Chicago, Milwaukee, Minneapolis-St. Paul, St. Louis, Kansas City, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Louisville, Ky."
Great news - - the US needs modern rail to offer alternatives on short-to-medium inter-city trips - - but Wisconsin and Dane County planners are going to have to find a better location to maximize the value of a Madison stop.

Especially if the Midwest rail initiative is pegged to Chicago's 2016 Olympic Games bid: Madison wants to host cycling events, but would ticket-holders want to board a train in Chicago - - and get deposited at Madison's airport?

The Madison connection is mentioned in this CNN story, here, [and there's been a nice Capital Times piece with photo on its website since this afternoon, but I'm adding this update at 9 p.m. Thursday night and I still don't see anything about this development at].

Current plans have the station at the Dane County Regional Airport, which is good for travelers heading north and west to Minneapolis, and beyond, but defeating ridership to Milwaukee or Chicago.

The decommissioning of Madison's downtown train station at W. Washington Ave just a few blocks from the Capitol Square is just another chapter in the sad saga of city train station closures nationally, but I'm betting that Madison, Dane County and state government can find a better option than the airport.

I'd look on the near east side, below the Square, where there are train connections near the MG&E plant, for example.

Could be a real boost for the downtown: time to get creative.

Early Pabst Farms Mall Developer In Bankruptcy

The now bankrupt-General Growth's 2007 pullout from the Pabst Farms project should again be a wake-up call to those still believing that there is mall potential at that Western Waukesha County development.

General Growth also operates Mayfair Mall, in Wauwatosa, and a host of malls in the Chicago area. Nationally, it is the nation's number-two mall operator.

Some big-boxes huddled together at Pabst Farms in a strip mall with mega-parking lots - - maybe (though those come and go, a la Circuit City - - but General Growth bailed out of the initial, and now-dead upscale "lifestyle center" at Pabst Farms for a reason.

It'd flop.

With housing and consumer spending in the tank, a shopping mall at Pabst Farms is dead, and the legislature should order the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to stop throwing more good money after bad, and to justify the $9 million WisDOT has already spent on Wisconsin's interstate interchange to nowhere.

Milwaukee Water Works Management Applicant Names Kept Confidential

Wally Morics, Milwaukee's elected Comptroller, has decided to withhold, for now, the identities of applicants to serve as potential contract managers of the city's water works, according to correspondence posted on the Comptroller's website.

Additional information at this posting.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

DNR Lauded For Proposing Strong Rules Regulating Great Lakes Invasive Species; Why Not The Same Approach For Great Lakes Diversions?

The Department of Natural Resources gets the thumbs up from the Journal Sentinel for the agency's strong, proposed rules to help prevent invasive species from further damaging the Great Lakes.

So why isn't there the same support from the paper and the DNR for writing strong rules governing proposals to divert water from those same Great Lakes to communities outside of the Great Lakes basin?

The issues are certainly parallel, and related: You have a Great Lakes water quality issue and a Great Lakes quantity issue, and both benefit from guarantees of public input, and both are managed by the state agency - - the DNR - - that is charged with stewardship of the state's water resources.

But so far, the DNR is suggesting it can review diversion applications without writing rules first, with the details coming later - - yet when it comes to the invasive species issue, it is suggesting the opposite: strong rules first.

Some consistency would make sense.

And better protect the Great Lakes.

And also proclaim profoundly that Wisconsin takes seriously the Public Trust status of the state's waters mandated in the Wisconsin Constitution and the Great Lakes Compact of 2008 - - and that are further underscored in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 and the US-Canada Boundary Waters Treaty.

Jim Stingl Nets Video Stardom

I predict YouTube and worldwide viral stardom for Jim Stingl following his videotaped barefeet fishy pedicure, but if Jim and some mutual pals over at the paper try and lure me to a fish fry anytime soon, I think I'll pass.

Republicans Moving To The Fringe, Over The Cliff

Barack Obama hasn't even had his first 100 days in office, but Republicans and various water carriers on the AM radio are doing all they can to make sure Obama gets the full eight years allotted to him by the Constitution.

In the last few days, Rick Perry, the Republican Governor of Texas, has endorsed the goofy notion that Texas is a sovereign entity, giving aid and comfort to others on the fringe who are whipping up paranoia at the grassroots by flirting with secession from the union.

Some analysis here.

Perry even showed up on the far-right talk show "Savage Nation" last night, pumping up Savage's already-inflated ego and bringing callers out of their bunkers to dream aloud about breaking apart the union.

These issues were settled by the Civil War: it's ironic, isn't it, that secession talk gets stirred up now that we have the first African-American President?

Perry predicted other GOP governors would join the Texas initiative: Jindal of Louisiana, Sanford of South Carolina, Palin of Alaska, and more.

Let's hope so. The farther out of the mainstream these people move, the more in-step they march with oddball talk show 'leaders,' the better for Democrats and many Republicans who will look for the center, not the far-far-far Right.

Imagine being a middle-of-the road Republican, or even a conservative like Congressman Paul Ryan who doesn't exhibit all the excitability of the tea-baggers gathering across the country today to protest, allegedly, the kind of big government spending carried out by former Pres. George W. Bush - - except in W's case, the Afghan and Iraq war trillions were kept off the books.

I know a couple of life-long Republican CEO's, and based on a conversation with one of them I conclude that they and like-minded reasonable people will flee the GOP.

In droves.

So to Perry and Savage & Co: Keep it up.

Palin Acknowledges Global Warming, Overlooks Conservation

Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and former global warming doubter seems now to be on board, but stressing natural gas over oil, without touting conservation, is still an Alaska-first message.

She's having it both ways: edging away from the outer-fringes of her increasingly marginalized Republican party while gearing up for a 2012 presidential run and fronting for Alaska's fossil fuel interests.

Interesting, but way short of what's needed: heavy spending on alternative fuels and conservation.

Hat tip, JF.

Wisconsin Needs To Be More Assertive On Renewable Energy

Good reminder, as we get closer to Earth Day 2009.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Most City Dwellers Pollute Less Than Their Country Cousins

More proof for an old adage: cities are better for the environment.

This particular study focuses on greenhouse gas emissions.

Forgetting That US Civil War, Glenn Beck Lauds Secession

Less than four months into the Obama presidency, and Glenn Beck endorses a move in Texas to secede.

Banner Year So Far For Gun Nation

From Bigghampton to Oakland to Pittsburgh, high-powered pistols and assault rifles have taken their tolls.

Evidence is also mounting that similar weapons are making their way into Mexico, where drug dealers use them to murder each other, police, soldiers and anyone caught in the crossfire.

The right to bear arms is one thing: firing them at people is another, and as we are learning, regrettably, things are out of balance in favor of the shooters.

Hybrids Getting Cooler

Hybrid Nation getting cooler. (Video link fixed.(

Mary Lazich, Failed Spell Check, Flunked Homework

Sitting uncorrected in the publicly-paid-and-created State Sen. Mary Lazich web commentary below is a funny typo, italicized for your pleasure, that might creep into text created by an ideologue:

Conservatively Speaking
Follow the money, indeed
By Mary Lazich
Tuesday, Apr 14 2009, 03:56 PM

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is running an ongoing series of reports called, “Following the money: How stimulus funds are being spent.”

Today’s article in the series reports that Governor Doyle and other Midwest governors want to sue $3.4 billion in stimulus funding to build three high speed rail routes: Chicago to the Twin Cities, Chicago-to-St. Louis and Chicago-to-Detroit. The Chicago to the Twin Cities route would include a Milwaukee to Madison segment.
Furthermore, her full post expressed outrage at some stimulus funding being spent in Los Angeles, CA, at the rate of $25 million per mile to repave some rough Interstate roadway.

Which is the same rate being spent by Wisconsin on the Interstate 94 reconstruction from Milwaukee to the Illinois state line ($1.7 billion on 70 miles of pavement, with another $200 million on new lanes, to boot: $1.9 billion total.)

Has Sen. Lazich condemned this $25-million-per-mile interstate highway reconstruction project, which got goosed into its 2009 beginning with first-phase stimulus funding of $97 million?

Drudge Discovers Highway Projects Are - - Gasp! - - Expensive

Had to laugh at the headline on Matt Drudge's website today expressing shock that roadwork in LA could cost $25 million a mile.

Said the under-informed Drudge: "Stimulus: $25 million A MILE to repave a road?..."

Wisconsin is pledged to spend $1.7 billion rebuilding the thirty-five mile stretch of I-94 from Milwaukee to the Illinois state line - - so seventy miles total - - which is about, oh, $25 million a mile.

Throw in another $200 million for an added lane, and the Wisconsin projects tops out at $1.9 billion.

Would You Like More Pesticides On Your White House Peas?

Chemical makers criticize First Lady Michelle Obama for her organic garden.

Info. here.

Technology, BioEthics And Sustainability Examined At Madison Forum Next Week

The non-profit BioPharmaceutical Technology Center Institute in Madison holds an annual conference that examines critical scientific issues.

This year's focus is on the broad subject of sustainability, from Thursday,
April 23rd, to Friday, April 24th.

Sustainability is more than a buzz word, and is applicable in far more spheres than environmentalism (imagine if this had been the underlying ethic on Wall Street, for example), so the forum sounds pretty timely to me.

Conference information, here; brochure and additional details, here.

Map, here.

Arts Critic Mary Louise Schumacher Made Cool Use Of Twitter Today

Live updates - - tweets - - posted all morning on the Milwaukee Common Council debate and 12-2 vote in favor of public art, at

Very informative.

Heard On The Street: Waukesha Forging Ahead With Diversion Application

Despite a host of obstacles, Waukesha is forging ahead with its Lake Michigan diversion planning - - even getting an application on paper to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) during 2009, sources tell me.

The obstacles:

* The DNR has yet to issue administrative rules governing an application's content and review process, as called for by the Great Lakes Compact of 2008;

* A statement by Ken Yunker, executive director of the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, that he would recommend deferring approval of the SEWRPC water supply study and its diversion suggestions until the regional implications of diversions on socio-economic conditions - - housing, employment, transportation etc. - - are added to the draft study;

* The City of Milwaukee, seen as fast-growing Waukesha's water supplier, has not hired its consultant to compute the true value of diverted water beyond the rates allowed by the state Public Service Commission;

* The environmental and financial costs of Waukesha's preferred method of returning wastewater to the Great Lakes basin - - dumping it by the millions of gallons daily into Underwood Creek in Wauwatosa - - have yet to be studied;

* New Berlin's separate smaller, less complex but still controversial Lake Michigan diversion application has yet to be finally reviewed by the DNR, let alone approved, suggesting that Waukesha's far more problematic application is bound to be stalled, especially if it appears rushed or merely political driven, or aimed at promoting faster sprawl.

(Waukesha has until 2018 to bring its water supply into permanent compliance with federal standards.)

The word on the street about Waukesha's application planning is that 'Waukesha isn't waiting on anyone,' setting up unnecessary confrontations with environmental and conservation groups, other municipalities and tough-minded reviewers in states like Michigan.

Where there is veto power over an application from a community like Waukesha that is entirely outside the Great Lakes basin and needs the diversion approval of all eight Great Lakes states...remember?

A hard-charging Waukesha could imperil the Compact principles that call for science and best-practices' planning to guide diversion decisions - - with the city ending up as its own worst enemy.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Growing Push For Midwestern High-Speed Rail

I'd say the stars are aligning for high-speed rail in the Midwest: more evidence here.

It helps to have a green-oriented new President from Chicago calling the shots, especially if Chicago can nail down the 2016 Olympics.

Milwaukee's new Intermodal station downtown will work well with a new system, but Madison will have to get its station closer to downtown to make the network most efficiently.

Now Here's A Wisconsin OWI Reform Proposal: Keep Fewer Records

Marlin ("The Enabler") Schneider (D-Wisconsin Rapids), has a singularly bad idea.

Arctic Sea Ice Melt Accelerating

We hate ice and cold conditions around here, but in the Arctic, they're essential, which makes this Washington Post story so alarming.

Radium Level In Its Water Not Harmful, New Berlin Says

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and New Berlin continually cite the threat posed by naturally-occurring radium in New Berlin's well water as the reason New Berlin is pursuing cleaner water through a possible diversion of Lake Michigan water.

Some history here.

So it's surprising to read the opening of a Q&A on the subject provided by the "radium" tab on the water utility's webpage:

Is there radium in New Berlin water? Yes, radium has been in our water since we began serving customers in 1966. Radium is part of a family of radionuclides which include: Radium 226 & 228, Gross Alpha and Gross Beta.

2. Is radium in our water harmful to health? No, some experts have studied the health effects of radium in water on humans and tell us there is no scientific evidence that the levels in our water is harmful.
Talk about a head-scratcher.

I'm not minimizing the health issue, but is someone at the New Berlin Water Utility quibbling about the value of the federal radium standard - - an Environmental Protection Agency decision which New Berlin agreed to meet years ago when it signed a binding, legal consent decree?

Is there more to the readium issue than the New Berlin website lets on, or
is the city's utlility website allaying its residents' fears?


Plus - - the Q&A concedes a few paragraphs later that the amount of radium in its water exceeds the federal standard - - but calls the standard "proposed," when the standard is in place, and New Berlin has recognized that by signing the consent decree years ago.

Here is that portion of the Q&A:

7. How much radium is in the water? The most recent test from the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene shows that we have an average 5.4 picocuries of radium per liter of water. The current proposed EPA standard under the SDWA [Safe Drinking Water Act] is 5.0 picocuries/liter.

The DNR's radium webpages have a more in-depth discussion, cite National Academy of Science data about a "higher risk of bone cancer" from long-term exposure to radium in drinking water, and offer this conclusion:

It has been estimated that as much as 80% of all human cancer is due to environmental sources (including diet and such activities as cigarette smoking). In many cases, the specific causes cannot be identified due to the complex patterns of exposure and our inability to measure them. In the case of radium in drinking water, however, the exposure levels are known, our best science has identified a specific risk, and methods exist to deal with the problem.

I'm puzzled.

Here is the entire New Berlin Q&A:



Customer Information - Radionuclides in Groundwater

Many of the deep sandstone aquifers in Wisconsin contain radionuclide minerals. Six of the Utility's nine wells are drilled into this aquifer for our water supply. Following are questions about Radium and Gross Alpha.


1. Is there radium in New Berlin water? Yes, radium has been in our water since we began serving customers in 1966. Radium is part of a family of radionuclides which include: Radium 226 & 228, Gross Alpha and Gross Beta.

2. Is radium in our water harmful to health? No, some experts have studied the health effects of radium in water on humans and tell us there is no scientific evidence that the levels in our water is harmful.

3. Can radium be seen or tasted? No, it is very difficult to detect and measure. The cost of an accurate test is about $300. The utility does annual DNR required system sampling.

4. Is radium the same as radon? No, radon is a gas which can accumulate in basements and is a natural byproduct of decaying radium radionuclides.

5. Why is this standard being set now? The radium standard was originally proposed in 1976 but until recently was not considered important. In 1997 Congress ordered the EPA to adopt a standard for radium as soon as possible as part of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA).

6. Where does radium come from? It is a naturally occurring element much like sodium and calcium which comes from sandstone formations in our wells.

7. How much radium is in the water? The most recent test from the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene shows that we have an average 5.4 picocuries of radium per liter of water. The current proposed EPA standard under the SDWA is 5.0 picocuries/liter.

8. Can customers remove radium from the water? Yes, if customers have a water softener and don't mind drinking soft water, they can drink and cook with water that is almost radium free.

9. Can the Water Utility remove radium from the water? Yes, but the cost will be more than one million dollars. This will increase the present water bill.

10. Is bottled water safe? It is not likely that bottled water is safer than New Berlin water, but it is prudent to ask the supplier if radium has been removed and what the levels are.

11. Will home in-line treatment devices remove radium? No, most kitchen variety treatment devices will not remove radium or other radionuclides. You should contact the manufacturer for specific information about radium removal.

Gross Alpha:

1. Is there gross alpha New Berlin water? Yes, gross alpha has been in our water since we began serving customers in 1966. Gross alpha is part of a family of radionuclides which include: Radium 226 & 228, Gross Alpha and Gross Beta.

2. Is gross alpha in our water harmful to health? No, some experts have studied the health effects of radium (as a radionuclide) in water on humans and tell us there is no scientific evidence that the levels in our water is harmful.

3. Can gross alpha be seen or tasted? No, it is very difficult to detect and measure. The cost of an accurate test is about $300. The utility does annual DNR required system sampling.

4. Is gross alpha the same as radon? No, radon is a gas which can accumulate in basements and is a natural byproduct of decaying radium radionuclides.

5. Why is this standard being set now? The gross alpha standard was originally proposed in 1976, but until recently was not considered important. In 1997 Congress ordered the EPA to adopt a standard for gross alpha as soon as possible as part of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA).

6. Where does gross alpha come from? It is a measure of emissions from radionuclides (like radium) which are naturally occurring elements much like sodium and calcium which comes from sandstone formations in our wells.

7. How much gross alpha is in the water? The most recent test from the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene shows that we have an average 12 picocuries of gross alpha per liter of water. The current proposed EPA standard under the SDWA is 15 picocuries/liter.

8. Can customers remove gross alpha from the water? Yes, if customers have a water softener and don't mind drinking soft water, they can drink and cook with water that is almost radionuclide free.

9. Can the Water Utility remove gross alpha from the water? Yes, but the cost will be more than one million dollars. This will increase the present water bill.

10. Is bottled water safe? It is not likely that bottled water is safer than New Berlin water, but it is prudent to ask the supplier if radionuclides have been removed and what the levels are.

11. Will home in-line treatment devices remove gross alpha? No, most kitchen variety treatment devices will not remove gross alpha or other radionuclides. You should contact the manufacturer for specific information about gross alpha removal.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Tracking Stimulus Funding, With A Focus On High-Speed Rail

Thanks to the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) for the work and score-keeping.

Now Remind Me Again Why We're Spending $25 Million On An Interchange To This?

Courtesy Jim Bouman.

The Road To Sprawlville, Chapter XXVI: Waukesha County, Countywide

No surprise: Waukesha County is getting 'built-out,' as they say.

This is what the county planners, with the permission of the County Board, have wanted: development, even at the expense of prime ag land, the Kettle Moraine and environmental corridors recommended for preservation by SEWRPC - - but ignored by local governments, chasing after tax base.

Let's hope that Jefferson, Washington and Ozaukee Counties don't throw away their legacies and landscape with Waukesha County's thoughtlessness.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

More Odd Behavior From Fox News TV Talker Glenn Beck

This weird four minutes+ (screaming, ranting, dumping fake gasoline on a studio visitor and asking Pres. Obama to "shoot me in the head, or "set us on fire") ends with Beck's plea for sanity in policy-making.

This, however, is Beck's oddest performance: surgeryophboes, beware.

Lower St.Croix Makes National Top Ten Endangered Rivers' List

This scenic waterway on the Wisconsin-Minnesota border makes the cut.


Friday, April 10, 2009

Blogging Suspended For The Rest Of The Afternoon

Play ball.

Local Officials Treat Minor Transit Improvement As Earth-Shattering

You still can't take a direct bus to Waukesha or the New Berlin Industrial Park from Milwaukee, so let's not oversell this modest improvement.

Michael Horne Tracks Scott Walker's Lingusitic Stumbles

Oh, Scott Walker - - you embarrass us.

Coalition Winning Support To Lower Speed Limit On Area Death Trap

Activists in Washington and Waukesha Counties, led by the Highway J Coalition, are finally winning wider legislative support to get the speed limit lowered on one stretch of roadway where people are dying in traffic crashes.

WisDOT broke faith with the people in that area when a road-widening that was rammed through over strong public objection included a jump in the speed limit that put motorists and residents needlessly at risk.

It's time to fix that now, before there are more fatalities.

Light Bulb Technology Moving Quickly Beyond Status Quo

Fascinating development about a yet-newer electric bulb that avoids the shortcomings of both incandescents and compact fluorescents.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Waukesha Gets Nine More Years To Comply With Radium Standard

2018 is now the final final final final deadline for the City of Waukesha to get into full compliance with a federal drinking water standard for radium that the US Environmental Protection Agency settled on, after years of study, in 2000.

Which Waukesha fought for years, at the cost of millions in legal fees.

Waukesha wants to divert Lake Michigan water as the solution, but has not a) completed all its preliminary studies, b) settled on a methof of returning diverted water to the Great Lakes basin that meets the requirements of the Great Lakes Compact, and c) filed a formal appliation with the state Department of Natural Resources.

With a 2018 deadline, there is no reason why Waukesha cannot carefully construct its application as the DNR works on writing the administrative rules that would govern all Wisconsin diversions under the terms of the Compact.

Waukesha may be the first Wisconsisn and US community that is completely outside of the Great Lakes basin to apply for a diversion under the Compact.

New Berlin, which straddles the basin, is awaiting the results of a DNR review of its diversion application.

Because a portion of New Berlin lies within the basin borders, its application needs only Wisconsin's approval, but there is considerable controversy about the procedures the DNR may follow in that review.

Details here.

Scott Walker Stars In Stimulating Reality TV Program

Here's the whole show.

Where $200 Million Of Our/Your Money Is Chickenfeed

So says Patrick McIlheran.

Conservatives can be taxers-and-spenders, too.

More Information About New Berlin Diversion Application, DNR Position

The article I wrote for Isthmus about New Berlin's Great Lakes diversion application makes reference to an email exchange I had with Todd Ambs, the DNR's water division administrator.

I wanted to post the content of that email exchange, as I think it further illuminates the DNR's thinking on the application and the agency's review procedures:

From: James Rowen
Sent: Thursday, April 02, 2009 3:58 PM
Subject: New Berlin procedural question

As I read the DNR comments in [a Journal Sentinel story] - - the DNR is saying it is not necessarily required to approve New Berlin's application before rule-making is completed. Is that a correct interpretation? Thanks.

Jim Rowen
Daily commentary and news at:

Todd L. Ambs
Water Division
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

Thursday, April 2, 2009 5:00 PM

There is no statutory timeline for acting on this request but there is a clear public health threat right now that the citizens of New Berlin are facing.

We act on laws all the time prior to the rules being in place.

We can place additional restrictions in the permit itself and/or include language in any approval that makes it clear that the permittee will be subject to any additional rules that may be adopted that pertain to the type of permit that we are issuing.

Fundamentally the question here is, has New Berlin provided adequate justification to gain an exemption from the ban on diversions?

We haven't answered that question yet and will need to carefully review all of the public comments before deciding how to proceed.

Whatever we decide to do though, I want to make two key points:

We are confident that we have ample legal authority to make that decision without rules.

We are equally confident that any decision that we make will be specific to the New Berlin application and will have no precedential value for any other request for an exemption from the ban on diversions.

Remember: New Berlin is a straddling community.

It has a problem with radium in its water. They are proposing to return all of the water they use every day back to Lake Michigan.

No consumptive use.

No evaporative loss.

Every drop comes back to the Basin.

Every day.

New Berlin's wastewater treatment system discharges all of its wastewater (both from the Great Lakes and Mississippi River Basin) into Lake Michigan through MMSD every day right now.

Because of the properties in the groundwater in New Berlin, every day they discharge sodium, chlorides, total suspended solids and when they are using the wells, radium, into Lake Michigan.

None of those substances are in the Lake Michigan water that they are proposing to use.

So, the "precedent" that the DNR will set with any decision that we make could only be even loosely applied to:

A straddling community.

With a public health water quality threat.

That already has an existing wastewater system that discharges all of its water back to the Basin.

That can demonstrate that it will return every drop of water back to the Basin in the same day.

With better water quality than the water that the system brings into the Basin now. And actually reduce the drawdown in the aquifer by reducing pumping.

And all of that before we even get to the question of what is the appropriate water conservation plan for a community in this situation.

Hope that helps, Happy to discuss further if you would like before you file your story. I am on the road tomorrow but can give you a call on my cell.

Just drop me an email.

New Berlin Diversion Story In Isthmus, The Madison Weekly

I wrote a news story for the Madison weekly paper Isthmus about the politics of New Berlin's pending Lake Michigan diversion plan.

Here is a link to the story.

Legislators Fail Bukosky Family, Public On OWI Reforms

We're edging closer to April 25th - - the one-year anniversary of the death in Waukesha County of a pregnant mother - Jennifer Bukosky - and her daughter, Courtney Bella, when their car was struck from behind by a fast-moving SUV driven by a repeat OWI offender out on post-conviction bail.

That driver was charged with impaired-driving homicide. made bail, violated its conditions, was re-arrested and was jailed again, awaiting trial on the vehicular homicide and bail offenses.

In the wake of the horrific crash, state legislators and other officials pledged to tighten up Wisconsin's relatively lax OWI statutes - - ours is the only state that treats a first offense as a non-criminal ticket, for example - - but even after a year of heightened consciousness, nothing legislatively has happened.

The ugly truth about the political process in and around the State Capitol is that lobbies representing various portions of the liquor, spirits, brewing, tavern, hospitality and alcoholic beverage distributing interests wield excessive power over a compliant legislature.

Not wanting to rock the boat, legislators and leaders argue the fine points among proposals, but no one has stepped out front on the issue - - not even after south side Milwaukee State Representative Josh Zepnick (D) urged action while disclosing that his sister had been killed by a drunk driver.

Not even after the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel produced a long series about drunken driving deaths county-by-county.

Still no leadership. Inertia is the order of the day on this issue.

I'm not sure what it will take to snap the state out of its stupor.

Maybe the tragic death of a true celebrity or a politician in an OWI tragedy - - who knows?

But if the death of a pregnant mom and her daughter doesn't do the trick, what will?

Kudos To Michael Mathias

Blogger and community activist Michael Mathias came within a whisker of winning a seat on the Milwaukee School Board in a tough, first-time race.

He fell a few votes short, and lost a lead when the absentee ballots were counted.

A bad break, but a solid candidate ran a fine campaign; let's hope he tries for elected office again.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Regional Cooperation? How About City/Village Cooperation?

There are two Pewaukees, but getting them to agree on a single shared service shows how difficult inter-governmental cooperation can be.

Great Lakes Water Expert Dave Dempsey Urges Caution On Rule-Free Diversion

Dave Dempsey, who has been at this Great Lakes preservation for a long, long time. says the Wisconsin DNR needs to review the precedent-setting New Berlin application for a Lake Michigan diversion with its administrative rules written first.

Pretty reasonable.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Congratulations To Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson

Glad to see that our Chief Justice was re-elected. I was heartened to see that she was out campaigning at events statewide; I ran into her at a meeting in West Allis and at a neighborhood coffee near UW-Milwaukee.

Certainly she was the favorite, but didn't take anything for granted.

People got to see what a Chief Justice sounded and looked like, away from the bench.

All in all, a big win for justice in Wisconsin.

State Sen. Tim Carpenter Wants I-94 Rebuilding Only

Not expansion, which officials know is not needed.

Good for State Sen. Tim Carpenter, (D-Milwaukee) and his support for a state law that would toss the expansion portion of the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission freeway plan in the ashcan.

Do The Policy Work Before Raising Gas Tax

Before we start talking about new taxes for the state's transportation funding, let's do it one step better: have an independent analysis of the billions in projects that are on the books (and, thus, always shovel-ready) to determine what's really needed.

With apolitical auditing.

And authentic projections of driving and fuel consumption, and of transit needs, too.

And bring in the public early, and often, to see how people want these goals to be met.

Tolls - - and where, when, and what kind: by vehicle size, weight, time of day, etc?

Higher gas taxes?

Gas tax rebates, rebates, or deductions for alternative fuel, or hybrid-owners (disclosure: I own an '06 Civic Hybrid).

Dedicated gas or sales taxes for local and statewide transit?

Regional transit authorities, with local and multi-county taxing options?

It's a complex conversation, with plenty of revenue and policy questions, so let's do it right.

MMSD Too Smart To Be Reeled-In By Waukesha's Study Request

The City of Waukesha is hoping to dump some of its treated wastewater into Underwood Creek, in Wauwatosa, to edge towards complying with diversion return-flow rules in the Great Lakes Compact.

So it asked the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District to carry out a study of that idea - - which the MMSD has wisely deferred until it can hear more about the plan.

[Description below from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel]

Good idea: we'd all like to hear more about the plan - - since the DNR hasn't formally seen it yet, let alone approved it, or decided whether it needs an entirely new permit review, or will be approved before it writes its administrative rules governing diversions.

It would be premature for the MMSD to take Waukesha's money and do the study until Waukesha tells everyone just what the plan is - - which also, if Waukesha news releases and other feelers can be believed, to include dumping some treated water outside the Great Lakes basin via the Fox River, flowing west to the Mississippi and eventually to the Gulf of Mexico.

Since the Compact requires all water to be returned to the Great Lakes basin, the MMSD is wise not to get embroiled in Waukesha's problems, let alone giving Waukesha the MMSD imprimatur.

There's an old rule from Management 101:

From The Journal Sentinel:

MMSD asks for info on Waukesha water plan

Several members of the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District's governing commission Monday asked Waukesha officials to give the commission a briefing on the city's proposed use of Lake Michigan as a source of drinking water.

At a meeting Monday, the commission's Operations Committee agreed to wait for the briefing before it acts on a proposed $40,000 study of the impact of discharging all of Waukesha's treated wastewater in the future to a small stream in Wauwatosa.

Discharging to Underwood Creek, a tributary of the Menomonee River, is one of Waukesha's options for returning water to Lake Michigan, if the city receives approval of each of the eight Great Lakes states to use Lake Michigan as its water supply.

Waukesha has agreed to pay MMSD up to $40,000 to do the Underwood Creek impact study, Waukesha Mayor Larry Nelson said Monday. MMSD staff members are seeking the commission's approval to conduct the analysis.

Waukesha Water Utility General Manager Dan Duchniak said city officials will schedule a briefing in May on its plan to withdraw water from the lake.

High-Definition And WTMJ-4 TV

The Journal Sentinel tells us that the TV station's news format is going high-def today.

Now if they'd only get high-definition content, and get rid of that annoying Breaking News construct.

How Scott Walker 'Governs' By News Release

The Milwaukee Business Journal reports that the County Exec suggests the Wisconsin Center District Board take over the operations of the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.

This, ostensibly, is an idea designed to save Milwaukee County some dough, since it operates the Performing Arts Center, but in reality it's governing by news release to create the impression that Walker is a leader.

However, the Business Journal story quotes the head of the Center District and the head of the Performing Arts Center saying, separately, that Walker has not talked with them about the 'proposal.'

That's because for Walker, the news release and the impression it may create is what is important, not real work, negotiations, planning, and doing.

UW Study Undercuts Rightwing Claims

Activist faculty!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Scott Walker's People Should Burn The Midnight Oil

With his campaign-driven stand against stimulus dollars overturned by the County Board, Milwaukee County officials and the taxpayers catch a break: the state has extended a deadline for applications for transportation grants until Wednesday.

Basic Questions For Milwaukee Officials About SEWRPC In A Tough Economy

Milwaukee County, without two spare nickels to rub together, sent $841,845 in property tax dollars to fund more than than one-third of the operating expenses of the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, according to the commission's 2008-2009 budget.

And about half that sum comes from City of Milwaukee, whose budget is stretched pretty thin, too.

So as 2010 budgets are being put together, can officials at the city and county justify those expenditures?

Have they looked at the SEWRPC budget?

Will County supervisors finally take a hard look at the wisdom of that expenditure?

Can City aldermen explain why they are subsidizing a planning operation that assists smaller cities and out-counties in rural areas with land-use, transportation, and other study production when the City of Milwaukee has its own planning staff?

Couldn't the Department of City Development, or Public Works better use that city half share of $841,000+, or should it go back to the taxpayers for property tax relief?

Should SEWRPC be doing those local and county-wide plans described in the budget?

Is that a good deal for the locals? Do they get from SEWRPC fresh, unique plans on contract, or are the municipalities getting cookie-cutter photocopying?

Should private sector consultants be allowed to bid on the work that somehow routinely goes to SEWRPC?

Should so much small-scale, or even county-wide piecemeal work, be a SEWRPC responsibility?

Does it deter big picture work?

Why don't Milwaukee County and City officials treat SEWRPC as a contractor that is required to submit an annual work plan, then regular updates, that show value received for $70,000 a month?

It's time for city and county officials to change the rules of the game, and to follow through on their separate legislative initiatives that sought investigations and action at the state level to bring about a restructured and redefined regional planning agency.

Thursday Is Proposal Deadline Day For Milwaukee Water Works Management Leasing

The City's Comptroller thinks someone will pay an upfront $500 million for a 99-year-lease, creating an endowment that can earn money for the city's general fund.

But will that be off-set by water rate increases, so the new vendor can turn a profit?

We'll know more after the proposal deadline date.

Some background here.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Dubious Stimulus Projects Not Limited to Shovel-Ready Interstate Highways

Dan Egan has an interesting story in the Sunday Journal Sentinel about a possible half-billion stimulus blowout in the Michigan UP.

Before we get all high and mighty about such questionable spending, and the "shovel-ready" formulas or definitions directing funds unfairly, let's remember that the first $97 million of Wisconsin's stimulus dough got earmarked for the North/South leg of I-94 before the ink on Barack Obama's signature barely dried.

So every state has its pet projects and inside tracks deciding many big winners.

Antarctic Shelf Breaking Away - - No Doubt Unrelated To Global Warming

That's what the deniers will argue.

Story here.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

SEWRPC Discrimination Complaint Update: The Federal EEOC Now Involved

A recent meeting of the SEWRPC Executive Committee surfaces this nugget: One discrimination complaint against the agency has been moved to the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The Commission has asked for staff and consultant hiring records for a two-year period from 2007-2009.

My advice to the feds: take a look farther back and see how long these hiring patterns have persisted.

I looked back 1996 for the staff data, and the paltry number of minority hires has changed little.