A Waukesha resident has begun blogging about water and related issues in his hometown.
The more the merrier, I'd say. Check it out.
Wednesday, February 28, 2007
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett took a hit in a Wednesday Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial over remarks last week on the region's water debate.
Specifically, he told a group of Great Lakes policy activists that it was important to adopt pending procedural amendments to the Great Lakes Compact that govern how and when water may be diverted away from the Great Lakes basin.
And he said that diverted water should not be used to fuel suburban sprawl - - a reasonable argument, since he is the Mayor of the only municipality in the state forbidden by state law to grow through annexation.
And Mayor of a municipality in which low-income people require and expect public services - - costs that most of the Milwaukee suburbs do not have to bear.
The editorial implies only Milwaukee and Barrett are off the regional cooperation bandwagon with regard to water policy and usage.
That is not the case.
Twice last year, the Waukesha Water Utility, an arm of the City of Waukesha with a governing commission that includes its Mayor, had consulting attorneys confidentially ask Governor Jim Doyle to administratively approve permission for Waukesha to pipe in up to 24 million gallons of water daily from Lake Michigan.
Those requests also argued that Waukesha not be required to return that water to the Great Lakes basin; the proposed amendments to the Great Lakes Compact - - a collaborative arrangement - - require precisely that as a basic conservation principle.
To maintain the Great Lakes as a regional, shared resource. And not tapped into through back-door machinations.
These requests to Doyle, rejected (so far), were made at the same time that Daniel Duchniak, the utility's general manager, was sitting on a regional advisory committee working up regional water policy recommendations at SEWRPC - - the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission.
But the Waukesha entreaties to Doyle were not disclosed at those advisory committee meetings.
(Nor did the New Berlin representative tell the SEWRPC committee that New Berlin had sent an actual diversion application into the Great Lakes Compact review process - - yet there was ample opportunity for such disclosure because both the SEWRPC committee and New Berlin employ the same consultant - - Ruekert/Mielke - - that wrote the New Berlin application and is researching and framing the SEWRPC water study.)
Duchniak is also a member of a state legislative committee meeting in Madison that is working up draft state legislation to approve and implement the amended Great Lakes Compact in Wisconsin.
But Waukesha's confidential communications to Doyle were not sent to the committee until the documents had been obtained through an Open Records request and posted on the Internet.
At the legislative study committee in Madison, State Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) and the Metropolitan Builders Association representative are raising multiple objections to Wisconsin adopting the Compact with the proposed diversion procedures intact.
Those procedures have to be adopted by all eight Great Lakes states uniformly; any state balking at or substantially changing them could blow up the amendments and the existing agreement, setting off a water diverting free-for-all across and beyond the Great Lakes region.
You can read Lazich's memos and other documentation, and hear the committee discussion here.
So who is cooperating in the region with regard to water and sprawl and sustainable, sensitive development, and who is not?
(For the record, Waukesha Mayor Larry Nelson supports adopting the Compact, and does not want it torpedoed; the Waukesha Chamber of Commerce opposes the eight-state diversion approval procedure.)
The reality is, then, that powerful Waukesha-area politicians and businesses are operating and politicking in their self-defined self-interests, or on behalf of constituents.
That's because they see those interests and priorities as valid - - and distinct and different from those in the City of Milwaukee.
Barrett sees the situation as the opposite, and he should. He's the Mayor of Milwaukee.
It's too early to say whether any applications for water diversion beyond the boundaries of Lake Michigan and Great Lakes basin to suburbs will be allowed.
And if they are, whether the City of Milwaukee will be a seller of water, and, if so, what the payment program will entail.
And who will pay for the additional infrastructure in both the selling and receiving communities for both the supply of water, and for its return for treatment?
Waukesha is facing big capital costs for sure if it wins a diversion, but has anyone asked the Milwaukee Metropolitcan Sewerage District (MMSD) if it can handle a large new influx of sewage for treatment from Waukesha, assuming that's where the sewage treatment would occur?
And it is known in Milwaukee's City Hall that Milwaukee's water system pumps are insufficient to push water over the subcontinental divide to either New Berlin or Waukesha.
Who will cover that projected multi-million dollar cost (the number $4-8 million has been floated) if New Berlin or Waukesha wins a diversion?
Milwaukee taxpayers? New Berlin's? Waukesha's?
Is it a regional cost?
Oh, boy: wait for the reaction when anyone suggests that regionalism requires that kind of taxpayer spending!
There has been discussion - - if diversions are permitted - - about adding to the per-gallon water payment to a selling community like Milwaukee an additional sum, called "tax-base sharing."
That would entail calculating the value that diverted water adds through suburban development to the suburban tax base (call it growth, call it sprawl) and then agreeing on the percentage of that added value that will accompany payment for the water.
What's fair? What's negotiable? What will the suburbs live with and what will the city accept: 1%? 5%? 50%?
Think that putting dollars behind water sales, in other words, actually financing regionalism with real bucks, potentially in added multi-millions - - acknowledging that Lake Michigan water has measurable value to be shared with Milwaukee - - is something that those TABOR-friendly suburbanites will support?
Not long ago, an attorney working under contract for the Waukesha Water Utility wrote a memo to the utility that said favorable things about tax-base sharing, and suggested that it could help New Berlin politically win a diversion from Milwaukee.
The utility excoriated the attorney for writing the memo, said the memo hadn't been requested, said its subject matter did not fall into her contract duties, and rejected the billing for the memo ( a partial payment was eventually negotiated).
So regional cooperation is hardly simple.
And it's more than Milwaukee and Tom Barrett raising questions about regionalism, its language and goals.
Regionalism is a two-way street (and the regional transportation issue that is so imtimately tied to water and sprawl - - well, that's a subject for a different posting later).
Posted by James Rowen at 10:17 AM
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
Development in Waukesha is often a hot topic, but the battle for a rare downtown City of Waukesha liquor license shows that controversy to the west is not limited to big subdivisions, shopping malls and questionable water supply proposals.
Turns out the fight for the liquor license in the downtown, where there is a bit of an urbanist revival underway, is between a planned upscale restaurant named Black Trumpet, and a more modest taco stand applicant, El Rey del Taco.
Black Trumpet would build on the ground floor of the Cuddles Building; El Rey's owner works at Chubby's Tap on The Strand; and a third applicant, Coconut Joe's Beach House, dropped out after people complained that Coconut Joe's wet T-shirt contests and all-you-can-drink specials weren't what the new Waukesha downtown was all about - - even in the remodeled Cuddles Building.
Darryl Enriquez's blog - - he's The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Waukesha reporter - - is a good place to follow this downtown Waukesha battle, and other matters in that city.
(Actually, I just love some of the names in story. I don't have a dog in this hunt.)
Posted by James Rowen at 7:09 PM
Seems the Aussies might ban incandescent bulbs and mandate the use of fluorescent bulbs instead. The energy savings are immense.
Here's how the Malcolm Turnbull, Australia's environmental put it:
"If the whole world switches to these bulbs today, we would reduce our consumption of electricity by an amount equal to five times Australia's annual consumption of electricity," he said.
Posted by James Rowen at 4:02 PM
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's veteran editorial writer Greg Stanford adds to the criticism of County Executive Scott Walker's illogical stance against modernizing the county transit system.
It may just be that Walker's zany preference for a stodgy and declining bus system over new express lines and a downtown trolley finally and firmly unmasks how little real interest Walker has in running and redeveloping Milwaukee County.
UPDATE!: Milwaukee Ald. Bob Bauman weighs in with more outstanding commentary:
Posted by James Rowen at 11:27 AM
Monday, February 26, 2007
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Larry Sandler recently summarized the maddening failure of the region to agree on how to spend its remaining $91.5 million in federal transit investment dollars.
But let's not forget these salient, irony-laden factors:
* Gov. Tommy Thompson brokered a deal among Milwaukee and Waukesha city and county leaders to expand the I-94 freeway system from the city to the west and build a light rail system in the same corridor. City officials liked the light rail component because it would add modern transit, especially in the downtown.
* Though the original pot of federal money was to be spent in Milwaukee County only, then-Mayor John Norquist had agreed (and let the outcome be a lesson to those who think regional cooperation agreements alway lead to cooperation and consensus!) to a request from Thompson to spend the transit funds in consultation with Waukesha.
* That two-county plan collapsed when then-Waukesha County Executive Daniel Finley vetoed the Waukesha County Board's approval. Consultation with Waukesha had led to a Waukesha veto (see regionalism admonition, above).
* One of the earliest and most effective organizers on behalf of light rail had been Rob Henken, a congressional staffer who moved here to manage a project called Alliance for Future Transit, AFT.
* Where is Finley now? Still a Waukesha County resident, Finley is running the fiscally-challenged Milwaukee County Public Museum - - which sure could use the riders and the downtown buzz that light rail could deliver to the museum.
* And where is Henken? He's the new Secretary of the Department of Administration in the Scott Walker administration.
Based on the his deserved reputation for organizing excellence he'd gained community-wide, Henken had gone to work for the County Board after the collapse of AFT.
Then Henken went over to Walker's administration after former Milwaukee County Executive F. Thomas Ament got himself recalled over the county's pension mess, rising through the administration eventually to the County's DOA secretary post.
* While Ament had been a transit-booster, Walker has busied himself since taking office by trimming the Milwaukee County Transit System, and has gotten even busier the last few weeks trying to stop Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett from investing the remaining $91.5 million in a modest downtown trolley - - not light rail - - and two cross-city express bus lines. (Again see regional cooperation discussion above)
So where are we headed?
The Barrett plan will probably move to the next level of study, though Walker will play the role of Finley during the Norquist years to block it. (Inter-governmental cooperation, anyone?)
Irony of ironies: Unlike then-Waukesha County Exec. Finley, Walker is the executive of Milwaukee County, and while every major facility that Walker supervises or influences - - the airport, the parks, the museum and others need a better transit system to keep them viable - - Walker wants to bar modern transit from Milwaukee County.
Conclusion: Walker would rather have failed institutions and an outmoded transit system, rather than a transit success with all its spinoffs, because a successful, County-run transit network would give the lie to Walker's reactionary bumper-sticker belief that government cannot be part of the solution.
Posted by James Rowen at 8:56 PM
Over in Rochester, MN, activists had teamed up with counterparts in South Dakota to raise awareness about an impending Federal giveaway: a $2.3 billion sweetheart loan to a private railroad to bring coal east from Wyoming.
The railroad is the DM & E: Google will get you information about the hassle that been associated for years with this plan.
The new railroad line would have torn up farm and grazing land across several states courtesy of largest federal loan to a private company in more than 30 years. And the loan availability was approved in Congress through the now-discredited "earmarking" procedures.
But today: a big development: citing fiscal questions and other matters, federal railroad officials rejected the DM & E loan. Some details are here.
The political backstory is also interesting. Before he defeated US Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle in 2004, now-US Senator John Thune (R-SD) was a lobbyist for the railroad.
Now helping to successfully lobby the feds against the loan - - along with South Dakota ranchers and the Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, MN:
Posted by James Rowen at 4:58 PM
Officials with 1000 Friends of Wisconsin, the Sierra Club and Clean Wisconsin noted the good things for conservation and green policy-making in Gov. Jim Doyle's 2007-'09 proposed budget in today's Madison Capital Times.
These leaders rightly suggest Doyle should be praised for Stewardship program land purchase increases, re-introduction of the office of public intervenor, and other initiatives aimed at wetland and river restorations.
In fact, I'll throw in his Grow Milwaukee initiative, because a strong big city helps the environment as an attractive alternative choice to suburban sprawl.
By the same token, Doyle's budget would be even better if it had more funding for transit and less for new highway construction, but give Doyle his due: his budget is one of the better for Wisconsin's environment in many years.
Posted by James Rowen at 4:16 PM
The Wisconsin ACLU, from its Milwaukee offices, has rightly told the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission that the agency is moving far too slowly with the formation of a task force on environmental justice.
SEWRPC has had months to get this outreach effort underway but has not made task force appointments and is not aggressively getting input on appointees from communities to whom this long-overdue outreach effort is aimed, the ACLU says in its new release.
With its laissez-faire approach, SEWRPC is skating on thin ice with watchdog groups like the ACLU, and federal regulators who could use federal civil rights to light a fire under SEWRPC, as the ACLU further reminds SEWRPC by letter.
The Pewaukee-based agency already has minimal credibilty with large sections of the region because of its pro-suburban history, and giving the task force formation a low priority only reinforces SEWRPC's negative image.
At this very moment, SEWRPC and other entities are discussing major changes to transit and water management policies that will guide development in the region for generations, and will therefore profoundly impact low-income residents.
Yet those residents are regularly shut out of many of these policy discussions - - a problem the environmental justice task force could help remedy.
If SEWRPC had a comprehensive planning strategy and a more inclusive mentality, it wouldn't need an environmental justice task force in the first place: its commissioners and multiple committees would have integrated genuine environmental justice principles and goals into all their work as a matter of routine.
For example, if environmental justice were an important thread in SEWRPC operations, its last housing plan for our heavily-segregated region wouldn't have been done in 1975, and SEWRPC would have been a champion for transit expansion, not $6.6 billion in new, suburb-serving freeways lanes.
It's a disgrace that community groups representing low-income and minority populations had to demand a task force in the first place, and reprehensible that SEWRPC continues to drag its feet on its implementation.
Posted by James Rowen at 11:39 AM
Sunday, February 25, 2007
While Wisconsin utilities forge ahead with new coal-fired power plants, Texas utilities and private investors have worked with environmental groups to drastically reduce the number of new coal-burning plants planned for the Lone Star state, according to The New York Times .
The agreement will also boost other so-called green utility programs, too.
Don't you hate it when Texas appears to be more forward-thinking than the Badger State?
Posted by James Rowen at 5:15 PM
Saturday, February 24, 2007
Wisconsin has long had a bipartisan land stewardship program that buys open space and places it in the public domain.
The Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund is a solid Wisconsin tradition that preserves the opportunity for Wisconsinites and visitors to enjoy the good life here.
It's good for business and helps guarantee that irreplaceable wetlands, forests and other vital pieces of the state's ecosystem will flourish and renew our state's natural heritage.
Gov. Doyle has placed a significant funding expansion of that plan in his 2007-'09 budget, and, predictably, the pave-it-til-it's-gone crowd is suggesting we can't afford it.
But don't take my word for it: read what state public lands commission executive secretary Tia Nelson has to say.
Tia is a knowledgeable conservationist whose analysis and opinion carries weight.
She's also the daughter of former Gov. and Sen. Gaylord Nelson - - known worldwide as the founder of Earth Day - - so Tia is carrying on some significant traditions and we're lucky as Wisconsin residents that she is doing just that.
Posted by James Rowen at 7:42 PM
A national ranking of environmental quality in 72 US cities places Milwaukee 32nd - - better than Great Lakes region countpart cities like Chicago (59), Cleveland (70) and Detroit (dead last at 72)- - but behind Minneapolis (9).
Other Wisconsin cities were not ranked.
Posted by James Rowen at 4:41 PM
Politicians say the dumbest things when the spin machine is making too much noise in their heads.
Case in point: Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, who trashed Mayor Tom Barrett's recently-announced bus-and-trolley transit improvement proposal.
In a County with a declining transit system organized around outmoded buses, why would the County Exec. dump on a plan that would benefit the system and the county, too?
Here's what the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that Walker told the paper's editorial writers Tuesday about why he opposed transit improvements in the county he purportedly leads:
"...Walker said he would like to grow the local economy enough so lower-income people don't have to rely on transit and could instead afford to buy cars if they chose."
As a friend quipped to me Friday night, right - - so they can drive their cars to jobs in Waukesha?
Walker even invoked the ghost of light rail, killed in Milwaukee by talk radio and the Thompson administration nearly a decade ago, to demagogue against Barrett's proposal - - which is not a light rail plan.
I know Walker knows the difference, but when have the facts ever driven the local debate about transit?
In Milwaukee County politics, talk radio sets the agenda, then Walker, knowing his lines, reacts with rigidity, fantasy and spin.
There's a slogan you can write down and put on your refrigerator.
Posted by James Rowen at 9:58 AM
If fancy new hospitals plunked down on former farmland drive up the region's health care costs, the new Aurora facility in Western Waukesha County in the Pabst Farms project will not disappoint.
Check out the amenity-filled description in this suburban newspaper.
Posted by James Rowen at 12:41 AM
Friday, February 23, 2007
Here's how distorted the political environment can get in Milwaukee when radio talkers play the race card they often accuse others of wielding:
Radio station AM 620 WTMJ's leading resident right-winger, squawker Charlie Sykes, had to apologize yesterday on the air - - now follow along closely - - for having wrongly claimed that Milwaukee Ald. Michael McGee referred to the cops who beat Frank Jude, Jr. (the so-called "Jude cops") as "Jew Cops."
This bizarre chain of events was broken by Tim Cuprisin, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Radio/TV columnist, and then Eugene Kane, another MJS columnist who is often himself a Sykes target, raised the analysis to interesting levels.
Posted by James Rowen at 2:11 PM
So former Iowa favorite son and Governor Tom Vilsack can't raise enough money to stay competitive in the caucus race, and quits.
What are the odds that Tommy Thompson will come to the same conclusion, since the millions he says he needs to win and stay in the nomination sweepstakes - - as Vilsack found out on the Democratic side of the contest - - will go to bigger name candidates, too?
Posted by James Rowen at 12:08 PM
Looking for data about the Great Lakes and guides to understanding some of the pressing regional water issues in Wisconsin?
Posted by James Rowen at 11:12 AM
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett told a group of Great Lakes water conservationists in Milwaukee Thursday
that Wisconsin and the other seven states bordering the lakes must adopt a strengthened Great Lakes Compact.
Barrett also said that water should not be diverted from Lake Michigan to either the City of Waukesha or New Berlin to fuel suburban sprawl.
Diversions across the subcontinental divide to Waukesha and western New Berlin are currently barred by federal law: the Compact, under proposed and pending amendments, would establish standards and procedures that could, under limited circumstances, permit Lake Michigan diversions to those two Waukesha County communities.
As the Mayor of the municipality most likely to be asked to supply Lake Michigan water to New Berlin and Waukesha, and also as Mayor of the city in the region being most harmed by suburban sprawl, Barrett's remarks are significant.
His statement adds urgency to the need for the state legislature to ratify and implement the amended Great Lakes Compact in Wisconsin. His remarks also illuminate the relationship of water to both city and suburban growth.
Adopting the Compact has been endorsed by many leading Wisconsin environmental organizations, as well as Waukesha Mayor Larry Nelson.
However, the Waukesha County Chamber of Commerce believes the Compact's underlying principle of unanimous decision-making by the eight Great Lakes states on diversion approvals should be abandoned.
If that were to occur, the Compact could easily be rejected by other states, jeopardizing wise management of Great Lakes water and harming the region's economy.
Posted by James Rowen at 12:10 AM
Thursday, February 22, 2007
This intriguing story from The Washington Post is as important as Britany Spears' Shaved Head or Who Fathered Anna Nicole Smith's Baby.
Posted by James Rowen at 12:28 AM
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
There are two major water studies underway in Wisconsin that are supposed to conclude with significant public policy recommendations - - one is ongoing at the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, and the other is being managed by a Legislative Council Study Committee, in Madison - - yet both have cancelled their February meetings.
Since both committees have major, pressing water supply issues on their agendas, the cancellations have raised concerns about whether impasses or major obstacles are surfacing.
The Legislative Council committee, chaired by State Sen. Neal Kedzie (R-Elkhorn), has members from the public and private sectors that so far have been unable to reach a consensus on key standards and circumstances that would determine whether Great Lakes water might be transferred out of the Great Lakes basin.
Those standards, circumstances and procedures are spelled out in proposed changes to a US-Canada Great Lakes water protection agreement (known as a Compact) that eight US states must adopt if the agreement is to remain in force and help manage the Great Lakes as a shared resource.
The SEWRPC water advisory committee, at its January session, heard a consultant's presentation about a new wrinkle in Wisconsin law - - regional water authorities - - raising the possibility that SEWRPC may recommend that a regional water authority put itself in charge of acquiring or distributing diverted Lake Michigan water throughout Waukesha County.
It is also possible that the SEWRPC and Legislative Council Committees are both waiting to see what the state Department of Natural Resources decides to do with the one Lake Michigan water diversion application that the DNR put into the regulatory and review pipeline - - the application from New Berlin.
Though it has told New Berlin to make changes to the application in 26 analytical and informational categories, the DNR's next step will be to either move that application to the other Great Lakes states for more review (the first round of critiques was generally negative), or to administratively approve it without a vote among the other states.
Either course of action would send a signal to SEWRPC and the Legislative Council Committee about whether Wisconsin will strongly support the agreement's amendments, or discount or dismiss them.
And that DNR decision would then have a great impact on SEWRPC and the Legislative Committee's eventual recommendations.
Waiting with interest: New Berlin, and even more so the City of Waukesha, which wants a diversion of Lake Michigan water six times greater than does New Berlin, and which recently announced that Lake Michigan water is its preferred solution to its water supply problems.
The Waukesha County Chamber of Commerce is even recommending that Wisconsin not approve the Compact agreement's basic operating principle: that all eight Great Lakes states would have to give unanimous approval to diversion applications because the Great Lakes waters are held in a common trust - - as a shared resource - - for the residents of all the states.
Waukesha and New Berlin's intentions have reverberated across the Great Lakes, not only because they want to move water across the Lake Michigan basin boundary, but because both cities have grown rapidly while their wells have continued to deplete underground water at very high rates.
Waukesha in particular has been aggressive in annexing land for development; New Berlin recently gave approvals to construct a massive hotel, conference center and water park complex on land that would receive Lake Michigan water, if its diversion application is approved.
If the DNR signals that it is not 100% behind the Compact agreement's amendments, it is likely that other states will lose interest in the agreement as well (Minnesota has become the first state to give approval), and a rush for unregulated Great Lakes diversions could easily spread across the Great Lakes region.
And by tanker ship and containers, even farther.
It is no understatement that other states and the Canadian provinces bordering the Great Lakes are carefully watching what our DNR, the Legislative Council Committee and the SEWRPC advisory committee will recommend.
Posted by James Rowen at 3:58 PM
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
Washington County Circuit Judge Annette Ziegler won the State Supreme Court primary Tuesday night, with Linda Clifford, a more liberal Madison attorney, finishing second.
The right-wing talk radio and blogging machine will spin at full speed the rest of the week, claiming that Ziegler's win was a sign that the state electorate wants more conservative, less activist (sic) judges/justices.
The truth of the matter is that Ziegler won because she put television ads on the air and Clifford didn't.
TV is a powerful medium in political campaigns, and in a low-turnout primary, TV ads are a sure vote-getter.
But now the battle is joined and both candidates will spend heavily on television commercials in a race expected to be the most expensive Supreme Court race in state history.
Meaning a TV-heavy race.
Ziegler had less money on hand than did Clifford going into the last ten days of the primary, according to news reports.
So come election night in April, Ziegler might wish she hadn't spent a dime on TV ads during a primary in which she was virtually guaranteed a first or second place finish and thus a place on the April ballot.
Posted by James Rowen at 11:23 PM
Tommy Thompson's odds of winning the Iowa GOP caucuses have been set at 35-1 by a political website in that bellweather presidential campaign state.
Details are available at:
http://www.caucuscooler.blogspot.com (cut and paste the link; sorry about that).
So I was wrong earlier when I called Tommy's campaign "invisible" - - here's where the Caucus Cooler says you can spot him (Caucus Cooler's disclaimers and credit line below):
Mitt Romney 3-1
John McCain 3-1
Rudy Giuliani 5-1
Sam Brownback 14-1
Mike Huckabee 16-1
Tommy Thompson 35-1
Newt Gingrich 40-1
Tom Tancredo 45-1
Jim Gilmore 60-1
Chuck Hagel 98-1
George Pataki 99-1
Duncan Hunter 100-1
John Cox 998-1
(The Cooler line is an exclusive creation of Caucus Cooler and will be updated as the political environment changes.
It is an unscientific assessment of the Iowa Caucus (not the Presidential race as a whole) from an insiders view at the given time. The line IS NOW mathematically accurate but is NOT intended for gambling purposes. Information may only be reproduced with credit to the Caucus Cooler.)
Posted by James Rowen at 6:40 PM
I write a column once a month for the Madison Capital Times, and devoted my February slot, published today to why Gov. Doyle's Grow Milwaukee Initiative makes sense for the entire state.
That initiative should also be expanded to include Mayor Barrett's downtown trolley and express bus plan- - and the entire package needs the support of regional leaders.
These elected and private sector officials, to date, have been unwilling to spend any political capital on comprehensive Milwaukee investments.
This would be a good time start
Posted by James Rowen at 10:17 AM
Monday, February 19, 2007
Wednesday, February 21st is Conservation Lobby Day 2007 - - the date on which conservationists will gather to button-hole legislators at the State Capitol and talk to them about pressing Wisconsin environmental issues.
Power plant siting. Ground and surface water preservation. Wildlife habitat and wetlands protections. And more.
On all the other days, big-shot lobbyists with bigger-dollar clients will have their routine policy and legislative way with representatives and senators, but Wednesday is when you can organize with like-minded Wisconsinites make a direct impact.
The Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters is one of the groups that is helping organize this event: check out the details here and get involved.
Posted by James Rowen at 8:06 PM
Sunday, February 18, 2007
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel told us on Valentine's Day that Gov. Jim Doyle was going to "heap" public land acquisition costs of $1.6 billion onto state taxpayers.
"Say what?" you rightly ask.
The state's historic and bi-partisan Stewardship Fund is a great deal for Wisconsin hunters, anglers and hikers, so would Gov. Doyle go out of his way and heap such fiscal misery on state taxpayers?
The answer comes from Xoff, with an involuntary cameo-by-way-of-illustration from J.B. Van Hollen, in a must-read analysis in his blog .
Posted by James Rowen at 7:38 PM
The oil industry's blogging, talk show and legislative apologentsia are out attacking Gov. Jim Doyle's budget plan to make Exxon and its corporate brethren kick in a fair share payment to help build more state highways.
These industry unofficial lobbyists aren't reminding us about Lee Raymond, the Exxon Mobil Corp. former chief executive, who left his post last year with a retirement package worth nearly $400 million.
Raymond, whose recent annual salary had exceeded $48 million (that's $4 million a month, or nearly a million weekly), gets the use of a company jet, a car, a driver, private club memberships, some security arrangements, and a $1 million consulting deal, too.
His pension was to be - - his option - - either $8 million a year, or a lump sum of $99 million.
Keep the numbers in mind as the rightist talkers and legislative off-note hand-clappers (take a bow, Rep. Bill Kramer, (R-Exxon), the only legislator...OK, he's really from Waukesha...to applaud Exxon during the Governor's budget speech) claim the company is just another American business enjoying a reasonable rate of return.
Posted by James Rowen at 2:33 PM
Mayor Tom Barrett has energized and redefined the Milwaukee area's long-stalled transit debate by proposing a three-mile downtown trolley loop, and two cross-city express bus lines targeted at workers and UW-M students.
His plan would use existing federal grants and other infrastructure for the system's launch, and keeps it off the property tax.
It would be tied to the proposed Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee suburban commuter train and to AMTRAK, which, in turn, already stops at Mitchell International Airport as part of the Milwaukee-Chicago run.
In other words, the Barrett plan would offer something new for workers, commuters, students, downtown retail customers and visitors to major tourist destinations. And break the logjam over transit expansion in Milwaukee - - a delay that has whittled away the buying power of the city's federal transit money.
So who doesn't like it?
The usual do-nothing-for Milwaukee suspects.
County Executive Scott Walker, married to right-wing talk radio, ripped the plan as a light rail stalking horse, though it is designed to funnel riders to the county-run bus system.
It would also carry riders to the County's parks and zoo.
Walker's reflexive opposition to a transit upgrade for the county he governs - - more as a placeholder until Cong. Jim Sensenbrenner vacates his seat - - shows how dizzied a politician can get from self-generated spin.
Beyond Walker's sadly predictable and uncooperative intransigence, one major question looms over this plan.
Will the much ballyhooed "Milwaukee Seven" regional development consortium support it?
The so-called M-7 has yet to address the comprehensive development initiative that Gov. Doyle put in his 2007-'09 budget for Milwaukee.
Will the M-7 come out assertively for these encouraging plans to help make Milwaukee, the state's only major urban center, a better performing state asset?
Posted by James Rowen at 10:07 AM
Saturday, February 17, 2007
Turns out that folks at a Waukesha County Department of Transportation meeting last Thursday began to come to grips with a reality about the highly-touted Pabst Farms project that somehow had escaped their recognition.
It's gonna cost more tax money to deal with.
In other words: if you put 1,200 residences, a large hospital, an elementary school, a YMCA, a shopping center, various other commercial buildings, and, oh yes, a million-square-foot upscale shopping mall on farmland, you will generate a lot of new traffic.
So much traffic that Waukesha County will have to widen three, two-lane roads near the 1,500-acre project to at least four lanes (so maybe six lanes?) at a cost of about $20 million.
Those expenses are on top of additional cost changes, in the $20-25 million range, to the state's plan to widen the so-called I-94 'freeway' at the project's doors.
Maybe that's the problem. That free part.
Freeways are not free.
They are 100% paid for with tax dollars.
Yet many people think there aren't social and public budgetary costs - - consequences, if you will - - to projects so big that they literally change the landscape.
Faced with having to raise more tax money where a taxpayer revolt is supposed to be active, some Waukesha officials hope to pay for part of the new county road network with a subsidy from state sales tax collections. That might happen.
And maybe the Pabst Farms developer will kick in a contribution. But here's the hard truth: local and county officials wanted this project, and moved heaven and a lot of earth to get it underway, and now the real bills have to be paid.
How about having the shoppers kick in a buck each time they enter a mall parking lot? That's what you pay if you make a purchase at The Shops at Grand Avenue, in downtown Milwaukee, to park in a mall ramp.
One last set of questions: Are Waukesha County taxpayers also ready to pony up more tax dollars if the project's stormwater and sewer components fail to efficiently connect with supply and treatment facilities in the area?
Or if the project needs more fresh water than planners projected?
Of if the development distorts the region's underground water supply because its pavement - - now to include miles of new roads - - rests right on the very acreage through which rain and snowmelt seeps downward and replenishes the water table?
Sprawl hits hard at all public infrastructure costs - - roads, fresh water, safety, education, sewage treatment - - and that's why those costs are minimized when development is focused where infrastructure is already in place.
With the costs spread across a large base.
People who might rightly complain the loudest in Waukesha County about the rising public costs of Pabst Farms are City of Waukesha property taxpayers.
They've already paid for basic infrastructure, and it has helped spur some downtown condos there.
But now sprawl at Pabst Farms has leap-frogged downtown Waukesha, requiring Waukesha city residents to send property tax money westward in the county portion of their bills.
And even farther from the Waukesha City limits if the massive residential, mall and commercial complex is approved that developer Bob Lang wants abutting Lapham Peak State Park just inside the Waukesha County line in rural Delafield.
Posted by James Rowen at 11:45 AM
Friday, February 16, 2007
Gov. Jim Doyle is wisely establishing a state task force on global warming. It's a smart use of state authority because the government is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.
Its regulatory power and broader, non-legal influences also effect the relevant behaviors of other governments, businesses and individuals in the state, too.
But the term "global warming" is limited, somewhat inaccurate and open to the mocking leveled against it daily by talk radio and other negative media, especially in cold weather states like Wisconsin.
Gov. Doyle and others involved in these important scientific and policy arenas would be more effective by using the term "climate change," rather than global warming, because it's more accurate.
And less prone to the bad science and dismissive retorts of the right's wingnuttery.
While portions of the globe are warming at an alarming rate, such as the Arctic ice cap, other areas, such as the oceans, will react by cooling through the absorption of that breakaway, melting arctic ice.
And while ocean depths may therefore rise, threatening shoreline nations and US states, midwestern bodies of water like Lake Michigan may become more shallow if warmer temperatures increase evaporation.
Monitoring multiple types of intersecting impacts and predictions associated with overall climate change is a proper task for Wisconsin government - - but it will be better communicated to and participated in by the public if it is called by its most accurate label.
Posted by James Rowen at 12:17 PM
Thursday, February 15, 2007
The ABC News daily political and media summary - - The Note - - mentions all, and I mean all the potential or actual presidential candidates, even throwing in folks who barely have a pulse in a poll, like Wesley Clark, Tom Tancredo, Mike Huckabee and Jim Gilmore (Who?).
Missing completely: Tommy Thompson, our own former Governor and leading state egomanic.
Can't someone in that coterie of his that's frozen in about 1993 plu-eeze encourage him step aside before he morphs completely into a comic figure?
Posted by James Rowen at 12:47 PM
I was a graduate student years ago in the UW-Madison's English department, specializing in William Faulkner and wondering if reading all those books would be of value when I grew up.
Yet Faulkner, and his novella The Bear continue to come to mind.
The Bear, along with much of Faulkner's work, are commentaries - - and I know that this is an oversimplification - - on the misguided belief that people can wisely manage the land.
I actually re-read The Bear last year when I was writing extensively on suburban sprawl and found Faulkner remarkably relevant: his characters were either despoiling the land or eachother through misdirected possessivenss or reacting to the land's degradation - - thus continuously damaging themselves spiritually.
So when I research the paving of Waukesha County's water supply recharge area at Pabst Farms, or plans to extend an airport runway through a marsh in West Bend or to build a mini-city in the Kettle Moraine in Delafield right to the edge of Lapham Peak State Park, The Bear provides additional perspective.
I have also been particularly struck by the ugly murder in the Peshtigo woods last month of Cha Vang, a Hmong immigrant, over what court records now indicate was a squirrel allegedly treed by another hunter.
At the end of The Bear, in a symbolism-laden closing, a hunter named Boon Hogganbeck fears that others in his hunting party - - the group is in a forest being stripped of its timber, wildlife and character - - are going to poach some squirrels he has cornered at a solitary tree.
"Get out of here!," Boon shouts to the others. "Don't touch them! Don't touch a one of them! They're mine."
Posted by James Rowen at 9:59 AM
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
Readers of this blog and other people familiar with the political controversies over whether Lake Michigan water should be piped to Western Waukesha County have read often about the subcontinental divide.
By the time you finish this post, you'll also know something about another water-related divide in Waukesha - - this one between the Waukesha Chamber of Commerce and Waukesha City Mayor Larry Nelson and whether there should be interstate controls over moving water out of the Great Lakes.
Back to the subcontinental divide: that's the physical edge of the Great Lakes basin (think of the basin as a large, though irregular bowl containing the lakes) and is best visible in these parts at Sunny Slope Road, in Waukesha County, as the hill across I-94 somewhat west of Miller Park.
East of that hill, you're in the Great lakes basin and the Lake Michigan watershed. West of it, you're in the Mississippi River watershed, where water flows towards that big river and eventually into the Gulf of Mexico.
Much of the controversy swirls around the wisdom of piping water over the hill, because unless it is returned as treated water, it's lost to the Great Lakes.
And there are other unanswered questions surrounding diversion applications, too, including who will pay for the pipeline(s), can the sewage district absorb all that additional water for treatment, will water diversions also divert more jobs away from Milwaukee, can Lake Michigan handle the removal of millions more gallons of water daily to the suburbs, and so forth.
New Berlin has made a preliminary application for a diversion, and the City of Waukesha has announced that a similar, but larger diversion, is the only way it can guarantee high-quality water for its community, too.
Current US law requires the unanimous approval of all eight Great Lakes states to divert water over the subcontinental divide.
And a new set of proposed amendments to a 1985 US-Canada agreement would require communities west of the divide, like the City of Waukesha, to promise return flow and other measures through an orderly application process to win diversion permission.
The pro-diversion, anti-Compact rhetoric got hotter last week when the Waukesha County Chamber of Commerce blasted the proposed Compact amendments.
The Chamber urged Wisconsin to severely water down that agreement in the Badger State's implementing legislation, and, according to media reports told Waukesha Mayor Larry Nelson that was the Chamber position, too.
The Chamber objects to the Compact's requirement for unanimous agreement among the states because one state could block another's diversion request, though it is widely believed that if any state among the eight failed to approve the unanimity principle, the US-Canada agreement would collapse.
And that would open up the Great Lakes to unregulated water withdrawals far from the region: previous efforts to pipe Great Lakes water to the Western US, or to send it by tanker ship to Asia, prompted the Compact in the first place.
That's why the subcontinental divide has long been the physical and political barrier to diverting water away from the Great Lakes.
But add to the notion of "divide" a gap apparently now open between the stance of the Chamber and Nelson, Waukesha's Mayor.
Though a supporter of a Lake Michigan diversion, Nelson told a public meeting in Waukesha he called Monday night that he supported the Compact, and did not agree with the Chamber's advice about deleting the Compact's unanimous approval language.
Nelson's remarks did not make the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story Tuesday morning, but reporter Darryl Enriquez mentioned it his blog later the same day.
The relevant paragraphs:
"Nelson didn't hesitate to express his support for the compact, saying that it "provides a fair process for cities like Waukesha" to acquire Great Lakes water...
"That [the unanimous agreement provision] prompted a group of high-powered business and the corporate leaders last week to question whether the compact should be changed to strike the unanimous vote provision. They feared that a single no vote could doom a project like Waukesha's, and make it susceptible to the political whims of other state leaders.
Nelson responded to the statement by saying that changing the unanimous vote provision would "blow up the compact" and harm Waukesha's chance at getting Lake Michigan water..."
Though his office is non-partisan, Nelson is a Democrat. Fair to say that most of the Chamber honchos are Republicans, so the political divide in Waukesha also crosses into partisan politics and city-county relationships, too.
Posted by James Rowen at 5:30 PM
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
Right wing radio talkers and their blogger buddies will go crazy over Gov. Doyle's 2007-'09 proposed budget because it contains some targeted fee and tax increases.
But let's start the budget analysis by praising the Governor for his proposal to force Big Oil to make a contribution to the state's transportation budget.
And I applaud Doyle's plan to increase by 75% the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship program, raising that funding eventually to $105 million.
The historical, bi-partisan land acquisition program uses funds statewide to preserve recreational, open space.
The Bush administration has spent the last six years moving in the opposite direction by turning over more control of public lands to private interests.
Posted by James Rowen at 11:57 PM
Salt Lake City's Mayor Rocky Anderson is a big fan of transit, New Urbanism and other state-of-the-art conservationist initiatives. He's getting things done and the business community supports him, too. Check it out and check in often to Grist, the online environmental news site.
Posted by James Rowen at 3:17 PM
Suburban and state leaders continue to press for the eventual piping of Lake Michigan water where it currently cannot legally be pumped - - across the subcontinental divide at Sunny Slope Road and elsewhere in Western Waukesha County - - while legislators in Wisconsin and seven other US Great Lakes consider under what conditions such diversions might be approved.
At a public meeting in the City of Waukesha Monday night, city leaders said that after long study, a diversion was the best way to meet the city's water needs.
No surprise there, but at least the shadow-boxing is over.
And the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has advised the City of New Berlin that its 2006 application for a diversion - - touted last year by the DNR as "complete and comprehensive - - must be clarified and expanded.
In at least 26 categories of "efficient water use," "water supply alternatives." and "environmental impacts," according to a letter received last month by New Berlin officials and consultants.
Heckuva complete and comprehensive application, I guess.
The DNR wasn't ready to admit that its earlier characterization for the application it moved to seven other Great Lakes states and two Canadian provinces for review was, what, premature, or that the application itself was faulty?
"The application could benefit from additional information and restructuring to ensure a clear understanding of the project" is the way the agency letter put it - - and it also agreed to help New Berlin make the necessary "modifications."
Well, that's nice, don't you think?
Both cities are under a federal order - - to which they consented - - to provide better water to their customers.
Through blending with water from both deep and higher-standard shallow wells, New Berlin and Waukesha can in the interim meet the federal standards.
But the issues for both cities are about more than providing good water for their customers.
New Berlin and Waukesha have assertive development agendas that fuel their need for more water.
Waukesha has regularly approved annexations brought to it by developers even as its water table was declining dramatically.
New Berlin recently gave the preliminary go-ahead for a massive conference center, hotel and water park complex on acreage that is west of the subcontinental divide.
The project will require 1.1 million gallons of water a month, and that number will grow as the complex triggers growth nearby.
Add to this trend the recent statement by a group of the region's water utility managers about how easily a water pipeline from Lake Michigan could accompany the coming expansion of I-94 through Waukesha County.
The winners here: Developers in Waukesha County, where the Chamber of Commerce is on record opposing Wisconsin approving amendments to a US-Canada, eight-state agreement to conserve Great Lakes water as a shared resource with a logical, cooperative process.
The losers: Residents of Waukesha County trying to preserve a relatively rural, small-town, open-space lifestyle.
And the City of Milwaukee's economy, as it is continually pulled to the west by the winners and their allies - - a) the road-builders and their partners in state government and at the Southeastern Regional Planning Commission, and b) local government officials and consultants, and their partners at the DNR.
Posted by James Rowen at 10:42 AM
Monday, February 12, 2007
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett Monday included a strong pitch for the Great Lakes Compact in his State of the City address. Here is one link to the speech.
His support for the Compact is in marked contrast to the position of the Waukesha County Chamber of Commerce (see Saturday post below) that suggests fatally weakening this US-Canadian agreement that protects the Great Lakes from harmful diversions.
Barrett also highlighted several green programs in the city, his new Office of Sustainability (full disclosure: I participated last year in the candidate interview process for the director position) and other preservationist initiatives.
That agenda in favor of the common ground should be the underpinning of regional cooperation in southeastern Wisconsin.
Right now, regional cooperation tends to mean suburban exceptionalism, and that is bad for the City of Milwaukee, the southeastern Wisconsin region and the larger Great Lakes region, too.
Posted by James Rowen at 1:04 PM
Milwaukee County's Board of Supervisors will take the its first formal step Tuesday towards making green, sustainable programming a foundation of official county policy.
Supervisor Marina Dimitrijevic will introduce a resolution to set the county on a greener path, and will also discuss it at 1:00 p.m. tomorrow at the Pulaski Park Indoor Pool Lobby, 2701 S. 16th St. For you out-of-towners, that's on Milwaukee's south side.
News of Dimitrijevic's effort is being circulated, among others, by the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters, and a group about which you may not be aware - - the Milwaukee County Conservation Coalition, or MCCC.
That's one of the grassroots organizations that helped prevent the Milwaukee lakefront from becoming a parking for the USS Des Moines.
The MCCC also works on park system improvements and other land conservation initiatives in Milwaukee County- - activities that also go on tirelessly statewide through local preservation and volunteer activities that rarely get adequate publicity or appreciation.
Now here's where the alphabet soup of Milwaukee environmental organizations' names and acronyms gets a little confusing: MCCC is a partner in something called the Milwaukee Environmental Consortion, or MEC.
Best advice: Check out the MEC here and use it for more information about MCCC and all the issues these groups are pursuing.
Posted by James Rowen at 10:11 AM
Sunday, February 11, 2007
Check out "Sajak Says" and then put the "Wheel of Fortune" game-show spellingmeister guy along with Rush Limbaugh and some other scientific heavyweights on your list of Distinguished Climate Change Deniers:
Feel better now? Wanna buy a vowel from him?
Posted by James Rowen at 2:43 PM
Saturday, February 10, 2007
The Waukesha County Chamber of Commerce on Saturday tells The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in a fit of imperious selfishness that Wisconsin should weaken proposed amendments to an eight-state Great Lakes water management agreement known as the Great Lakes Compact.
That would be a tremendous mistake.
People across the Great Lakes, and especially those in Wisconsin who believe that regional cooperation should mean cooperating on the Great Lakes region, too, need to classify the Chamber's position as narrow-minded endangerment to the world's largest reserve of fresh water.
And also a danger to Wisconsin and the other Great Lakes' water-sensitive commercial and recreational economies.
The compact has been in place since 1985; the amendments would establish rules and standards for communities that wanted to withdraw water from Lake Michigan or another of the Great Lakes - - because a) no one owns Great Lakes water (that's in the Wisconsin Constitution, by the way), and b) Great Lakes water is a common resource.
Common. As in, shared. In fact, commonality is suggested in the very word Compact.
What the Chamber is complaining about is that the proposed amendments - - under review by a state legislative study committee - - would affirm current US law by restating that all eight Great Lakes states have to approve a diversion application for a community like the City of Waukesha.
That procedure, with some reasonable rules and standars, would apply because Waukesha is outside the boundaries of the Great Lakes basin.
Since the water in the Great Lakes is finite, communities like Waukesha would have to show in an application under the amended compact that they have no other reasonable alternative to a diversion - - ruling out matters of convenience - - and that they would pledge to return a reasonably equivilent amount of water to maintain the health of the Great Lakes and its tributaries.
In other words - - do your due diligence, create an application, and apply - - recognizing the shared nature of the water.
But instead, the Chamber wants Wisconsin to adopt a major change to the amended Compact by getting rid of the unanimous, eight-state application approval requirement.
That provision helps guarantee Great Lakes water against diversions throughout the Great Lakes region and beyond - - including withdrawals that could harm Wisconsin.
It's also important to point out that the states took more than four years to agree on the proposed amendments, and because it was a negotiation...about a compact...to steward a common resource...that no one owns...the states agreed that the compact amendments needed the approval of all eight states without significant changes to go into effect.
Or else, why have an agreement...to manage a shared resource...in the common interest...for the public good...in an eight-state region that also covers residents in two Canadian provinces?
If Wisconsin were to adopt the Chamber position and withhold approval of the eight-state, unanimous diversion rule, other states would follow suit or drop the Compact altogether, and the free-for-all to extract Great Lakes water all the way to Arizona.
Or even farther.
The entire push to protect the Great Lakes for the common good with a Compact began when Ontario considered allowing a company to remove tanker-shiploads of Great Lakes water for sale in Asia.
Led by Wisconsin's then-Governor Tony Earl, the states and provinces adopted a Compact that said that diversions outside the boundaries of the Great Lakes basin needed the unanimous approval of all eight US Great Lakes governors.
Because no governor objected, for instance, Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin later won a diversion.
What the Chamber also misses is that the compact amendments as proposed already gave communities outside the Great Lakes basin boundaries like Waukesha a break.
The negotiators agreed to include communities like Waukesha for diversion application eligibility because a portion of the county in which they are located - - Waukesha County - - touches a Great Lake basin boundary.
That's the subcontinental divide, visible as the hill at Sunny Slope Rd. in eastern Waukesha County.
Early drafts of the amendments did not include that exception.
And the negotiators drew the defining line at a straddling county - - not, for example, a certain distance from the basin boundary - - thus ruling out diversions into, say, Jefferson County.
Is that fair to Jefferson County?
Might they not want Lake Michigan water, especially since it is known that right now, Waukesha is pulling alot of its well water right now from beneath Jefferson County?
And if you extend that exception to Jefferson County, how about Dane County right next door? After all, Dane County is drawing down its underground water supplies dangerously fast.
Sources familiar with the amendment drafting process have told me that the so-called "straddling county" exception was supported by Wisconsin's negotiators precisely to let the City of Waukesha and other communites in Waukesha County into the process.
Problem is: Already being a winner in the negotiating and drafting procedure, and grateful for the foot in the door it already got, Waukesha doesn't even want to follow that process.
It just wants the water.
Twice last year, Waukesha's Water Utility unsuccessfully asked Gov. Doyle very quietly in legal communications to simply allow it permission to withdraw from water from Lake Michigan three times its current water usage.
And also to permit Waukesha to dispose of that water after treatment into the Fox River and the Mississippi watershed without returning it to the Great Lakes basin.
It was willing to complete a back-door application, in other words, so it's not applying for diversion permission that Waukesha objects to. It just wants to establish the process itself, as if it could secede from the state, region and planet.
Waukesha's Chamber looks at Lake Michigan with an old-fashioned imperial sense of entitlement.
Water, the Chamber says:
A valuable natural resource.
It's close. And accessible.
We want it.
No one should be able to block us...with things like...cooperative agreements...that include standards, scientific reviews, legal regulations and all the other pesky requirements of a modern world that insure a shared and finite resource will be wisely-managed.
Earlier failures to do exactly that with the region's underground water are why the acquifer been so vastly depleted beneath Waukesha.
Instead of learning from decades of over-pumping throughout the region - - and here Waukesha is not the only culprit, and it soon will celebrate the first anniversary of its new water conservation plan - - the Chamber wants to extend the history of poor regional water management by weakening and perhaps killing a long-standing international agreement.
The timing of the Chamber pitch is instructive. This coming Monday, the Waukesha Water Utility and Mayor Larry Nelson have scheduled a 7:00 p.m. public meeting where officials will discuss its water supply planning.
Mayor Nelson will probably play good cop to the Chamber's bad cop.
That's because cooler heads know that the Chamber's exclusionary and exceptionalistic 'us-first' stance is politically self-destructive.
First, it undermines Gov. Doyle. He is the co-chairman of the Council of Great Lakes Governors. That's the body that is proposing the compact amendments.
Is the Chamber's bludgeon the way to win an ally in Madison, and get him to carry your water at the Governors' Council?
And if a Waukesha diversion application ever came their way, don't you think the other governors and the technical reviewers would wonder if regional cooperation down Waukesha way in Wisconsin also meant cooperating on how to reasonably use the Great Lakes region's greatest resource?
"Hmm," might the Compact staffers and other states' natural resources departments reviewers and their bosses and the governors say..."Waukesha, Wisconsin wants a diversion. Aren't those the people that dissed our work on this shared resource?"
Even if Waukesha never applies under the Compact - - maybe the Compact does die because Wisconsin or another state or a court somewhere blew it up, or maybe it takes too long to get all eight states' approvals - - current US law, the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) also contains a provision that all eight US states must approve a diversion.
Does the Chamber want WRDA eliminated, too? How far will its self-centeredness drive it?
Remember. The Great Lakes contain 20% of the world's fresh, finite surface water. (Snow and rainfall replenish it at the rate of 1% a year)
The farther from its basin you divert it, and the fewer controls you have in place to conserve it, the more you endanger it - - for yourselves, your children's children, and for people across a vast region of North America who are depending on you to put stewardship first.
Posted by James Rowen at 10:29 AM
Friday, February 9, 2007
Well, a D+, according to a report on Wisconsin infrastructure this week from The American Society of Civil Engineers' Wisconsin division.
I guess the report is aimed at urging Gov. Jim Doyle to give the road-builders gobs more millions, billions maybe - - but that's pretty hard to do, since a) we've already added more new highways in recent years than most states, b) pay for it with the second-highest gas tax per gallon in the US of A, and c) face a projected gap in the major highway budget plan statewide of about $5 billion.
The engineers said the best part of the state's infrastructure was its energy supplies, earning Bucky a B, but our roads got the lowest grade among the other ten categories.
So remember when you're navigating the Marquette Interchange, or hopping on all the new roads from southeastern Wisconsin, through central Wisconsin and north on Highway 41 to the Michigan state line that for some folks, it's close to a failure.
Posted by James Rowen at 7:42 PM
At first glance, the Milwaukee investment initiative that Gov. Jim Doyle announced in his State of the State speech seemed like great news.
That impression was enhanced because the goal was to target spending in the interest of the entire state on improvements to Milwaukee public safety, health, secondary education, university research and workforce development.
Then it was disclosed this morning that unspecified amount of those funds will have to be raised locally through a so-called "premier resort area" sales tax applied in four-square miles, presumably downtown, where tourists tend to spend their money.
That raised a host of unanswered questions, such as:
In what area exactly: anyone seen a map? And on what goods and services: do you use the resort tax on that hamburger a conventioneer buys at Goolsby's, but not on the one that kid from Marquette is eating at the next table?
For what duration of time is this tax applied? And where do the funds go - - for specific programs, like infrastructure or public safety, or into the city's general fund?
It's not clear if this proposal is more than a continuation of a broader discussion underway for years (remember the Kettl Commission?) about whether the state and the municipalities it creates should find better non-property tax options to pay for so many public services in Wisconsin.
(There are four small Wisconsin municipalities with tourism-heavy economies, like Eagle River and Wisconsin Dells, that already use the special resort area tax.)
And is there enough intention in Milwaukee's government, the private sector and at the grassroots to support a local sales tax increase of any kind - - and were that consensus to form, would fiscal conservatives or Milwaukee-bashers in the legislature neutralize all that by cutting the city's shared revenue by a like amount?
So it's too soon to tell whether the Doyle plan politically is a winner, a loser or something of a fiscal and policy draw.
Doyle gives his budget speech next week and Mayor Barrett delivers his State of the City address, too.
Yet to be heard from: legislators, common council members, community organizations and the public.
Details, details. That process moves into high gear next week.
Posted by James Rowen at 11:05 AM
Thursday, February 8, 2007
You oldsters out there will remember the famous quote from a Vietnam war battlefield when a US commander said he razed a village to save it.
Fast forward to this week, when Town of Delafield and Waukesha County officials said a condo developer had cut down trees and graded land on a ten-acre parcel near Pewaukee Lake before he had permits to do so, let alone approval for his project.
As a result, developer Syed Hussain faces possible civil forfeitures for ordinance violations, officials say; another outcome will be tree-plantings, pledges Hussain.
Ironically, the project's architect is quoted by The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel saying the condo's latest design will be "more sensitive" to the character of the area, with more green and open space.
I guess if you fire up the chain saws and bulldozers early enough you can always add green space to the layout of a subdivision.
I concede that's not so much destroying the entire village to save it - - just trashing a few acres of Mother Earth to 'improve' it.
Posted by James Rowen at 6:55 PM
We Wisconsinites sure are negative and behind-the-times when it comes to upgrading our transit systems with vehicles that run on anything but rubber tires and diesel engines. (Major exception noted: Kenosha, with its downtown trolley)
Madison is struggling with a possible light rail referendum, and Milwaukee's local leaders buried years of studying a guided-bus system(not light rail, but something of a train/traditional bus hybrid) that would have helped move people around the city and added developmental value at the system's stops.
And while rail critics have said Milwaukee has too few people to support urban rail, how is it that voters in Kansas City, Missouri - - a city with about 150,000 fewer people - - approved a light rail plan last year?
Or that St. Louis, even smaller than Kansas City, has had a fine system in operation for years? A system that runs to the sports stadiums downtown and the airport. Imagine being able to ride a similar system in Milwaukee.
We've often been told that the weather here is not conducive to rail systems, but Minneapolis - - to the north - - got its light rail up and running pretty quickly.
And while right-wing AM radio talk show hosts helped poison the Milwaukee debate, conservative cities like Dallas and Houston, Texas have approved and operate light rail systems, too.
So what's the problem, Wisconsin?
Posted by James Rowen at 10:43 AM
Wednesday, February 7, 2007
Gov. Jim Doyle's pledge to coordinate budget assistance for Milwaukee is a wise use of state funds and the policy-setting power of the Governor's office.
Combining new investments in education, UW-M research, Workforce Development, law enforcement, transit makes good business and policy sense for the city and the state.
While the dollars are important, so is the attitude.
For too many years, Milwaukee has been a convenient punching bag for politicians at the Capitol and outstate who scored partisan or special interest points at Milwaukee's expense.
Remember former Gov. Tommy Thompson's "Stick-it-to-Milwaukee" line when the five-county sales tax increase for a new baseball stadium was under discussion?
Then there are those Milwaukee-only laws placed on the books at the behest of the politically-powerful and generous Milwaukee Police Association.
Those laws punish Milwaukee taxpayers by a) making them pay for $100,000 annually of police union official salaries, and b) keeping officers on the payroll after being charged with crimes during lengthy justice system appeals.
Gov. Doyle is right to use his budget to direct the state's attention and more funds to Milwaukee, because as the state's largest municipal economy and cultural center goes, so goes the state.
And while he promotes his budget initiative - - with the help of Milwaukee's legislative delegation and local officials - - Doyle could add to its its impact by helping to wipe those costly, anti-Milwaukee laws off the books.
Posted by James Rowen at 11:22 PM
True story: I was in South Dakota recently, and a man there told me about a lawyer who moved from the Milwaukee area to South Dakota.
The lawyer said his wife wanted to live in South Dakota for family reasons, but the tipping point for moving from Milwaukee and Wisconsin?
"Have you ever heard of the Marquette Interchange project," the lawyer asked?
Posted by James Rowen at 12:28 PM
Tuesday, February 6, 2007
The New Berlin plan commission Monday night, by a 5-1 vote, gave that city's first approval for the Deer Creek conference center that will include the fourth-largest hotel in Wisconsin and the largest water park in southeastern Wisconsin.
Located west of the Great Lakes basin boundary, the project will be sited in the political and geographic center of regional concerns - - at least I thought they were regional concerns - - about how best to manage job creation, water use, transit extensions and dwindling open space in southeastern Wisconsin and beyond.
The complex will require an estimated 1.1 million gallons of water per month, accelerating either New Berlin's effort to pipe Lake Michigan water to the Deer Creek site or putting additional pressure on regional wells.
Yet for all the talk in the greater Milwaukee area about the need for regional planning and decision-making, virtually none of the "Region First" lobby has suggested evaluating the project with regional benchmarks and goals.
What will be the project's impact on the Midwest Convention Center in downtown Milwaukee, or the other major hotels and related businesses concentrated in Milwaukee's downtown?
What is the project's impact on the region's water supplies?
Will the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources ask New Berlin to figure in the project's water needs, along with the collateral development it will spawn, when it asks New Berlin to rewrite the city's flawed 2006 Lake Michigan diversion application?
How will the project's induced traffic affect regional road building, as transportation budgets include contributions far from New Berlin's municipal borders?
Does New Berlin have a plan for including Milwaukee workers in the project, since they make up the lion's share of the region's unemployed?
Will employee transit, hiring and training be included as the project moves forward, and will those same matters be added to all the current and coming (read: The City of Waukesha) applications and discussions about diverting Lake Michigan water to keep spurring suburban growth west of Milwaukee?
The Deer Creek project has grown in size and complexity beyond earlier drafts. Green elements have been added, and that's to the good.
Yet the project has escaped any genuine regional analysis, with only Milwaukee Alderman Michael Murphy in government circles raising questions about Deer Creek outside New Berlin.
Will other Milwaukee officials, regional office-holders or private sector interests discuss this project in its proper, larger context, and therefore put more substance into the regionalism debate?
Posted by James Rowen at 11:21 AM
Monday, February 5, 2007
Ran into Ice Mountain bottled water again at a meeting, so here's a little history about this Nestle's bottled water brand:
The water is not from an ice mountain.
It is from a spring near Stanwood, Michigan, elevation 291 ft.
Not what looks to be the Rocky Mountains or the Alps on the Ice Mountain label.
Remember when Perrier wanted to bottle Wisconsin water and ship it far and wide? After that plan was defeated, the effort moved to Michigan, where Nestle's resurrected the bottling scheme in 2002 and named the Great Lakes basin water Ice Mountain.
The issue is still controversial, as there is a major loophole for bottled Great Lakes basin water contained in the US-Canada Great Lakes Compact now being review for implementation in all eight Great Lakes states and two Canadian provinces.
Activists in Wisconsin are trying to close the loophole, and counterparts in Michigan are still trying to shut down the Ice Mountain operation.
A final note: City of Milwaukee tapwater, now filtered with state-of-the-art ozone gas treatment, is the purest tap water in America, and a heck of a better bargain than Ice Mountain or the other bottled waters.
City of Milwaukee tap water comes without the export/diversion controversy, and doesn't leave behind plastic bottles, either.
Posted by James Rowen at 9:10 PM
In his state of the state speech last week, Gov. Jim Doyle had this to say about Milwaukee and the need for state government to focus resources in the state's largest metro area:
"Whether you live in Milwaukee or Marinette, the future of our state’s largest metropolitan area affects you. For Wisconsin to thrive, we need a strong and growing Milwaukee. It is a great and vital city -- our center of culture and commerce, the hub of our economy. Yet Milwaukee also faces unique challenges. Unless our entire state joins together to help meet those challenges, our entire state will suffer.
"Next week, I will join with leaders in Milwaukee to announce a comprehensive strategy to help the Milwaukee metro area to succeed and thrive. From supporting kids, to cracking down on violent crime, to creating jobs and investing in infrastructure, I’ll ask you to join me in making an investment in Milwaukee for the sake of all Wisconsin."
The City of Milwaukee does need special attention from state government because the city, and especially its core, is where most of the state's poverty is concentrated. State government can do more as a partner to alleviate this situation.
But Doyle's intentions will fall short if his proposals echo the regional drumbeat heard so frequently in the metro area. That is because as well-intentioned as many of the regional efforts are, they rely on a version of trickle-down economics that inevitably will supply greater rewards to the wealthier, suburban portions of the metro area.
Development projects - - hotels, big box stores, conference centers, water parks, subdivisions, shopping malls and manufacturers - - are being announced everyday in the outer portions of the metro area.
Those are the very communities which have cut themselves off from Milwaukee and its large pool of low-income workers with restrictive zoning, costly housing and gaps in the transit system.
Doyle's rhetoric and fiscal policies need to focus on the City of Milwaukee - - not just on behalf of Milwaukee, but as the Governor correctly said, for the entire state, too.
Posted by James Rowen at 4:41 PM
Sunday, February 4, 2007
Local actions can be the response to last week's findings by the international scientific community that global warming is “unequivocal," and that humanity is responsible for much of the increase in temperatures.
Here are a few ideas that can focus the local debate on solid and measurable outcomes:
* Cities and states can elevate better transit - - and that means urban and inter-city rail networks along with buses - - and diminish spending on new highways.
In the Milwaukee area, that means reining in the projected $6.5 billion freeway expansion and reconstruction plan, turning off AM talk radio's loudest, anti-rail squawkers who use the issue to gin up their conservative, suburban base, and getting serious about
modern transit in a region that is stuck in the transportation world of the 1950's.
* Regional planners have to include climate change in their agendas. In the Great Lakes region, and particularly over at the soporific Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC), that means tackling two phenomena that appear contradictory but which each demand the heightened attention of planners: possible loss of Great Lakes watershed volume due to higher temperatures and also the probable increase in heavy rains due to warmer temperatures and evaporation.
Heavier rains lead to floods and sewage system overflows, and recent summers have produced those very so-called '100-year-floods' more than once a century.
I attended a US Environmental Protection Agency program in Chicago with Mayor John Norquist in the winter of 2003 where EPA presenters showed data indicating that what they called climate change-related "major rain events" would force municipalities to cope with costly overflows.
And SEWRPC has to factor these issues into its land-use, transportation and housing recommendations in a much more comprehensive and urgent fashion.
* Governments need to go 'green' wherever they can, from lighting to heating to transportation to building codes and public structure design and operation.
With green planning in mind, the City of Milwaukee now has a Sustainability Officer (full disclosure: I sat on the interview panel that recommended to Mayor Tom Barrett that he hire Ann Beier who now manages the city's office of sustainability).
People in positions like Beier's, however, need to be given greater authority within their bureaucracies to push water conservation, land-use, transportation and other related measures.
Communities in Waukesha County that are still annexing farmland like crazy for subdivisions, water parks and shopping malls - - with little regard for a broad conservation agenda - - are the most in need of a green overhaul in their city halls, and certainly in their planning departments.
The City of Waukesha has made some preliminary moves in this direction, installing low-flush toilets in its city hall and adopting ordinances that limit lawn sprinkling.
But it still has aggressive subdivision/annexation plans on its drawing boards, and its efforts to be allowed to import three times its typical daily water usage from Lake Michigan - - without a plan to return that water to the lake - - continues to undercut its desire to be seen as a conservation leader.
* Environmentalism needs to be better meshed with economic development so that the two are not in conflict. Again, the City of Milwaukee can lead in this field because it has excellent models within its borders.
The Menomonee Valley Partners (MVP) and the green development it is promoting in the rehabilitated river valley close to Milwaukee's downtown proves that smart land use and water conservation programs can attract new business.
The MVP also is showing that business can adapt and flourish in a green environment, even one - - especially one - - that the public may incorrectly believe is still an abandoned and unwanted brownfield.
The city's business community, and the M-7 regional effort it is leading, could easily boost the Valley's profile by adopting the MVP's success story as one of the region's signature achievements.
With Miller Park at the west end of the valley, and the Summerfest grounds on the east, and with the New Harley-Davidson Museum, the Potawatomi Casino, the Hank Aaron State Trail and manufacturers in between turning out everything from high-tech products to pizzas, the Valley is an obvious location for more new housing, recreational infill, more business development and...going back to the first point in this little essay...for a trolley or light rail line connecting to the rest of the city, and also to the suburbs.
(An aside: It was just a few years ago that some highway planners wanted to slap another big, development-killing freeway bridge across the valley above where Canal St. has been widened, just as the concrete-heads had earlier wanted to replace the aging, flat Sixth St. Viaduct with...you guessed it...another flat and ugly interstate-highway-style span.
Both ideas were blocked by then Mayor John Norquist (disclosure: I held several positions in his administration); he successfully forced the state to replace the Sixth St. Viaduct with the more graceful, award-winning Sixth Street Bridge that helped open the east end of the valley to development with easier, ground-level access.)
In other words, local governments, planning bodies and private sector leaders can be creative when they want to, and what better moment than now to do that across-the board?
That means embracing the world scientific community's unequivocal findings about climate change - - that's the "thinking globally" part - - and then just as unequivocally taking action in the "acting locally" conclusion.
Posted by James Rowen at 11:14 AM
Saturday, February 3, 2007
Gov. Jim Doyle deserves credit for proposing in his State of the State message last week a task force on global warming.
It's a good idea because it combines the consensus view about the realities of climate change and with the wealth of scientific and policy talent in Wisconsin universities, industries and the non-profit sector.
As co-chairman of the Council of Great Lakes Governors, Doyle has even more standing to set such a task force in motion because climate change may lower the levels of the Great Lakes and its tributary waters and lead to negative outcomes for Wisconsin's water-based recreational and commercial industries.
One cautionary note: too many blue-ribbon committees are made up of the usual suspects that bring their establishment conservatism, their special concerns (read: monetary) and conflicts-of-interest to the table.
Let's hope Doyle selects a creative, diverse and multi-talented task force membership that won't water down its recommendations.
Posted by James Rowen at 2:48 PM
It turns out that the huge new coal-fired power plant that WE Energies is building along Lake Michigan in Oak Creek is not yet free of the legal and regulatory questions that had slowed its approval.
Partially built, the $2.2 billion project will begin operations in 2009.
The State of Wisconsin gave the utility its permitting approval under a federal rule that defined the project as "existing," rather than "new" - - a nuanced, pro-industry bureaucratic ruling - - and that meant the utility could eliminate expensive cooling towers from the construction plans.
Without cooling towers - - and they've been standard in modern power plant construction for decades - - the more than two billion gallons of water daily required by the plant for operations will be sucked in through a pipe in Lake Michigan.
That will kill alot of fish, according to experts within the federal government and environmental groups.
Last week, a New York federal appeals court struck down the rule that allowed the Oak Creek project to be built without cooling towers.
A Wisconsin circuit court judge in Madison must decide if the Oak Creek project needs cooling towers.
The utility denies its plant and water intake pipe will kill fish or harm the lake, and says its state-issued permits are valid.
This is another of those cases that pits industry against environmentalists, and a company's bottom line against stewardship of natural resources.
You'd think by now, especially with the multiple concerns about climate change and stresses on the Great Lakes, that industry would have done more to avoid these adversarial relationships with the natural world that we all depend on for survival.
As this case winds its way through the courts, let's praise Clean Wisconsin and the Sierra Club for these publicly-spirited achievements:
They've kept a steady eye and the media's focus on the health of Lake Michigan, and they've made sure that the convenience of utilities isn't allowed to supersede the rule of law.
Wisconsin utilities operate with state-approved monopolies and guaranteed rates of return. That's a pretty sweet deal in a free enterprise economy, so is it asking too much of the utilities to meet the highest legal and environmental standards?
Posted by James Rowen at 9:47 AM
Friday, February 2, 2007
Thursday's announcement of a major hotel, conference center and water park for New Berlin will throw a monkey wrench into that city's efforts to obtain a diversion of Lake Michigan water.
Because New Berlin is seeking to bring Lake Michigan water over the subcontinental divide for the western portion of the city - - the physical divide splits the city - - and getting a diversion over the divide needs the approval of all eight US Great Lakes governors under current US law and a US-Canadian agreement.
New Berlin's preliminary diversion application was already in trouble because several states' reviewers last year found it incomplete, especially with regard to conservation and other important details.
New Berlin officials have been saying that diverted Lake Michigan water would be used to replace well water that does not meet federal radium standards and was not a ploy to get more water to fuel development.
Some City of Milwaukee officials, principally Ald. Michael Murphy, have long argued that diverted water helps encourage businesses to locate beyond Milwaukee's city limits; City of Milwaukee records show that about a quarter of the companies in New Berlin's Industrial Park had relocated there from Milwaukee.
So Milwaukee might be cutting its own throat if it were to send New Berlin water for that suburban city's more westerly area.
The hotel, conference center and water park is in the planned diversion, over-the-subcontinental divide zone, according to New Berlin Mayor Jack Chiavatero.
Mayor Chiavatero said in email that the hotel will feature green architecture and filtration to limit the water park - - said to be the region's largest - - to 8,000 gallons water daily.
Never the less, it seems that New Berlin has water-dependent expansion plans for acreage that is outside of the subcontinental divide.
As development spins off related projects, the demand for Lake Michigan water to that area will escalate, helping to pave more open space, require more roads, move the economy away from Milwaukee and create more sprawl.
Take a look just a few miles to the west at Pabst Farms, where a large hospital and a million-square ft. shopping mall are the latest approvals to subdivisions with an eventual 400 large, single-family homes.
All plunked right on top of land that provides rain and snowmelt drainage for the region's underground water supply.
Is this the kind of planning and expansion - - entire communities built on precious aquifer recharge land, or going after Lake Michigan for water park frolicking - - that helps the region's stressed and finite water supplies?
And does a New Berlin hotel/conference center/water park bode well for Milwaukee's downtown hotel, convention center and visitors' economy?
Posted by James Rowen at 12:27 PM