Monday, August 31, 2009

State's Water Diversion Process, Absent An Active DNR, Is Being Privatized

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has twice this year declined to answer requests from Milwaukee officials who wanted the agency to carry out rule-making prior to accepting and reviewing Lake Michigan diversion applications - - shirking stewardship responsibility over water resources held in trust for the public.

And has sat on the sidelines in the year since the Great Lakes Compact and enabling legislation for Wisconsin was approved without beginning to draft and approve crucial administrative rules needed to make sure diversion applications, hearings and related matters create a process that is open, fair, complete and appealing legally and environmentally to the other seven Great Lakes states that will have to approve out-of-basin applications for the good of the shared resource - - the Great Lakes watershed, too.

That passivity on the part of the state gives municipalities, and, in turn, their consultants, a disproportionate role in Great Lakes diversion planning and procedures under the Great Lakes Compact.

Withour rules in place prior to a precedent-setting application, DNR advice to Waukesha has some significance, but far less than would be in effect had rules been hashed out, then published, so that a higher standard of compliance was achieved in the completion and effectiveness of the application.

To me, that's privatization, or at least an excess of private influence over a public matter.

In the City of Waukesha, consultants and thus the local officials who hire and manage them are exercising substantial control over the format and content for the precedent-setting application due later this year, Waukesha says, for the first proposed diversion under the Compact to a city completely outside the Great Lakes basin.

Scientific consultants have been working on that application and matters related to the Great Lakes Compact and Waukesha's water needs and plans since 2004; the science consultants' current contract is $134,000 a year, according to records provided by the Waukesha Water Utility.

The utility also has or has had additional contractors on board: lobbyists in Washington, DC, lawyers, and a PR firm that has also carried out lobbying in Madison, as well as assisting the utility and Waukesha's Mayor with diversion strategy, outreach, position papers, op-eds, and more, records show.

GeoSyntec, the Chicago-based scientific consulting firm and lead technical adviser, discussed its important role in diversion application planning in a contract-related letter to the utility on January 9, 2009:

"Geosyntec will prepare a draft application [subsequent documents indicate that Waukesha officials and other consultants have been hard at work editing multiple drafts throughout 2009] for a Lake Michigan water supply based on existing information...and will set a precedent for implementation of the Compact. We recognize that Wisconsin DNR, MMSD and other stakeholders will closely scrutinize this process. No rules have yet been promulgated to guide this process...the final form of the application can be negotiated among the parties."

So the DNR, which as the neutral party and state regulator could have written the rules to which Waukesha and other diversion-seeking communities should adhere, turns into a mere party to negotiations.

And Waukesha, the regulated, can become the driver, filling the void left by the DNR.

Sure, Waukesha will consult with the DNR - - the letter says meetings will be held, and other records indicate that advice has been given, but that is not the same as being required to adhere to administrative rules.

Geosyntec says in the letter that it "has prepared an outline of the draft application and performed extensive analyses and research on the information for the application."

Again, Waukesha, the regulated, is filling the void by a regulator sitting on the sidelines since the Compact was passed nearly a year ago - - which was plenty of time to have proposed, studied, reviewed, and created after public input the rules it has failed to even begin.

Rulemaking it won't even address, pro or con, aye or nay, in response letters to Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and senior Alderman Michael Murphy. Sent twice, with nothing back in response.

The letter from the Waukesha science consultants says the draft application has ten elements, as reproduced below, (minus some subheads), and noted that more research and discussions with the DNR and other agencies will follow:

1. Compact Requirements

2. Act 227 (Wisconsin Compact Implementation Law) Requirements

3. Overview of the City of Waukesha

4. The Regional Groundwater Flow System in Southeastern Wisconsin

5. Waukesha Current and Future Water Use

6. Water Conservation and Protection Plan

7. Water Supply Options Analysis

8. Return Flow

9. Cumulative Impacts

10. Precedent

That outline may produce an excellent application, or it may be lacking.
It might be the perfect formay. Or not.

Who knows?

The Compact itself provides some guidance, as does Wisconsin law, but neither are not 100% inclusive, so both are silent on some things.

There is no existing application format, no ultimate checklist issued by the DNR, in part because the DNR chose not to conduct hearings and run comment periods as part of rule-making to see what people and other experts had to say prior to an application's submission.

Waukesha is the applicant. Without a public message and guidance from the DNR, Waukesha is too much acting like the decision-maker

The Zoo Interchange Proposal Embodies The Worst There Is In State Politics And Wasteful Spending

Let's talk some about the Zoo Interchange.

First, some good writing: The author of a piece for the Sierra Club raises red flags galore about the Zoo Interchange project had made substantially the same points in a recent Journal Sentinel op-ed (which I had posted), but I like the layout of her argument in the Sierra Club publication better.

Now the bad news: the project's consequences, and its politics.

I am not sure if people really understand the breadth of landscape and habitat destruction that is in this financially-absurd proposal, but I am predicting that it will be be held up for years, and perhaps successfully blocked in court, because it tramples completely on state and federal environmental protection laws.

And I remind you: the Zoo Interchange represents more than one-third the estimated $6.4 billion price tag to repair and expand the entire so-called freeway system in Southeastern Wisconsin that the Wisconsin Department of Transportation wants to carry out.

The plan - - adding 127 miles of new lanes, wider interchanges and expanded ramps - - was written by the un-elected Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, using a $1 million grant from WisDOT, which, of course, has embraced the plan it paid for.

Originally, it was not to begin until the I-94 north/south leg from Milwaukee to the Illinois state line was to be completed in 2016 (at a cost of $1.9 billion, much habitat loss and years of unnecessary congestion).

But Gov. Doyle, fearing a backlash from Waukesha County (State Sen. Ted Kanavas, R-Brookfield had bellyached, among others) which wants Zoo Interchange work fast tracked to shave three minutes off commutes each way daily, moved the work up before the 2006 election - - and that is why WisDOT is rushing through set-piece public meetings so it can get into the ground more quickly.

Even though the state and the highway funds are flowing red ink, and Doyle has removed himself from re-election contention in 2010.

So the damage was done with politics running the show.

Among the plan's chief backers: Scott Walker, Milwaukee County Executive, which means he is the chief steward of the very Milwaukee County Grounds open space, habitat, woodlands and landscape the Zoo Interchange will demolish, pave, flood and otherwise trash.

If he is elected Governor, you can expect the mentality that wants to ruin much of the County Grounds, with its attendant air and water pollution, grafted onto an already out-of-control state highway budget.

Interesting, isn't it, that an anti-government type like Walker always wants even more spending if highways are the subject?

The Zoo Interchange - - and the dagger it then points eastward towards Story Hill - - is our warning.

Solid Case For Midwestern Regional Rail Initiative

Long-time rail advocate Howard Learner makes the case for US rail improvements to begin in the Midwest, including Wisconsin.

Possible "Significant Impact" On Underwood Creek From Waukesha Sewerage Discharge Apparently Not Real

It was reported by the Journal Sentinel recently that a consultant hired by the Waukesha Water Utility found no significant effects would result from discharging Waukesha wastewater into Underwood Creek to return diverted water to Lake Michigan - - and that the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District and the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission also did not see the discharge plan as problematic.

The report was good news for Waukesha, as it moves forward the city's case for an eventual diversion by perhaps settling one question hanging over a diversion application:

Is returning the water to Lake Michigan via Underwood Creek a better solution for the environment than piping it directly to the MMSD, or sending it down the Root River?

Waukesha will be required by the Department of Natural Resources to study all potential options, but the skids are being greased for Underwood Creek as Waukesha's preferred alternative.

I'm still waiting to hear from the good folks of Wauwatosa about the whole deal, as I remember that State Rep. Cory Mason, (D-Racine), flushed away the notion of using the Root River as the discharge vehicle when he said he did not want his district to be Waukesha's toilet.

The fullcourt press headed Wauwatosa's way reminds me a bit of the debates over whether to build a new stadium - - known today as Miller Park - - for the Milwaukee Brewers Baseball Club.

What began as a discussion over where to locate it morphed, or was manipulated into a discussion of which roof design do you like when the new ballpark was built next to what was then County Stadium?

In other words: the site selection somehow slid off the table with some distractions or studies and (foregone) conclusions pumped out by the team's then owner, Bud Selig, and the State of Wisconsin, which under former Gov. Tommy Thompson pushed through the project until the anti-tax backlash took hold.

Anyway: I have not read the Waukesha consultant's report, prepared for $9,500 by the consulting firm SEH - - Short Elliott Hendrickson - - and though I certainly will, I did read the contract and related records covering the scope of the consultant's proposal that is on file with the Waukesha Water Utility.

[Related postings with links to other diversion-relevant documents from a recent search at the Waukesha Water Utility are found here.]

So I noted this bulleted item in Exhibit A, in a letter from SEH dated April 29, 2009 - - here is a link to that letter - - that outlined the proposed scope of work, and the study goals:

"There is general agreement that the proposed 20 cfs [cubic feet per second] effluent flow diversion to Underwood Creek will produce a negligible effect on watercourse responses during average and peak discharge events. However, the addition of 20 cfs to low (base) flow conditions in Underwood Creek is anticipated to have a significant impact on water depths and potentially velocities during these events, since low flow discharges would increase from approximately 3 cfs to 23 cfs."

So was that "general agreement" about low flow discharges - - that means in the warm weather when the Creek is shallower - - found to be inaccurate? Not applicable? Out-of date? Plumb wrong?

I assume the report will answer these questions.

By the way, a separate study must be completed that examines what effects the discharge will have on Lake Michigan, and that study has yet to be completed.

And also not certain: whether all eight Great Lakes states will approve the Waukesha application, whether the City of Milwaukee will agree to be the water's seller, and whether Waukesha taxpayers and water rate payers will buy into - - literally - - the cost of the whole piping and return flow regime for what could be $100 million.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Wind Power Stories Abound

Good for these folks.

Union Voting Dispute In Fond du Lac Helps Company Shut The Plant

I'm not sure how or why union officials failed to get the second Mercury Marine contract vote scheduled in Fund du Lac to comply with the contract offer deadline.

Finger-pointing and debate about what happened, and importance of the letter of the law and procedure will go on for years, perhaps in court.

But management's swift enforcement of the midnight Saturday deadline to end and void the do-over vote demanded by rank-and-file workers tells me the company wanted to move to non-union Oklahoma as soon as possible.

Common sense in an environment of negotiations and mutual discussion - - the essence of collective bargaining - - would have provided a method to extend the a few hours because there was confusion already about the availability of a second vote.

Management may have the letter of the contract on its side, with a union leadership to bash, but killing off a community's largest payroll with "na-na-na-na-na-na" finality through Gotcha politics is pretty revealing.

It's akin to a traffic cop issuing a ticket to someone clocked at 46 mph in a 45-mph zone because the law says the officer could write it.

Discretion and common sense says otherwise, but this was a fight Mercury Marine management wanted to win, and they may have, but at great cost to its reputation and a good chunk of the Wisconsin and Fond du Lac economies.

Journal Sentinel Holds Blockbuster Story Offline For 24 Hours

The Sunday Journal Sentinel is carrying a lead, page-one story alleging a jaw-dropping scamming of state child care funding.

It's a documented story involving failed state oversight that may have enabled a child care provider to operate without a license and build herself a suburban mansion and buy a Jaguar automobile.

By publishing the story on Sunday, and keeping it off-line until Monday (and part two of the story Monday will be delayed online until noon) , the Journal Sentinel's publisher signals to readers and advertisers that people buying the hard-copy paper will be rewarded with content, and online readers (and websites) will be denied some of the news for a day.

Certainly this is management's call: prioritizing and channeling resources to subscribers or street sale customers.

Down the road, the paper, and others, may move to paid Internet access, say $5 or $10 a month, less for hard-copy subscribers. or not.

Make no mistake: this has to be a sign of things to come as media struggle to stay profitable in the Internet age.

But it's a bit odd having a news organization hold back from anyone its strongest reporting.

Nuke Waste Now Stored Outdoors, Near Lake Michigan

Of course, industry and the feds assure us that storing nuclear waste in secure containers outside the Kewaunee Nuclear Plant along the shores of Lake Michigan is perfectly safe.

And we recall that the same assurances were given about nuclear power generation in general before Three Mile Island suffered a near-catastrophic meltdown that would have lost us the City of Philadelphia and much of the eastern seaboard.

It's a ticking timebomb, this matter of what to do with nuclear waste, but as with so many other such big issues, denial and delay are the way they are handled.

The Road To Sprawlville, Chapter XXIX: At The Intersection With Health Care Rationing

Those of you who drive on our costly 'free'way system have perhaps seen both the Aurora hospital about to open in western Waukesha County at Pabst Farms, and another brand-spanking new Aurora facility underway just off I-43 in Ozaukee County just west of the Grafton exit.

Total cost for both: more than $260 million.

Yes, this is the same Aurora that dominates the regional market in southeastern Wisconsin, where health care costs are far above national averages - - and where Madison, without Aurora, but with a successful big health care co-op, has the lowest costs.

So what does all this mean?

For one thing, it means Aurora continues to build facilities farther and farther from its downsized Sinai campus downtown, which is the lone surviving hospital in the downtown - - thanks to government decisions to promote the County Grounds as a new so-called regional hospital complex.

Another example of "regional" meaning "not Milwaukee."

That flight out of the downtown sent Children's Hospital to Wauwatosa, where the suburban medical cluster took shape, and, as do other Aurora expansions, carry jobs and spin-off developments with them while low-income residents and patients are left behind in the City.

New facilities cost tons of money, yet does anyone believe the Aurora hospital at Pabst Farms will really trim through competition the cost of a mammogram or brain surgery because Memorial hospital is in Oconomowoc three miles away?

As coverage and expenses escalate - - remember, all these facilities must advertise, and invest in staff, training and equipment - - people respond to their rising billings by cutting back on procedures, prescriptions and other services: call it rationing imposed by a distorted marketplace that keeps Aurora profitable and growing its control.

Of course, these new facilities could not or would not locate in once-rural Ozaukee or Waukesha Counties if the state wasn't widening with public funds the 'free'way system right past their front doors.

The Road To Sprawlville has more costs - - social and financial - - than mere highway construction, land loss and air pollution.

[Note: I misnumbered this chapter. It should have been XXX. So the next installment, for those keeping score, is XXXI.]

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Electric Cars Are Coming

It's exciting to read that electric cars are really coming to market, and that charging stations are beginning to show up.

I'm hoping I can nurse my 2000 Accord another few years so that my next vehicle purchase exceeds in emissions what our 2006 Civic hybrid achieves.

Careless Use Of Great Lakes Water Continues In Michigan

Michigan officials cannot be proud of a sloppy process that allows a big water withdrawal from Lake Huron.

The Great Lakes Compact does not cover the proposed, 85-million-gallons-a-day pipeline because no out-of-basin diversion takes place - - nearly all the state is within the basin, an accident of geologic history - - but Michigan will be hard-pressed to criticize other states' diversions if their in-basin standards for water use and conservation (we're looking at you, "Ice Mountain") are so low.

Friday, August 28, 2009

SEWRPC Selects UWM Center For Economic Development As Water Study Consultant

Having bowed to pressure from its Environmental Justice Task Force (EJTF) earlier this year, SEWRPC has followed through on a commitment to broaden the scope and independence of its studies by adding a socio-economic analysis to its pending water supply study and selected the UW-M Center for Economic Development to carry it out.

The water study concluded that diverting water from Lake Michigan to Waukesha and several other communities both inside and beyond the Great Lakes basin was in the best interest of the region and the environment, but the EJTF and others said the study was insufficient because potential socio-economic impacts - - housing, transportation and development, for instance - - were not included in the study.

It is still unclear how SEWRPC will fold the UW-M consultant findings and conclusions into a study that began in 2005 and that SEWRPC, until its EJTF complained, considered essentially complete and ready for comment and final approval.

The consultant selection should get a positive reaction from the EJTF, which pushed hard for a socio-economic study by an independent and outside consultant.

It is also inclear how a new data a set of findings and conclusions could affect Waukesha's application for the diversion, since it if chooses to buy water through the City of Milwaukee, Waukesha would have to meet a long list of socio-economic requirements as a condition of sale, according to Milwaukee official city policy.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Milwaukee Sustainability Director Resigns; Decisions,Tasks Ahead

Ann Beier, Milwaukee's first sustainability director, has resigned after three years to return to Portland for an environmental position there.

Ann was a solid and savvy public servant. She will be missed.

Word on the street is that unlike the national search that found Ann (as a member of Mayor Tom Barrett's Green Team, I participated in the creation of the sustainability position and the hiring process) a quicker search will likely result in a local selection, perhaps an existing city employee who will merge his or her current job with the position Ann held.

A couple of observations:

It's good that the position will be filled, given the sacrifices coming in a tough budget, though someone doing double duty will be in a difficult position to get important work done at either/both posts.

It can be done, but it will take super energy and talent.

The city must have a strong voice in sustainability issues because several major decisions are looming, including whether/when to sign on to Waukesha's Lake Michigan diversion application (as the supplier, Milwaukee would have to sign on, though there are major hurdles in Common Council policy for Waukesha to satisfy, or overcome).

And there is the matter of the separate city study on how to price water, for which a consultant has yet to be hired.

Could the city sign on to an application before it knew how to price what was being supplied?

Does Waukesha care to wait for, or abide by, the answers (and it has an aggressive team of lawyers, consultants, scientists and city officials working fulltime on these matters)?

In fact, there are several lines of authority in City Hall that would carry weight in all these decisions:

The Common Council.

The Mayor, for whom the sustainability officer works.

The Water Utility Manager, responsible to the Mayor, but also, as a revenue producer, a resource for the Council.

The sustainability officer will a key position adviser for the Mayor, and the Council, so whom Mayor Barrett name will help define and face important decision as the Waukesha application and water pricing study take shape this year.

No doubt that Milwaukee needs a strong sustainability officer.

Weak 'Reform' Would Guarantee More OWI Highway Carnage In Wisconsin

Legislators are trumpeting a variety of possible legal changes to the state's OWI laws and treatment options - - next month, maybe, but what's the rush - - since these are weak packages, at best:

Some 4th convictions become felonies. Some repeat offenders get ignition locks.

All first-time offense remain tickets.

Details here.

Bottom line: after tragic, high-profile incidents, media spotlights and a number-one ranking nationally for drunken driving - - 100 convictions a day - - the legislature is still cowed by alcohol special interests and swayed by a misreading of state culture to seriously deal with the issue.

If and when these tepid actions pass, look for two consequences:

Lots of Holy Pictures for campaign advertising.

Lots of new alcohol-related crashes, deaths and misery - - with a portion of the blame laid squarely at the steps of the State Capitol.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ted Kennedy, Democrat. Liberal.

I admired Ted Kennedy's unapologetic, enthusiastic, lifelong embrace of both political liberalism and Democratic Party core principles.

Too many Democrats too often run the other way.

Kennedy did not, which is among the reasons he will be missed.

Shocking Detail In Torture 'Rules' Illustrates Our National Decline

Many anti-health care protesters and conservative talk show hosts and callers are fond of asking, "what happened to my America," or "the America I knew" as they worry about government control of health care provision, or financing.

I ask the same questions, but the subject for me is the excruciatingly, appallingly precise rules and standards written by US policymakers that provided instructions about how to carry out torture of prisoners at US installations, according to media and documents.

Every lawyer, doctor and politician who had a hand in drafting and implementing these practices should be charged criminally.

My understanding is that the special special prosecutor looking into these practices is only focusing on the lower-level CIA employees and others who did the actual dirty work.

That would let the big-wigs off the hook, and that would be a mistake.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

DNR Water Chief Considered For Top Federal Post

Todd Ambs is in contention for a top environmental appointment, possibly taking one key Doyle administrator to a federal position.

That could throw a monkey wrench into the Lake Michigan diversion for Waukesha application timetable, as Ambs is the DNR point person and helped write the Great Lakes Compact, which contains the "straddling county" diversion exception under which Waukesha will apply.

Sierra Club Says No Connection Between Support For Doyle And His Clean Air Initiatives

There's a goofy story circulating claiming staffers at the DNR said there would have to be a clean air quid pro quo at the expense of utilities in Wisconsin because the Sierra Club endorsed Gov. Jim Doyle in 2006 - - an allegation the Governor and the Sierra Club deny.

The truth is that on environmental issues, Doyle has been something of a moderate, and relations between his offices and some environmental groups have been tepid, and distant.

But does anyone seriously think the Sierra Club was going to endorse Republican Mark Green, who ran with the support of the Bush administration and took a job in that administration after Doyle won re-election?

Or that some email chatter means much of anything?

Let's look at the record:

To his credit, Doyle did expand the Stewardship Fund and its purchase of open space, but he disappointed conservationists with eased permitting for construction near rivers and lakes, for example, and has also pushed greater spending on highway expansion.

In fact, the Sierra Club went to court and helped force the Doyle administration to clean up a big Madison air and water polluter - - the UW Charter Street power plant.

Little wonder that the Sierra Club and other groups have banded together as we speak in support of legislation that takes away the gubernatorial authority to appoint the Department of Natural Resources Secretary - - giving the lie to those who think the Sierra Club and Doyle are secretly working hand in glove.

Charlie Sykes was in full rant about the Sierra Club and Doyle this morning, saying that Doyle is corrupt, and that state government is for sale.

Somehow cleaner air for the public is now dirty politics - - all because of some email chatter.


New Berlin Blogger States Her Case Against Mark Belling

Linda Richter refused to be denigrated without fighting back. You can follow this matter, here.

Change You Can Freak Out About

South Shore community leaders in suburban Milwaukee think discussions about replacing the Hoan Bridge with a lowered, less expensive alternative amount to a plot by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce to help out some phantom developers.

Anti-government conservatives think proposed health care reform is a plot to route everyone to socialized medicine and a Death Panel.

School board supporters say a proposed transfer of control of the Milwaukee school system has been hatched by a racist Mayor.

In other words: you can't even consider new ideas or ways of doing the public's business without setting off hyper reactions that drown out discussion, let alone actual change.

And we like to think we live in an open-minded society.

Green Parking - - For High School Students?

You know I'm an environmentalist, and heck, we own a Civic Hybrid, but if this Brookfield high school can give parking preference to students who drive hybrid cars to school, my first question is: why don't those kids walk or take the the school bus?

Even Regulators Finding Flaws With WisDOT's Zoo Interchange 'Plan'

It isn't just environmentalists and highway opponents who think the Zoo Interchange planning is deficient.

The DNR and EPA agree.

Biggest mistake by Gov. Jim Doyle: naming Frank Busalacchi WisDOT Secretary.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Glenn Beck Ad Cancellations Hit Thirty-Six

More companies cancel ads on Glenn Beck's Fox News program, as complaints mount over his accusations of Pres. Obama's racism.

That's up from 21 just a few days ago.

WATER Institute Featured In Magazine

Nice job by Erik Gunn.

More Land Added To Public Domain In Northern Wisconsin

Stewardship funding adds 1,100 acres.

Wind Farm Stirs Opposition

NIMBYism in far off rural Wyoming.

Would people prefer endless dependence on foreign oil, coal plant air and water pollution, and resource depletion instead?

Hoan Bridge Discussion: Is The Goal To Know The Facts, Or To Just Say "No?"

South shore communities want the over-built and expensive Hoan Bridge rehabbed, even though the cost is in the hundreds of millions of dollars, with only more rehab to follow.

And they don't want money-saving alternatives even studied.

As in the health care debate, "No" is a poor excuse for a position, and won't cut it in this region, or this economy.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

SEWRPC Closes Down Its Regional Telecommunications Advisory Committee, Planning Process

Can SEWRPC explain in everyday English what public value was obtained during this nearly five year program?

Here is a newsletter on the committee's work on SEWRPC's website.

Mercury Marine Workers Veto Concessions, So Expect Political Storm

The decision by workers at Mercury Marine to decline substantial givebacks after recently ratifying a four-year contract - - including a seven-year wage freeze - - will mean two things:

* The company will follow through on moving the jobs and the corporate headquarters to non-union Oklahoma, blowing a hole in Fond du Lac's economy of staggering proportions.

* Talk radio and their GOP puppeteers will blame Gov. Jim Doyle, as if he has any control over a union vote.

Talk radio and Republicans like Scott Walker will shed alligator tears over the decision - - as if they ever lifted a finger for workers' interests - - but they will be hard-pressed to smother their glee at ginning up and broadcasting another fake political issue with which to beat Doyle, regardless of his lame-duck status.

I covered for The Milwaukee Journal many union contract disputes during the economic downturn of the early 1980's. Believe me, union members and their leaders do not take direction from politicians.

Regardless, get ready for the sh**storm.

Groundwater With An Atrazine Chaser

Here it is, 2009, and we are learning that the same old chemical pollutants we've known about for years are still around, and could be more harmful than first thought.


SEWRPC Called Out On Water Study/Policy Objectivity

SEWRPC - - the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission - - is on the hot seat again, and this time a peer organization is raising questions and expressing displeasure.

But first, some background:

One of the issues sure to face the City of Waukesha - - not to mention the Department of Natural Resources and everyday people in the region concerned with water quality - - is whether Underwood Creek in Wauwatosa is the appropriate spot into which Waukesha can pipe its wastewater if it wins a diversion of Lake Michigan water.

The Great Lakes Compact, which is basically a conservation and water management agreement, logically mandates that diverted water be returned to the source:

In its application now in preparation for a diversion - - to be released later this year, and in one stage of review or another for at least another year or two after that - - Waukesha wants to achieve the mandated return flow by piping the post-diversion wastewater about 11 miles to Underwood Creek and using the tributary's natural flow to move somewhere around an eventual 11 million gallons a day of treated wastewater back to Lake Michigan.

One engineering study suggests that the Creek can physically take the flow without much concern about flooding. That's on the quantity side of the issue.

The quality issue is something different.

Especially since new findings show that waterways running through Wauwatosa already are contaminated with human waste, so we'll see if it is decided that Wauwatosa is the right spot to pipe in Waukesha's wastewater, even if treated.

So the question is: how do you decide just what scientific, biological and chemical issues need to be reviewed to determine if the Creek, the watershed and Lake Michigan can and should handle whatever is in Waukesha's wastewater?

There is already jockeying underway behind the scenes over who should prepare the scope of work for that analysis, and what that work should entail: some of the preliminary correspondence on the issue is a little unusual, to say the least.

Waukesha's Water Utility asked the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission on June 10, 2009 to prepare an outline - - it's called a "scope of services" - - defining what this key water quality study should include.

SEWRPC's Executive Director Ken Yunker sent back a proposed scope of services in response to the utility, and to other interested parties on July 17, 2009.

One of those parties is the Sweet Water Trust, and Pat Marchese, its executive steering council chair, said the SEWRPC proposal was shot through with advocacy, gaps, and a potential conflict of interest because SEWRPC is recommending in a separate study that the Waukesha diversion be approved.

Marchese is no stranger to water policy in the region, as he is an engineer, a former SEWRPC commissioner from Ozaukee County and the former executive director of the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage Commission.

I obtained the documents about this brewing disagreement from the Waukesha Water Utility in a recent records request.

[Other postings last week about these documents as they relate to Waukesha's diversion strategy and planning are here and here.]

In a detailed July 27, 2009, memo to the Trust's Science Committee - - three pages of single-spaced observations, including 13 bulleted items - - Marchese said the SEWRPC proposed "scope of work...raises the issue of whom and how should the scope of work be prepared for the project that insures an independent, objective, comprehensive assessment of the potential impacts of the project..."

Marchese stated:

"...The DNR and EPA ave traditionally filled the role of providing an objective, independent assessment and impact analysis. There appears to be a potential conflict of interest to have SEWRPC develop a scope of work to review the impacts of a project they developed."

I've reviewed tens of thousands of pages of government records during a 35-year career in media and public service, and I can say that few have contained such pointed criticism.

The Sweet Water Trust is a grant-support, public-private collaborative of regional policy-makers and academics that is promoting study and action on water-related issues in a large portion of southern Wisconsin defined by the region's many rivers and watersheds.

SEWRPC deals with water-related issues in a seven-county region of southeastern Wisconsin, though the region's watersheds go beyond those political boundaries.

Set aside the inter-organizational differences between the Trust and SEWRPC.

Marchese is echoing a theme heard more and more often when it comes to SEWRPC: the allegation that agency's work is hamstrung by a lack of independence and objectivity.

This was precisely the same argument made by SEWRPC's Environmental Justice Task Force when it forced a reluctant SEWRPC to include in its water supply study an independent analysis of the socio-economic impacts of water transfers in the region.

That decision by SEWRPC to belatedly include an independent socio-economic analysis in its water supply study should guide the work involved to analyze if Waukesha's plan to send its wastewater down Underwood Creek is good for Lake Michigan.

These issues cannot be analyzed for decision-making under a cloud: independent and credible analysts need to be brought in.

Housing Values Validate New Urbanist Principle

The Congress for The New Urbanism has been saying it for years, and now a new study validates it: walkability gives properties a premium.

You can see the reverse in the housing and retail stall at Pabst Farms.

And why it is imperative that Milwaukee connect its existing neighborhoods and amenities with modern transit that builds on walkability.

With Health Care Costs Among The Nation's Highest, Isn't Care Already Rationed In Wisconsin

Wisconsinites and people in southeastern Wisconsin pay far above the national average in health care costs, so isn't care here already rationed?

Minneapolis-St. Paul Light Rail Set To Grow

Our forward-looking neighbors to the northwest continue to leave Milwaukee in the dust.

People always marvel at the way that the Twin Cities have attracted high-tech industries, and seem to have a more dynamic economy.

Little wonder, then, that they have committed to modern transit, while in Milwaukee County the bus-only system is dying, a regional transit authority and transit funding died at the Capitol, and the private sector in Milwaukee is so afraid of its own shadow and talk radio that it offers little 'leadership' on transportation short of loving highway expansion.

It may be colder in the Twin Cities, and they have a lousy baseball stadium and an aging quarterback, but when it comes to development and transit, they're light years ahead of where we are.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Outstanding Op-Ed Exposing The Coming Destruction Known as Zoo Interchange "Improvements."

The Zoo Interchange rebuilding and expansion is looming as one of the most destructive public expenditures in state history, as this Crossroads Op-Ed explains.

This is the inevitable byproduct of a grossly-flawed planning process run by the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, using $1 million in grant support from the same state transportation department that now wants to wreck a good portion of the County Grounds and the far west side in the name of highway progress.

That $6.35 billion plan, in its entirety, is at this SEWRPC website. Note the defensive presentation it made answering its critics at the "myths" section,

How Best To Make UWM's Freshwater School A Job Generator

I argue in a Sunday Journal Sentinel Op-Ed that jobs and economic development can be produced for the City of Milwaukee where they are needed most if the UWM School of Freshwater Science is built at the site of the university's existing WATER Institute on E. Greenfield Ave.


Because the surrounding community would get ripple effects from the investment.

If the region is serious about using existing school and water assets to generate development and jobs, the south side WATER Institute site makes the most sense from a coherent, or holistic business, educational and employment point-of-view.

I had earlier suggested locating the school at the top of Lincoln Memorial Drive on the Alumni center property because UWM owned the site, but I now think the WATER Institute site makes tbe most sense for the city, University and community-at-large.

Data Show MMSD Ahead Of The Curve

It's an uphill education struggle, but I'm glad to see the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage Commission again providing the facts about where our region stands on stormwater science.

Good Essay About Gun-Toting At Public Events

It's not about your 2nd Amendment rights. It's about instilling fear in others.

Well said. (Salon content: mandatory ad viewing possible.)

Support For A Big Highway Project Helps Defeat Seattle Mayor

Voters rejected a multi-billion tunnel as the solution to replacing a aging elevated downtown freeway, yet the Seattle Mayor threw his support behind the plan.

Bad move, as he lost a third-term bid in a three-way primary to two neophytes.

Failing to get the streets plowed this winter a la Chicago's Jane Byrne was a contributing factor, but overall, voters felt dissed.

Opponents of the tunnel want a blend of surface streets and transit to replace the viaduct to cut greenhouse emissions, and expected more support from their environmentally-active Mayor.

This is an example of how complicated environmental and fiscal issues can get.

Throw in a referendum not honored (Gov. Jim Doyle's budget veto of the Milwaukee County sales tax referendum to rescue the bus system transit-comes to mind), and voter anger can tip an election and overwhelm an otherwise popular figure.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Clunkers Sold For Scrap, Parts: Belling Believes Some Might Be Shipped Overseas

The government mandates that clunker engine blocks be destroyed from within before the remainder is sold for scrap and parts, but that didn't stop Mark Belling today from saying on the air that he thought it possible that some cars are slipped out of the country.

Clunkers Getting Traded For Small Japanese Cars

American automobile owners dumping their clunky trucks and big sedans for Uncle Sam's cash and are buying, in this order - - small, fuel-efficient Toyota Corollas, then Honda Civics, then the Ford Focus, according to data published by Investors Business Daily.

Bottom line: the US consumer is choosing efficiency and reliability, and though it is good to see Ford in the picture - - the sole US car company making strides with hybrids, and doing it without bailout money - - the preferences are more proof that GM and Chrysler in particular wasted years and much goodwill in the marketplace.

Tom Ridge, Years Too Late, Recalls Political Pressure On Election Eve Terror 'Threat'

I'd have felt better about Ridge's disclosure if he had done it at the time.

Nearly five years and one book later is pretty weak.

Highway 164 Coalition Exposes More Free Speech Suppression

In its own words, the Highway 164 Coalition explains what happened a couple of weeks ago when its members went to a public input session about public spending sponsored by a public agency in a public building.

Waukesha Water Consultant Says Milwaukee Should Not Be "Petty And Vindictive"

Earlier this week I posted and interpreted a document about Waukesha's water diversion needs, wants and strategy.

Provided upon request by the Waukesha Water Utility, the document outlined obstacles to Milwaukee's agreeing to sell Waukesha water from Lake Michigan, but none the less said Waukesha needed Milwaukee to sign on to Waukesha's diversion application before it was to be submitted to the state for review - - and noted that if Milwaukee wouldn't play ball, Oak Creek and Racine were available as alternative suppliers.

That posting, with a link to the full document, is here.

Waukesha Water Utility general manager Daniel Duchniak said portions of the document might have been used in a subsequent meeting on the subject with Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.
The document's author is Bill McClenahan, a lobbyist and consultant to Waukesha. He works for the public relations firm Martin J. Schreiber & Associates, founded by the former Governor.

Also in the records provided by the Waukesha Water Utility was an email accompanying the attached document sent on March 8, 2009 from McClenahan to Duchniak, Waukesha Mayor Larry Nelson, and former Governor Schreiber that further illuminates Waukesha's attitude and approach to Milwaukee:

Here is the full text:

"One item I did not mention, but which should be added to the attachment: people involved in the effort to make Milwaukee the water technology hub have expressed concern that a failure to cooperate with Milwaukee's neighbor on water issues will hurt Milwaukee's efforts to establish itself as a leader and visionary. Milwaukee could take the opportunity to set a positive precedent on how such sales should be conducted or it can risk looking petty and vindictive."

There you have it, Milwaukee: regionalism is always about doing what the suburbs want.

You've been warned.

More Support For Bringing The Hoan Bridge Down To Grade

Originally, this was a bridge to nowhere, and it remains an over-engineered and gaudy snippet of Interstate Highway that makes a iconic statement, but like a '57 Cadillac, makes no financial sense to maintain, rebuild and keep running.

Some South Shore communities want the Hoan Bridge retained and redecked, but who will pay for that?

Certainly not the likes of St. Francis and Cudahy, let alone the State of Wisconsin, and the feds, to boot.

I said a year ago that the recent proposal from our usually highway-addicted state transportation department to look for reasonable alternatives to be a refreshing and telling discussion, and so do more and more local observers.

Lost In The Lies About "Death Panels" Is Need For Clear, End-Of-Life Directives And Care

What's so outrageous about the fake chaff thrown into the health care reform debate by Sarah Palin and others who conjured up fears about "death panels" is it obstructs the great need for clarity and intention and follow-through to ease the suffering of terminally ill patients and their families.

My wife and I each went through some of this recently as our mothers died. In our cases, there were directives, along with nursing and hospice care providers- - so we were spared most of the uncertainties that could accompany loved ones' passings when end-of-life planning had not been done and implemented.

But that is not always the case, and any encouragement that can be provided prior to the onset of bad news and tough times is a Godsend.

Cluttering up those advantages with fake political claims, and scaring people away from the benefits, is just plain sick.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Madison Nostalgia

Back in the day, when we lived on Madison's east side with two small kids, the big fun every summer was a little carnival with ten-cent rides on a vacant lot off Milwaukee Street that I think was called the East Side Businessman's Fair, and then the Sun Prairie Corn Festival towards the end of August.

Was it the Corn Roast then, or am I really getting old?

They tell me these days that Sun Prairie is more a Madison suburb than the small farm town that sent Bob Kastenmeier to Congress, term-after-term, but I bet people can still enjoy themselves out there eating corn slathered in butter.

RePower America, On Behalf Of Climate Change Legislation, Offering Toll-Free Congressional Contacts

Says Repower America:

It's easier than ever to send a personal message to your Senators to support clean energy -- and as we build towards a crucial vote on a clean energy and climate bill, it's more important now than ever.

We just launched the Repower America Hotline. It's a number you can call anytime to leave a message for your Senators, and we'll make sure it gets to their offices.

Just call 1-877-9-REPOWER. Enter your zip code when prompted so we know which Senators should receive your message.

Make sure to say your name, that you are a voter in their state, and that they should support comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation that jumpstarts our economy by creating good jobs, lessens our dependence on foreign oil and reduces harmful pollution.

Republicans Are Incapable Of Praising Jim Doyle

Republicans bellyache about Gov. Jim Doyle 24/7, and accuse him somehow of personally driving up state unemployment.

So when he scores a new industry for Wisconsin - - the assembly of new trains and train repair nationally - - Jane One-Notes like Alberta Darling have to keep up the bashing, no matter how contradictory that may make her appear.

I am sure that Darling has plenty of constituents who ride Amtrak to Chicago for work and recreation: has she polled them to see if they like the improved service the Doyle train purchases will provide?

This is more partisanship and ideology triumphing over commonsense and logic. Not to mention consistency.

100% Of Sampled US Recreational Fish Tested Positive For Mercury: Still A Fan Of Coal-Burning Power Plants?

Another reason why climate change legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is good for you: less mercury falling from power plant smokestacks into our rivers, streams and lakes.

Tommy Thompson Might Have Brett's Disease

Actually, this is pretty sad.

The Right Treats Myths, Errors As Facts

Give the Right and Republicans an "F" in History, Economics and Civics.

Its revisionist recreation of the New Deal as a failure is nonsense.

The ranting that the 2009 stimulus package is an instant failure is more nonsense, as jobs are being saved and created, spending on infrastructure, R&D and other employment sectors is accelerating, and the pace will pick up through this year, and next - - as has long been explained.

And screaming at members of Congress at town hall meetings about fictitious "death panels" in health care reform proposals, or toting guns to the meetings, is hardly good citizenship.

The Right is wallowing in post-election, self-induced hysteria.

Let's hope the health care reform that clears the Congress contains counseling services aplenty.

[Update: An op-ed columnist at The Washington Post has some similar conclusions.]

SEWRPC Housing Committee Must Proceed With Caution At Next Meeting

I have been hearing from members of the Advisory Committee on Housing established by the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission that the large committee membership and volume of technical issues already on the table could impair the committee's effectiveness.

It's a situation not limited to SEWRPC and its committees: public advisory bodies, even when comprised of experts, have limited time availabilities, and that works to the advantage of the sponsoring agency staff, which provides the committee members their agendas, data, documents and other items.

So it is important for committees to be vigilant, especially at the beginning of a long study process, and to avoid green-lighting staff proposals that too quickly set the tone and can limit the content and value for the balance of the committee's work.

I see in the minutes of the most recent Housing committee meeting (p. 6) that at the next session, on 9/23, the staff will roll out for review the first two chapters of the Housing study - - crucial chapters because they will lay out the parameters, goals and standards for what follows.

Great care must be given to these guiding chapters: their wording is the one chance that committee members have to create the study's blueprint, hence its findings and recommendations.

A cautionary example:

The SEWRPC advisory committee on regional water supply did not make the parameters of that study broad enough. Some efforts to add more than basic cost-effectiveness to water utilities, and conservation plans, were discussed, but voted down.

After the study was completed more than three years later, there was a consensus that without an analysis of the socio-economic consequences of piping Lake Michigan water to more communities both east and west of the subcontinental divide - - impacts on jobs, housing, transportation and other basic regional planning issues - - the study was too narrowly drawn, and this deeply flawed.

So now SEWRPC, after initially balking, has agreed to hire a specialized consultant to write that very kind of analysis, though how it gets integrated into the balance of the report and recommendations has not been determined.

If it becomes a mere appendix, there will be more trouble ahead for the recommendations, and less credibility both for the already-controversial study, and for SEWRPC.

Bottom line message to the Housing committee:

Don't make the same mistake. Hold up the crafting of the introductory and goals/standards chapters until you are absolutely sure that they do not guarantee that the study turns into to ineffective document with boiler-plate guidelines and outcomes

The region has waited 36 years for its latest housing plan.

The world has changed dramatically in those years.

Demand that the housing study emphasize sustainability. New urbanism.

If, as SEWRPC says in its mission statement that it represents the highly-urbanized region in Southeastern Wisconsin, then the housing study has to have urban design at its core.

Like this model from northern Illinois.

So make use at the outset of case studies from other cities and planning commissions and break tired SEWRPC study mold.

Take a few extra days or weeks or meetings, give directives to the staff that works for you, and get this one right from the start.

McIlheran Misses The Point: Episode #635

The newspaper's in-house conservative blogger bemoans delayed bridge repair in the Zoo Interchange - - true fact, good point - - then fumbles the ball by citing another conservative blogger who blames it all on Doyle.

Again, a victory of ideology and superficiality over reporting.

Truth is, groups like 1000 Friends of Wisconsin (entire report and follow up papers, here), politicians like John Norquist, bloggers and transportation policy specialists like Gretchen Schuldt (CASH), and any number of others, including yours truly, have been saying for years that Governors, regardless of party, and the highway lobby and the State Department of Transportation continue to promote the building of new highways without putting the priority on fixing the roads we have.

The concept is called "Fix it First."

Which is being violated right now with $1.9 billion (and a lot of early stimulus dollars) committed to rebuilding and widening I-94 from Milwaukee to Illinois, without justification.

And which is being violated with millions more spent up north on State Highway 41 through John Gard's old state assembly district - - pure pork laid on in the form of expensive small-town bypasses and new bridges and added lanes just because Gard was Majority Leader and made sure he got his share of new pavement.

Even little Mineral Point got a huge bypass - - completed in 2003, though the community lost 6% or its population between 2000 and 2008, and is now down to 2,400: state plans pretty much call for every village or town with more than 2,500 residents to get itself a bypass, and the heck with the downtowns that get bypassed.

When I wrote in a 2005 Cap Times op-ed about this idiotic new bypass binge, Pound, with 355 residents, was on the WisDOT list.

Democrats and Republicans, governors and legislators, lobbyists and road-builders have all had a hand in a road-building binge in Wisconsin that has been going on for decades.

While maintenance - - whether for filling potholes or shoring up bridges - - keeps taking a back seat to building more lanes or new roads that, in the long run, will also suffer their predictable lack of repairs.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

21 Companies Drop Ads From Fox's Glenn Beck Program

Complaints about Glenn Beck's characterization of Pres. Obama as a racist have led 21 large corporations to pull their ads from his show on Fox News, reports the watchdog group Media Matters.

Even Wal-Mart.

Cuprisin On Favre, Media And Breaking News

Former Journal Sentinel media columnist Tim Cuprisin, taking his byline and considerable experience after the latest newsroom buyout at 4th and State to, writes about why local television broke into yesterday's programming to carry a Brett Favre news conference as live, breaking news.

It's a discussion I kicked off in a fit of Internet pique on this blog yesterday, to which Tim links, noting for the record that while I am not a grumpy old crank, (I agree: "old" doesn't fit), I'm still tilting at windmills for condemning the stations for going live.

Tim's analysis is right: local media consider anything related to the Packers and the weather to be ratings gold, and no amount of complaining will change station management thinking and behavior.

And, yes, I can (and do) watch the PBS News Hour to find information that won't be interrupted by events that are packaged to keep viewers itchy fingers off the remotes.

But that doesn't mean TV consumers should avoid registering their objections with the stations over programming interruptions every time it rains in spring, thunders in summer, and snows in winter, or whenever the wind kicks up somewhere in the viewing area so full-color Doppler maps, in-house Weather Centers or reporting teams can be activated and hyped.

Like other consumers of products and services, viewers should speak out if they feel they are being stampeded or deceived or condescended.

If they feel like "Breaking News" has lost its meaning through over-use or trivialization, or they are being used as pawns in the ratings game, they should call or write the station - - just as they would if they were ticked off at a politician, chain store or Internet site.

For my money, when I see and hear "Breaking News," it reads "Crying Wolf" to me.

And I still prefer seeing Packers stories in the sports segment, not as the lede.

Kids To Build Windmills On Chicago Lakefront

Making science and green tech kid friendly. Great idea.

Barrett Does Well At News Conference

I give Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett a lot of credit for how well he managed his news conference today.

He spread around praise to family and first responders, stayed away from prejudicial remarks about his batterer, had some eloquent things to say about the realities of domestic violence and didn't get into a political discussion about his perceptions of crime.

Barrett obviously showed fortitude when confronted by the batterer, and displayed it again by holding the news conference: I know from personal experience that talking, publicly taking questions and thinking on your feel after recovery from surgeries and facial injuries that include the loss of teeth would be very very tough and draining, and would be the last thing anyone recuperating, as is the Mayor, would find easy to do.

My unsolicited advice, Mr. Mayor: take some genuine time off, gather your strength and ease back into a work routine.

Tour Vernon Marsh On Saturday, Join Friends Of The Marsh

Friends of Vernon Marsh
Organization Kick-off Event
August 22, 2009
10:00 am to 11:30 am
End of Frog Alley Road (off Hwy 83)

Call 414-507-8358 with questions.

This event will celebrate the creation of Friends of Vernon Marsh, an organization dedicated to the protection of the Vernon Marsh Wildlife Area.

Agenda (rain or shine)

Ÿ 10:00 a.m: Welcome and Remarks, concluded by a symbolic ribbon-cutting.

Ÿ 10:20 a.m: Informal reception. Light refreshments will be served.

Ÿ 11:30 a.m: Formal event ends. A short marsh hike with DNR staff will follow.

Experts on the Vernon Marsh ecosystem will be available to answer questions and to discuss management objectives for the marsh, and
Friends of Vernon Marsh board members will be available to discuss the goals of the group, reasons for its formation, and membership opportunities and benefits.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Milwaukee Local Television News (Sic) Is A Farce

Local stations broke into national news and other programming at 5:45 p.m. to carry so-called "Breaking News," a Brett Favre news conference in Minnesota.

TMJ4 at the time was in the midst of a story about swine flu preparations.

Favre's signing with the Vikings was all over the news all day. It is hardly "breaking" or "news" at this hour, and will certainly be the lead at the 6:00 p.m. local 'news' broadcast, then repeated again during the sports segments a few minutes after that.

TV's slavish devotion to all things Packers, even to former Packers, is pathetic, as its its disregard for the rest of the news.

Waukesha Wants Milwaukee To Carry Its Water In Diversion Proceedings

A bit of sunshine can now be shown on one aspect of Waukesha's strategic push for a Great Lakes diversion.

An unsigned internal document obtained from the Waukesha Water Utility by this blog shows how Waukesha is framing its wants and needs for the diversion, including the desire for the City of Milwaukee to formally endorse the Waukesha application for a Lake Michigan diversion prior to Waukesha's submission of that application to the Department of Natural Resources.

Without that formal City of Milwaukee endorsement, the Waukesha document says that Waukesha's application would be incomplete for DNR consideration - - suggesting something of a Catch-22 for Waukesha since the DNR review and acceptance is a prerequisite for the review and approval of the seven other Great Lakes states.

All eight Great Lakes states must approve an application from Waukesha because the city is entirely outside of the Great Lakes basin, according to the Great Lakes Compact approved by all eight Great Lakes states, and US Congress, in 2008.

Waukesha Water Utility Manager Daniel Duchniak said by email that the three-page internal document "GOALS" was written by Bill McClenahan, a public relations contractor and key figure in Waukesha's diversion strategy and planning who works at the firm of Martin J. Schreiber & Associates.

The document (here is a link created for me to a pdf of the hard-copy document) also:

* Lays out in a dozen bullets under the heading "To Impress upon Milwaukee" (bold-facing in the original) the case for Waukesha's wants and needs for Lake Michigan water, and that ends with the bold-faced and italicized summation: "It makes more sense for Milwaukee to be at the table than to walk away from it."

* Says that Milwaukee is Waukesha's preferred Lake Michigan supplier supplier.

* But also discloses it wants and needs similar letters of support or resolutions for the Lake Michigan diversion from Oak Creek and Racine as possible alternatives to Milwaukee as the provider of the water.

* Emphasizes that conditions on water negotiations and sales established by the Milwaukee Common Council, including water pricing, Smart Growth and socio-economic tie-ins (transportation, housing, development, environment) are "confusing and complex...and appear inconsistent with Waukesha's timetable for submitting an application for Great Lakes water this spring." (emphasis in the original)

Though that timetable has obviously come and gone, other documents provided by the utility show that McClenahan, Duchniak and Waukesha Mayor Larry Nelson have reviewed application drafts and materials - - dove-tailing with public statements from Nelson that he wants the application submitted to the DNR before the end of the year.

Duchniak said by email that portions of the document may have been used during a meeting with Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

Along with senior Milwaukee Ald. and Common Council water expert Michael Murphy, however, Barrett has twice written the DNR and asked that it not accept for review any community's diversion application before the agency has published administrative rules that spell out an application's review requirements and processes.

To date, there has been no reply from the DNR, which I am sure is not making Milwaukee happy with either the DNR's apparent passivity, or with Waukesha's apparent full head of steam without state guidance, let alone administrative restraint.

If you are Waukesha, you'd read the DNR's silence to Milwaukee as something of a green light.

Also: Milwaukee is still seeking a consultant to help it price water for sale to communities like Waukesha - - an issue McClenahan saw as a potential obstacle to Milwaukee aldermen beginning negotiations, as well as other delays for Waukesha's application review and eventual approval.

Concluded McClenahan:

"[Note: In addition, it is possible any such [Milwaukee water sales' consultant] report will be controversial," wrote McClenahan in the document's conclusion. "Milwaukee does not own Lake Michigan water. It can charge for delivery and treatment of water. It can even charge for developmental impacts on Milwaukee of water sales. But I believe that it cannot charge for the water, which is held in public trust. Any such "commoditizing" of water is also contrary to the Great Lakes Compact.]

"The bottom line is that Waukesha must determine whether Milwaukee's process and timing coincides with its own needs to move forward." (emphasis in the original)

So it seems unlikely-to-impossible that Milwaukee would endorse Waukesha's game plan by signing onto Waukesha's application at this point - - that is, prior to the DNR's writing the administrative rules - - a DNR process that Waukesha officials believe unnecessary, water utility documents show.

Wacky Columnist Infers That The Corps Of Engineers Should Not Be A Health Care Provider

This is the sort of intellectual quicksand into which knee-jerk ideologues wander and stall.

More Transportation Stimulus Money Moving To Milwaukee - - Per The Law

Some suburban officials are complaining that federal stimulus money is being ticketed for Milwaukee, but they haven't a leg to stand on because the law requires the money be spent in economically-distressed communities.

Milwaukee is landlocked, forbidden to annex for expansion, so it's been okey-dokey for the suburbs all these years to keep the poor hemmed in the big city.

Hold the alligator tears out there in Germantown, please.

Destructive Asian Carp Closing In On Lake Michigan

This menacing invasive species could wreak havoc in the Great Lakes if it breaches the electric barrier installed to keep them out.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Early Impression: Scott Walker This Weekend's Big Political Loser

Just a first impression, perhaps proven wrong during the 16 months to go until the next Wisconsin Governor is sworn it, but I think that Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker is the biggest loser in the wake of two-term Gov. Jim Doyle's decision declining another run.

Walker - - the GOP front runner ahead of former Cong. Mark Neumann - - had positioned himself as the anti-Doyle, but is suddenly without his target, foil and number one issue.

Now the office-holder whose record will be picked apart is Walker's, and it is littered with phony budgeting, flip-flops on stimulus grants, broken pension reform promises, campaign contribution reporting gaps, magical revenue projections, and even basic service chaos as the state's largest transit system, an arm of County government, is close to collapse - - with Walker at the helm.

Walker's latest gambit has been to one-up County Board Chairman Lee Holloway's suggestion that the position of County Executive be eliminated.

Heck, get rid of most of County government, Walker suggested.

Cute, perhaps, like a politics-free motorcycle tour around the state, but hardly the basis of a pro-active statewide campaign for Governor.

Election day 2010 is a long way off, but I expect to see Walker on the defensive as he tries to come up with a new game plan.

Justice Scalia Argues The "Pro" Side Of Executing An Innocent Person

Talk about twisted thinking.

DNR Silent For Months On Milwaukee Letter About Diversion Rules

On June 1, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Ald. Michael Murphy, the Common Council's senior member and resident expert on water policy, urged the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources in writing to produce administrative rules governing the content and review of Great Lakes water diversions prior to accepting applications seeking diversion permission under The Great Lakes Compact.

Wisconsin signed on to the Compact last year, but the DNR has yet to write administrative rules governing applications.

Having administrative rules in place first is opposed by the City of Waukesha, which has water utility staff and consultants hard at work writing the first diversion application under the Compact that seeks to move water to a community entirely outside the Great Lakes basin.

My belief is that the closer we get to Waukesha launching its application without the DNR's rules in place, the more likely that one of more of the seven other Great Lakes states that would have to participate in a unanimous approval of the Waukesha request will balk - - not because the application was necessarily deficient, but because the Wisconsin DNR will be seen as a renegade or uncooperative partner in what is supposed to be a regional, two-country collaborative process governing diversions and enhancing Great Lakes watershed conservation.

So it should be Waukesha that is most interested in a coherent approval process; forging ahead could be self-destructive, which is why the DNR needs to step up and say it will keep the horse before the cart: rules first, then reviews.

Under a legal agreement, Waukesha has until 2018 to provide water to its users that is free of naturally-occurring radium in well water.

Waukesha's preferred solution is a precedent-setting diversion of up to 18.5 million gallons daily of Lake Michigan water, with a probable return flow scheme using Underwood Creek in Wauwatosa - - though the return flow regime is under study and no approvals or permits have been secured.

And Waukesha has not settled on Milwaukee as a source of Lake Michigan water, with Oak Creek and Racine also potentially available - - but does intend to pressure Milwaukee to agree to be the supplier and to take certain procedural initiatives on Waukesha's behalf to get that done.

More on that later.

Without a response for two-and-a-half months to their initial letter to the DNR, Barrett and Murphy have sent a follow-up letter.

Here is the text:

August 17, 2009

Secretary Matthew Frank
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
101 South Webster Street
Madison, Wisconsin 53707

Dear Secretary Frank:

As you recall, we sent you a letter in early June regarding the process the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) will use in accepting and reviewing any applications for diversions submitted after the effective date of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact (the Compact). We have not received a response, nor has any of our staff. Although we recognize that this must be a difficult decision for the DNR, a letter or call acknowledging receipt of our letter and an estimated time for a response would have been appropriate.

We continue to recommend that the WDNR accept no application for diversion until the WDNR has issued administrative rules and guidelines for implementation of the Compact and that those rules are fully implemented. We have met with Mayor Nelson and understand his desire to move forward with an application as soon as possible. We believe that Waukesha’s application and the WDNR’s review would be subject to fewer legal challenges and delays if administrative rules were in place to clarify the substantive requirements for a diversion application that were not addressed during the legislative process.

We also continue to recommend that any applicant for a diversion bear the burden of proof and cost of demonstrating that the application is consistent with the requirements of the Compact and any implementing rules. As we stated in our earlier letter, no City or entity other than the applicant should be asked to fund studies or reviews necessary to show compliance with the Compact.

We look forward to your response.


Mayor Tom Barrett

Alderman Michael J. Murphy

cc: Todd Ambs
Mayor Larry Nelson, City of Waukesha

More Than 100 Drunk Driving Convictions Every Day In Wisconsin

By my math - - more than one every 15 minutes.

And Wisconsin is still dragging its feet reforming its notably weak OWI statutes?

Here is how the state Transportation Department crunches the numbers that make Wisconsin the number-one state in the nation for drunken driving:

WisDOT: Connector Express -- Volume 10, Issue 138/17/2009 Nationwide crackdown on drunken driving set for Aug. 21 – Sept. 7

Over 300 law enforcement agencies throughout Wisconsin will be stepping up patrols to arrest impaired motorists as part of the nationwide “Drunk Driving Over the Limit Under Arrest” crackdown from Aug. 21 through Labor Day Sept. 7.

Last year, alcohol-related crashes in Wisconsin killed 234 people and
injured over 4,300.

Research has shown Wisconsin has the highest rate of drunken driving in the nation.

About 37,000 drivers were convicted of drunken driving in Wisconsin in 2008.

The federally-funded initiative will include enhanced law enforcement patrols combined with targeted media messages.

Stimulus Finances Cutting Edge Science - - Beneath Wisconsin

My favorite political/scientific story of the month.

Michael Horne Advancing Barrett Beating Story

Horne has covered City Hall and local news for years.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Rightwing Blogger Mocks Barrett

Go figure.

Not A Good Day To Amble Around Cedarburg, Ozaukee County Sites

Hazardous levels of ozone. You can't see it, but it's there, says the DNR:

Air Quality Advisory for Ozone (Orange)Issued: 12:56 pm Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Wisconsin DNR has issued an Air Quality Advisory for Ozone (Orange) effective 12:01 pm Sunday, August 16, 2009 through 9:00 pm Sunday, August 16, 2009 for Ozaukee County.

The advisory is being issued because of persistent elevated levels of ground level ozone. Ground level ozone is formed when pollution from power plants, factories and other industrial sources, vehicle exhaust, and volatile organic compounds chemically reacts with hot temperatures, high humidity and atmospheric stagnation.

The Air Quality Index is currently in or expected to soon be in the orange level, which is considered unhealthy for people in sensitive groups and others, including people who are not in sensitive groups but who are engaged in strenuous outside activities or exposed for prolonged periods of time. People in those sensitive groups include those with respiratory diseases, such as asthma, older adults, and active adults and children. When an orange advisory for ozone is issued, people in those groups are advised to reschedule or cut back on strenuous outside activities.

People with lung diseases such as asthma and bronchitis should pay attention to shortness of breath or respiratory symptoms like coughing, wheezing and discomfort when taking a breath, and consult with their physician if they have concerns or are experiencing symptoms. Ground level ozone can irritate the respiratory system, reduce lung function, aggravate asthma and chronic lung diseases, and, over time, cause permanent lung damage.

The Consequences Of Staff Cuts At The Journal Sentinel

Local TV web operations beat the paper getting out the news about Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett's beating Saturday night leaving State Fair.

That's a huge story. beat everyone in the state disclosing that Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle was not running for a third term.

Another big story.

News cycle and weekend staffing issues were no doubt involved in the paper's following TV outlets and sites when it came to the Barrett story, and yes, is dedicated to politics and election coverage, but I cannot help but think we're seeing what happens when print severely cuts reportorial staff: plugged-in are no longer at the top of sources' minds.

That's a problem for the community-at-large.

And not a good sign of things to come.

Beating Of Mayor Barrett Leaving State Fair Is Serious Situation

The beating of Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett as he left State Fair in West Allis Saturday night is a troubling, unacceptable and extremely serious matter, though if early reports are accurate that he was alert at the scene, an episode mercifully less serious for the Mayor and his family than could have been.

Regardless: no one leaving State Fair - - and I know this because my wife and I usually go once or twice to the fair each year, park in the surrounding neighborhood and give absolutely 0% concern there for our safety - - should fear being caught up in such a violent altercation at or near the fairgrounds.

Don't fault Barrett for declining his security detail to go to the fair.

Having worked for former Mayor John Norquist, I know that mayors often travel without security if they are going out to a movie, to dinner, or to friends' homes, and I am sure the Barretts considered walking around State Fair a routine family summer outing just a few minutes from their west side home.

Give Barrett credit for calling 911 in answer to someone's call for help; the attacker apparently turned his attention and metal pipe away from a female victim towards the Mayor.

I'm sure the first victim can ID the pipe-wielding fool, who will end up where he belongs - - in prison.

Our prayers go out to Tom and his family.

Don Behm Showcases UWM Campus Stream Project

The visionary academic Jim Wasley uses a grant from the MMSD to keep stormwater out of the system by creating a new stream on campus.

Pretty great project. We want more.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Dirty Air In Many Wisconsin Population Centers

Says the DNR:

The Wisconsin DNR has issued an Air Quality Watch for Ozone effective 12:01 am Thursday, August 13, 2009 through 11:59 pm Sunday, August 16, 2009 for Door, Kenosha, Kewaunee, Manitowoc, Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Racine, Sheboygan, Washington and Waukesha counties.

The watch is being issued because of the forecast for elevated levels of ground level ozone. Ground level ozone is formed when pollution from power plants, factories and other industrial sources, vehicle exhaust, and volatile organic compounds chemically reacts with hot temperatures, high humidity and atmospheric stagnation.

The Air Quality Index is forecast to reach the orange level, which is considered unhealthy for people in sensitive groups and others, including people who are not in sensitive groups but who are engaged in strenuous outside activities or exposed for prolonged periods of time. People in those sensitive groups include those with respiratory diseases, such as asthma, older adults, and active adults and children.

When an air quality watch is issued, people in those groups are advised to reschedule or cut back on strenuous outside activities during the watch period.
People with lung diseases such as asthma and bronchitis should pay attention to shortness of breath, or respiratory symptoms like coughing, wheezing and discomfort when taking a breath, and consult with their physician if they have concerns or are experiencing symptoms.

Ground level ozone can irritate the respiratory system, reduce lung function, aggravate asthma and chronic lung diseases, and, over time, cause permanent lung damage.

Wisconsin Politics Changes Immediately If Doyle Does Not Run Again and others are reporting that two-term Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle will not seek re-election in 2010.

[And that and not a state newspaper broke the story speaks volumes about the decline of political reporting in the Wisconsin print media.]

Along with other potential candidates, the Monday confirming announcement will boost the fortunes of Democratic Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton and leading GOP candidate Scott Walker.

With nearly a year and a half left to serve, Doyle can continue to shape debates and outcomes, with issues ranging from Milwaukee School Reform, Midwestern High Speed Rail, DNR secretary selection and other issues in the balance.

The economic downturn and fiscal challenges resulting are surely central to his thinking; two terms in the meat grinder is probably the most that any incumbent can stand.

Whether it's a job in the Obama administration, the private sector, or just a quiet transition to whatever is his next phase, I wish Doyle the best.

WisDOT Violating Spirit, Specifics Of Open House Federal Guidelines

By calling the State Fair police to expel to distant parking lot street entrances taxpayers from a citizen coalition trying to hand out leaflets during one recent highway open house, and to another floor at a second open house - - both in public facilities - - Wisconsin Department of Transportation officials are trampling on the spirit and specifics in federal guidelines governing transportation project meetings.

For example:

"Stakeholders prepare visual and written materials to make their viewpoints known. Space can be made available for community viewpoints expressed in documents or graphics. At the invitation of the Tennessee DOT, American Indians and environmental groups teamed up to display their own materials at a table during an open forum hearing. People representing these groups were present to discuss their position...

"An open forum hearing without an audience session precludes debate on a proposal’s merits. Parties do not hear opposing views first-hand -- nor do they have an opportunity to clarify stances or raise questions about opposing viewpoints. Some critics charge that agencies use open forum hearings as a "divide-and-conquer" strategy. If differing views are not heard, the public may be surprised to find a controversy exists. When people hear one another, they develop an improved understanding of a proposal and its implications for other people. To assure that multiple viewpoints are presented at an open forum hearing, the Ohio DOT allows community groups to set up exhibition tables near the open meeting tables, labeled clearly to distinguish them from agency tables.

The entire point of the guidelines is to make people feel comfortable at the meetings and to maximize citizen participation.

I don't see in the federal guidelines"call the cops...send people with leaflets outside to the street or downstairs as people get onto an escalator, all designed to make interaction and communication and perhaps persuasion impossible..."

WisDOT, annoyed at the Highway J/164 coalition over a lawsuit contesting a project in Waukesha County and more rural Washington County, has decided to limit, not encourage, the coalition members' participation at open house meetings relating to the Zoo Interchange and other regional highway projects.

WisDOT is also stepping on the coalition members' First Amendment rights to free speech, free assembly, plus Due Process, too.

It is regrettable that state legislators and mainstream media, always on the lookout for overbearing, anti-democratic government action, have not sharply criticized WisDOT for these practices.

I suppose it will take a lawsuit to get WisDOT to change its ways, but isn't that absurd?

When It Comes To Highway Planning, Public Be Damned

The familiar pattern continues.

Last October, the Federal Highway Administration carried out a required, public quadrennial certification review of the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, without which SEWRPC could not continue to approve major transportation spending in the seven-county Milwaukee area.

The FHWA tried to make the review's public hearing into a tepid, town hall format after the 2004 session turned into a hours' long roasting, but that failed. Following the 2008 session, FHWA reviewers said the report would be completed in roughly 90 days.

Here we are, nearly a year later, and no report. Calls and emails this spring and summer to FHWA officials in Madison first produced word of delays, but have lately gone unanswered.

SEWRPC was kind enough to say this week that the report has not been delivered there. the state level, transportation officials have twice prevented activists from Waukesha and Washington Counties distribute leaflets at recent hearings in public facilities on a $2.3 billion plan to rebuild and widen the Zoo Interchange.

And will not guarantee that all the activists' comments will be entered in the record, the activists say. 

This official behavior has all the hallmarks of a vendetta by state officials angry that the activists sued in Federal Court, charging that the state did not follow proper procedures when state highway 164 was widened through farms and front yards.

So the state, striking back, is proving the activists are correct by denying them due process and their rights when it comes to planning and managing projects and agency reviews funded with federal dollars.

Bureaucracies, like people, are sometimes their own worst enemies.

Out Verona Way: The Road To Sprawlville, Chapter XXIX

There's a regional land squabble in Dane County between the Town of Verona and the City of Verona over more than 200 acres, which may or may not be developed, with storm water issues that could affect two creeks, too.

What I find interesting in the apparently stalled debate is that Capital Area Regional Planning Commission member - - Larry Palm, a Madison alderman and Mayoral appointee to the CARPC - - says that engineered solutions to environmental problems caused by development are no substitute for what nature already provides.

Now there's a refreshing reminder - - both for its content, and about a perspective that we do not see represented on planning commission in our area - - the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission.

Maybe that's because on the SEWRPC 21-member ruling board there are no City of Milwaukee Mayoral appointees.

Nice job on the Verona, as per usual, by the Daily Reporter.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Bob Dylan Story

Are you more surprised that the story was that two young police officers didn't recognize Bob Dylan who was out for a walk, or that the story says Dylan is 68?

Or are these two matters related?

I'll defer to Xoff for an explanation, since like Dylan, he's also from Hibbing, but younger.

Getting The Nazi Label Out Of US Domestic Politics

Glad to see national commentators on the subject.

Our own local offender, right-wing blogger and state legislative aide (to State Sen. Mary Lazich, R-New Berlin) Kevin Fischer, having been called out on his use of the "Nazi" label to slur the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, has managed recently to condemn the DNR without slapping on the Nazi label.


We'll see, as Kevin's recent invention of the phrase "matzo-skinned" to describe certain liberals makes it tough to give the guy the benefit of the doubt.

Further Newspaper Consolidation In Madison

Staff cuts at both the Capital Times (now exclusively online) and the State Journal, along with some merged reporting, puts the capital city closer to a one-newspaper situation.

Details here.

Not an ideal circumstance for a state capital or any city, for that matter.

Troubled Water Utility Gets Media Props In Madison

The Madison Water Utility gets editorial praise in the Wisconsin State Journal for quickly fixing a contaminated well.

City Takeover Of Schools A Huge Step Politically

The proposal by both Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Governor Jim Doyle to put the Milwaukee Public Schools under the control of the Mayor and Common Council would be a policy shift of historic proportions.

It is too early to know if the plan can be implemented, or if it would demonstrably improve educational outcomes in the city, but there are too many problems with the status quo to rule out the proposal's possibilities.

This issue will dominate local politics around here for the foreseeable future, and it is noteworthy that it allies the two senior elected Democrats in the state who ran against each other for Governor in 2002 - - Barrett and Doyle - - and then puts these two leaders against many in the MPS system and their supporters - - mostly Democrats - - against Doyle and Barrett.

I'm not one to bash MPS. I have friends and a daughter-in-law who work at MPS and they are among the hardest-working and most professionally-dedicated people I know.

But there is no denying that education is crucial to the success of the city and everyone who lives and works here, and fundamental change is needed in the way education at every level is managed in Milwaukee.

I give Barrett and Doyle credit for being willing to step into what will be rough waters, and I hope everyone can stay focused on the big picture and away from narrow or tangential issues.

Madison Needs A Train Station Like Milwaukee's

Solid argument.

Milwaukee's Intermodal Station is a plus for the city.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Suburban Leaders Should Oppose Freeway Expansion In Favor Of More Local Road Aid

New Berlin finds itself unable to pay for all the local road work it needs.

But Waukesha County's political leaders are willing to throw away $1.75 million on a share of the Interchange to Nowhere (the stalled Pabst Farms no-longer-upscale Mall-no-one-will-build) and are pressing for faster construction at the $2.3 billion Zoo Interchange rebuilding and expansion.

Why not fix what we have first, whether in New Berlin, Milwaukee or other area communities?

Government Official With Access To Government Health Care Attacks Government Health Care

State Sen. Mary Lazich, (R-New Berlin), must be a secret Onion staffer, given this great blog posting.

Sustainability And Energy Efficiency Conference Deadline Looming

Registrations with discounts for this September conference end 8/15, so get busy.

Great Lakes Wind Power, Water Withdrawals And Rule-Making

Michigan wants to beat Ohio and become the first state to tap Great Lakes winds for energy production.

Wisconsin is muddling through the possibility with research into state legislation and rule-making. To date, utilities and regulators have been content with buying power or wind farms in Minnesota for Wisconsin uses.

Good idea, but using towers on the lakebed has not been a top priority.

Too passive, in my opinion.

Which reminds me: as Waukesha forges ahead with its Lake Michigan diversion application drafting, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, by omission, shows no inclination to write administrative rules laying out what constitutes an accurate, comprehensive and forward-looking application.

This may help Waukesha convince the DNR its diversion application is accurate, comprehensive and forward-looking, but as I have said often on this blog - - and it's just an opinion - - that willingness to skip rule-making by the DNR will suggest to the other seven Great Lakes states that Wisconsin is not a full partner in the mandatory, eight-state review and approval that a Waukesha-level application requires.

Waukesha also shows no interest in urging the DNR to get busy with rule-making, so if and when Waukesha's application is turned down or aside by one of more of the other states, the city will have no one else to blame but itself, its elected officials, advisers and consultants.

Dirty Air Arriving Saturday, DNR Warns

Hazardous levels of polluted air are headed our way Saturday for several Milwaukee area counties, along with Sheboygan, the DNR is predicting.

Bottled Water Sales Decline

People are coming to their senses about bottled water, reports The Washington Post.

Paying a fortune per glass or liter or gallon for what is often tap water poured into a plastic bottle/accessory/affectation is wasteful on half-a-dozen levels.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

In Rush Hour, Again, On I-94: Where Are The Trains?

The hard truths about transportation's one track mindset in these here parts:

* Light rail, killed in its planning stages by Waukesha County officials in 1997.

* Commuter rail planned south of Milwaukee, but not to the West.

I was back and forth to Waukesha County both yesterday afternoon and at rush hour today, being in, and the traffic - - and knowing that Major League Congestion is coming when the Zoo Interchange is 'improved' soon - - so I wondered when Waukesha County residents will realize what they threw away in 1997, and if they know or care how far behind the rest of the region they will be when the K-R-M commuter train line begins operating between Milwaukee and the Illinois state line.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

By Muzzling Its Critics, WisDOT Is Setting Up Taxpayers For A Fall

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation's arrogance is showing again.

The agency forbade critics of its highway plans Tuesday evening from handing out leaflets in a public room during a public hearing.

I predicted this yesterday.

This time, the setting was the Harbor Lights Room at the Downtown Transit Center - - a facility owned by Milwaukee County.

A few weeks ago, WisDOT went even further, summoning the State Fair Park police and forcing anti-highway activists to hand out their leaflets at a street entrance, nowhere near the meeting room.

At the Tuesday event, WisDOT officials first told the activists they would have to stand outside the building on the sidewalk - - then relented, telling the activists they could stand on the ground floor at the stairwell and escalator entrance, but not at, or inside, the second-floor meeting room.

Furthermore, WisDOT, without prior notice, limited speakers giving statements to court reporters (in a separate room, so the public could not hear the statements, thus negating the essence of a public meeting) to a few minutes even though some speakers had lengthy statements to make.

Who gives WisDOT the right to make up and change the rules of public speaking and information-distribution on a whim?

This anti-democratic process has all the earmarks of a vendetta against the activists, who have sued WisDOT in Federal Court over a project in Waukesha and Washington Counties.

Now I can easily see WisDOT losing First Amendment litigation over the agency's high-handed violation of the activists' free speech rights at two straight public meetings in Milwaukee County.