The Town of Mukwonago will decide through a referendum on Tuesday if it wants to retain its rural character, or join the subdivision/strip mall/traffic congestion crowd.
Like the countywide farmland preservation question on the Washington County ballot, the Town of Mukwonago is on the right path, letting its residents, not a clutch of developers and other insiders decide their fate.
Best of luck to them.
Saturday, March 31, 2007
The Town of Mukwonago will decide through a referendum on Tuesday if it wants to retain its rural character, or join the subdivision/strip mall/traffic congestion crowd.
Attorney and City of Monona alderman Peter McKeever has written eloquently about how Wisconsin's open lands are disappearing when powerful building and consulting interests overwhelm less well-armed town boards and decision-making commissions.
You might want to download and save McKeever's commentary from that WisOpinion link highlighted above, because WisOpinion postings vanish after a few days and are not archived on the site.
Here's a portion of the argument that McKeever, a long-time organizer in statewide land conservation efforts, presents in his Friday, March 30th essay:
"The local review and approval process is typically ripe with procedural and substantive errors and problems, often involving the failure of local government to follow public notice, open meetings and open records laws and the failure to properly apply local zoning laws and follow land use plans. The board members, the “deciders” have little experience dealing with big sprawl subdivisions complete with new lakes and mega-McMansions, office complexes, malls, and tree-lined boulevards in place of town roads and scattered farms. They much prefer to have the proposal go away, and the quickest way to accomplish that is to approve it.
Their town engineers are hired consultants, from the same firms that often do work for the developers. Local board members and plan commissioners do not have, or are unwilling to spend, funds for independent engineering reviews, environmental assessments, property tax analyses, and feasibility studies. They really have no idea what the real long-term impact will be on the place they claim to care about."
Posted by James Rowen at 9:15 AM
Friday, March 30, 2007
There are eye-popping numbers included in a March 20th draft report by the Southeastern Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC) about growth in the region.
For example, the projected increase from 2000-to-2035 in Waukesha County's population will exceed the entire 2000 population count in all of Ozaukee County.
The SEWRPC numbers make clear that there will be increased demands for water, roads, housing and other public spending and services for the next three decades in Waukesha County and across a multi-county region to which capital and employment will migrate from Milwaukee.
Will there be a corresponding regional response on water conservation, transit improvements, low-to-moderate income housing and workforce development so that more sprawl - - now predicted - - does not add to the economic and geographic segregation that continues to separate Milwaukee from its suburban and rural neighbors?
The data also illuminate the reasons why Wisconsin needs to adopt new rules governing use of Great Lakes water - - a process being held up in the Wisconsin legislature.
Without the new rules, growth could become more haphazard, while uncoordinated and unjustifiable diversions of water away from Lake Michigan - - already at a dangerously low level - - could accelerate, too.
The bold-facing in the admittedly lengthy and documented discussion about the SEWRPC report, below, is mine:
The number of square miles in Waukesha County served by municipal water utilities will grow from 82.3 in 2000 to an estimated 168.3 square miles in 2035 - - an increase of 104%.
Additionally, the number of people in the county served by municipal water systems will rise in Waukesha County from the 2000 figure of 218,400 to an estimated total by 2035 of 382,000, an increase of 75%.
Private well use will drop from 142,400 people to 64,800, a decline of 77,600 people, or -54%.
From 2000 to 2035, Waukesha County is expected to grow from 360,800 people in 2000 to 446,800 people in 2035, an addition of 86,000 people, the largest projected raw number increase among SEWRPC's seven counties: Milwaukee, Waukesha, Washington, Ozaukee, Racine, Kenosha and Walworth.
In fact, that increase for Waukesha of 86,000 people - - 24% of its 2000 total - - exceeds the 2000 population of Ozaukee County (82,300), according to the report.
(Other than for Milwaukee County, with a projected increase in population by 2035 of 66,900, or 7%), the other counties in the region will also have substantial growth and water issues to deal with if their population increases and percentages materialize: Kenosha County, +60,500, or 40%; Ozaukee County, +18,800, 23%; Racine County, 24,800, +13%; Walworth County, +48,000, +52%; Washington County, 39,800, +34%)
And how much water will these counties, especially Waukesha County need by 2035 when Waukesha essentially adds an Ozaukee County-full of people within its boundaries?
“The total water use demand on an average daily basis for the 24 municipal water utilities in Waukesha County is estimated to increase from 23.1 mgd [million gallons daily] in 2000, to 41.4 mgd in 2035," says the report. (p. 55).
That’s an increase of 79%.
Bottom line: more people, more people on municipal water systems, more net water use county-wide even with conservation measures planned or in place.
Among the interesting nuggets in the report relate to projected usages of land for housing:
For the entire region, most of the land taken for housing development to the year 2035 from 2000 will be dedicated to units of lower densities, on relatively larger lots.
An estimated 3.8 square miles of land will be converted to so-called "high-density" residential development - - that is...seven housing units or more per acre.
On the other hand, 52.8 square miles - - sixteen times as much projected for high-density housing - - is predicted to be built as "medium-density" housing - - that is...2.3 to 6.9 units per acre.
And another 12 square miles is projected for new "low-density" housing that is...0.7 to 2.2 units per acre.
Throw out the fractions, and you can see that most of the growth in the housing market in the region through 2035 is ticketed for relatively larger, suburban, exurban lots - - the sort of housing that requires more lawn watering than city lots, and usually what is needed by urban multi-unit buildings, like apartments, even condos.
A related number: 103.9 square miles of agricultural land in the seven-county region, or 8.2% of the total, is slated to disappear from ag use, according to the report (county-by-county numbers for these land-use categories do not appear in the document.
The report sums it up this way:
"...in the year 2000, about 390 square miles, or 14% of the total area of the Region, and about 1.56 million persons, or 82% of the regional population, were served by municipal water supply facilities. In 2035, under the regional land use plan, about 628 square miles, or 23% of the total area of the Region, and about 2.09 million persons, or 92% of the regional population, would be served by municipal water systems." (p. 14)
Again, more people, dispersed across far larger municipal water system service territories - - 390 square miles in 2000 compared to 628 square miles in 2035 - - all looking for and expecting connections to potable water.
The 58-page water advisory committee report will undergo another month’s review by members of the commission staff, the 33-member water supply technical advisory committee, and the commission's consultants.
It will then be incorporated at the conclusion of an 18-month planning effort - - about half-completed - - into a set of commission policy recommendations to address water supply issues in the seven-county region.
Basics about the study can be found here, on the SEWRPC website.
Fair warning: The site does not have a simple search function.
And there is a lag of a month or two for the online posting of final, approved minutes, and other documents, that have not moved out of draft or preliminary form.
Case in point: The document - - "SEWRPC Planning Report No. 52: Chapter IV, Anticipated Growth and Change Affecting Water Supply in the Region" - - that is cited through this posting is not yet available on the SEWRPC website.
Also note: Most of the meetings of the water advisory committee have not been covered in the traditional news media. The meetings are, however, open to the public at the commission's City of Pewaukee headquarters basement conference room.
SEWRPC's understated release of these coordinated, significant data - - albeit at a public but under-promoted technical committee meeting - - continues a pattern of regional research and decision-making carried out on major policy issues by technical experts, public officials and favored consultants (read one Madison attorney's insightful commentary about that, here) with very little media coverage, or publicity by SEWRPC itself.
And this this planning is carried out by experts and advisors, many of them local and state officials, on SEWRPC committees from which minorities are nearly completely excluded even though the seven-county planning region group is 100% funded with property taxes and other with public dollars.
(The SEWRPC territory holds 36% of the state's population, including most of the state's minority residents; SEWRPC describes itself on its website as representing "the highly urbanized southeastern region of the State.")
The million-dollar water supply study was funded at the request of Waukesha County, and began over the objections of the City of Milwaukee, documented here.
Another report for the commission on water supply issues has been prepared by Attorney Lawrie Kobza, a water law specialist from the Boardman Law Firm, in Madison.
Kobza has submitted to SEWRPC a 24-page report on state and federal water law, and listed five possible regional water authority models that could address one or more of the region’s water supply issues.
With most of the region's growth in population and water demand projected to occur outside of Milwaukee County and the City of Milwaukee - - but with Milwaukee communities having more direct access to Lake Michigan - - the creation of a new regional water authority could increase the pressure on City of Milwaukee leaders or in other lakefront communities, like the City of Oak Creek, to supply water to the outlying counties.
A regional water authority, if drawn on the county-by-county model that created SEWRPC, could minimize the participation and interests of City of Milwaukee government and residents: The City of Milwaukee, with nearly 600,000 residents and a population exceeding that of several SEWRPC counties, has no seats on the SEWRPC board of commissioners.
Each county has three representatives.
SEWRPC’s lead consultant to the water supply advisory committee is Ruekert/Mielke, Inc., a Waukesha County engineering and consulting firm which also prepared the City of New Berlin’s still-pending, 2006 Lake Michigan diversion application.
That application, which sources report has been revised and resubmitted to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, was roundly criticized as inadequate by several Great Lakes state and Canadian provincial officials after being sent around regionally for comment last year.
The existence of the 2006 New Berlin application was disclosed first by the State of Michigan, which had declined to approve it, though its preparation, and review by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources at New Berlin's request, had gone on for months.
In addition, confidential efforts by the City of Waukesha to obtain a diversion from Lake Michigan were made twice in 2006 proposals by contract lawyers working for the city's water utility to Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle; those efforts (ultimately unsuccessful at the time) were not acknowledged until their disclosure by a free-lance writer using the Open Records statute.
Efforts to implement new rules coordinating community conservation, diversions and return flow from the Great Lakes to communities like New Berlin and Waukesha are stalled in a state legislative study committee.
The logjam there is due in part to objections from Waukesha County business and political leaders who feel the rules give too much authority over water use in Wisconsin to the other seven Great Lakes states.
Unless the rules are adopted by all the states (the eight states and two Canadian provinces are already members of a joint, cooperative Great Lakes management Compact), diversions can be denied under a separate federal law, the US Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), by a single state's veto without any explanation, or the application of standards.
A simple summary of WRDA and matters related to the adoption of the news rules was provided to the state legislative study committee, here.
So where do we stand?
Clearly, intense development is headed for substantial portions or remaining open space and farmland in the region, even in areas with water supply problems, and away from urban centers where unemployed people are cut off from suburban job growth.
SEWRPC could genuinely take the regional lead with comprehensive recommendations, beginning with support for the Great Lakes Compact proposed rules and standards - - but its nearly all-white makeup, strong suburban biases and controversial advocacy for the $6.5 billion regional freeway expansion have eroded much of its leadership possibilities.
It's a profound lesson: All regional efforts, to be fair, and substantive, and effective, must reform themselves to reflect the world and region in which they operate.
That means assertively and intentionally reaching out to groups that have been and remain discounted and excluded.
The more that planning is exclusive and passive, the less effective will be the planners' recommendations.
And their results will be suspect, weak, and even counter-productive.
Given SEWRPC's data, rising fuel prices, probable climate change with warmer temperatures, and job losses to globalization, the stakes are too high to let business-as-usual rule the region
Posted by James Rowen at 12:10 AM
Thursday, March 29, 2007
So San Francisco has prohibited the larger grocery stores from providing petroleum-derived plastic bags to customers, saving taxpayer dollars on landfill costs and making a small but symbolic step towards energy savings.
Predictably, some Milwaukee AM right-wing radio chatterboxes were yammering on the air immediately, bemoaning the loss of some made-up property right to be offered a plastic bag at the supermarket.
But don't municipalities' elected officials regulate or influence behavior all the time...in the name of the common good, the savings of public money, or both?
Take speed limits, for instance. Or fire codes.
Heck, you need a license from the city to open a grocery store in the first place.
And health inspectors can check how the store is displaying products that are allowed for sale only after having passed earlier approvals for manufacture and distribution by The US Food and Drug Administration, federal agricultural inspectors, and by various state regulators.
Ireland went on a different path in 2002, heavily taxing most plastic shopping bags out of existence; Paris is going to install a ban this year, and countries from Canada to Israel to India to Singapore to South Africa are moving towards some version of a plastic bag ban.
Die-hard plasticophiles can still provide their own, and probably will come around to carrying durable, reusable bags made from paper or other materials (the free market and human inventiveness will surely find wonderful and better bags).
And doing without plastic bags made from $65-dollar-a-barrel oil won't be the end of anyone's world.
Remember: we all got along just fine without plastic grocery bags, and having them go away will not cause the sky to fall on talk radio's Chicken Littles.
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
Today, March 28, is the anniversary of the 1979 nuclear accident at Three Mile Island.
Twenty-eight years later, the nuclear industry is no closer to solving the problem of what to do with deadly nuclear waste than it was in 1979 - - but that hasn't stopped Dick Cheney's Energy 'Policy' group and others from pushing nukes back into the debate.
Posted by James Rowen at 10:43 AM
Some of the best reporting about sprawl development in southeastern Wisconsin is found in the region's small newspapers.
While they don't have the reach of the major dailies, they often cover a local building project or subdivision plan with attention and passion that convey the significance of the proposal far beyond one small community's borders.
A good example is the recent story in the Kettle Moraine Index, a Waukesha County weekly, about the impact of a development in the rural Town of Ottawa.
That town of less than 4,000 residents - - and the adjoining Village of Dousman, (population 1,600) - - is due to get a single project of 500 homes and condos, plus an artificial lake that critics say could trash a quiet spot and even ruin Larkin Lake, the natural lake that's already there.
The project is slated for 300 acres of disappeared farmland close to these important ecological features, says the Index story:
"Marlin Johnson, a Town of Ottawa resident and associate biology professor at University of Wisconsin-Waukesha, said any possible draining of Larkin Lake would mean the end of a unique and valuable wetland for vegetation and wildlife in the area. He said the sparsely populated Larkin Lake - having only three homes on it - has remained preserved in a natural condition, making it included in the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission's report for natural areas and habitat protection plan for critical species.
"There are natural areas in Wisconsin designated for statewide and regional significance," said Johnson, a member of the Waukesha County Land Conservancy - which preserves environmentally significant land in Waukesha County. "Larkin Lake is designated to have local significance to the area."
Note that the regional planning commission says the property was worth preserving - - but no surprise there: Developments are chopping Waukesha County farms and the priceless Kettle Moraine to bits, including land the regional planning commission recommended as environmental corridors.
You wonder where this all will end?
Will Pabst Farm be enough for developers hoping to build major, multi-use projects on Waukesha County's dwindling open space?
Probably not: The possible Lang project creating a second downtown for Delafield south of I-94 and to the boundary of Lapham Peak State Park, is still on the drawing board.
And plans by local and state government to widen the interstate, and pipe Lake Michigan water over the subcontinental divide will make sprawl into Jefferson County inevitable.
Dane County is sprawling in all directions from Madison, too, suggesting that one heavily-paved region, stripped of farms and wetlands, will settle in with public handouts (TIF's, zoning do-overs, sewer extensions and more) from Milwaukee, to the East Towne Mall and north, following I-94 towards the Wisconsin Dells.
Grassroots groups and small newspapers in threatened communities along this concrete corridor are doing their part to raise the alarm.
But at the regional planning commission, on the county and town boards, and in the legislature, where the highway and builders' interests prevail, is anyone listening?
Posted by James Rowen at 7:58 AM
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
Some St. Patrick's Day reporting cleanup:
Did you hear about the Waukesha County driver who blew a blood alcohol level of 0.34 at 10 a.m. - - after he killed two people in a head-on crash.
And fatal accidents jumped far ahead of recent St. Patrick's Day totals, perhaps because this year's celebratory binge drinking started on a Saturday.
We pay milions and billions for highways, and then we make it more permissable, more culturally acceptable, to get plastered and drive on certain days, all in the name of fun.
Makes you wonder.
Posted by James Rowen at 9:47 PM
Some of you may have read about the creation of the country's first "forever" stamp, good at face value for first-class postage after purchase even if, and when, rates go up.
The idea was originated and pushed to fruition by one of the country's most stalwart consumer advocates - - Ruth Goldway - - who is also the former Mayor of Santa Monica, CA, and a friend and ally going back to the early 70's.
Ruth is a perfect example of what it means to be a life-long political activist with a set of core values and goals - - in this case, making the huge and impersonal US Postal Service become a more customer-friendly operation.
Congratulations to Ruth Goldway.
Posted by James Rowen at 2:13 PM
For years, (examples from 2002 here and here, too) I've written and argued that policy-making at SEWRPC is unrepresentative of the racial composition of its seven-county region, and especially for City of Milwaukee residents, where minorities make up a majority of the city's population of roughly 600,000.
It's well-known that much of SEWRPC's policy-making for the region originates, percolates and is fine-tuned in its committees.
They meet with experts and consultants on transportation, water management and other basic planning matters of real importance to all taxpayers who provide 100% of SEWRPC's annual budget, with Milwaukee County taxpayers supplying the largest recurring annual donation.
It's a public agency - - but in name only when it comes to the racial makeup of its all-important committees.
Karyn Rotker, an attorney with the ACLU-Wisconsin, asked Philip Evenson, SEWRPC's executive director, to supply the racial makeup of some current SEWRPC committees.
Below is what Evenson provided about five SEWRPC committees and a sixth not appointed by SEWRPC, though let me provide you with the mathematical plot-spoiler:
Three of 126 (or two percent) SEWRPC committee members are minorities.
And this is 2007, more than 40 years after you'd have thought landmark federal statutes adopted in the wake of the civil rights movement would have made segregated governance at publicly-funded governmental agencies illegal.
Here is Evenson's reply, in his own words (the bold-faced highlights are mine:
1. Milw Co Transit Program Committee; 11 members, 9 white, 2 African-American, 1 Hispanic; all appointed by the Milw Co Executive (not a SEWRPC committee).
2. Population and Economic Forecasts Committee; 12 members, all white; appointed by SEWRPC with membership targeted to include individuals
from thepublic, private, and academic sectors with professional responsibilities and expertise in the subject matter.
3. Regional Land Use Planning Committee; 25 members, 24 white, 1
African-American; appointed by SEWRPC with membership targeted to
include county and local planning professionals on a population proportional
basis plus relevant state and federal agencies.
4. Regional Telecommunications Planning Committee; 22 members, 21
white, 1 African-American; appointed by SEWRPC with membership targeted to
include individuals from the public and private sectors with expertise and
knowledge in or related to the telecommunications industry.
5. Regional Water Supply Planning Committee; 33 members, 32 white, 1
Hispanic; appointed by SEWRPC with membership targeted to individuals
with professional responsibilities and expertise in or related to water
supply matters, drawing from public and private water utilities, industry,
agriculture, development and environment groups, county planners, state
and federal agencies, and academia.
6. Regional Water Quality Management Plan Update Committee; 34 members, all
white; appointed by SEWRPC with membership targeted to individuals with
professional responsibilities and expertise in or related to water quality
management matters, drawing from public works agencies, state and federal
agencies, land trusts, county planners and conservationists, development and
environment groups, and academia.
We collect no information on income, disability, residence location, or
employment for members on these committees other than what can be
inferred from job titles.
Posted by James Rowen at 12:04 AM
Monday, March 26, 2007
For years, UW-Milwaukee has been scratching its collective bureaucratic head and wondering: "How can we position ourselves as a science and research center?"
It has looked westward to UW-Madison with envy, as that university campus assumed leadership and won decades of grants in biotech and other sciences.
But through inertia, or some other human tendency to overlook institutions or people already on the scene that consistently perform at a high level, UW-Milwaukee has failed to capitalize on its Great Lakes WATER Institute - - even though its staff and expertise are key ingredients in the push for conservation, water-based public health, and Great Lakes sustainability.
Around here, those are pretty hot topics.
Case in point: WATER Institute professor Sandra McLellan, an expert in water and beach quality, has found that dangerous E. coli bacteria is on Bradford Beach where stormwater pipes owned by Milwaukee County routinely deposit polluted water.
McLellan also has noted - - and it's a point consistently worth repeating - - that while polluted stormwater presents the most serious dangers to public health, the general public misperception, shaped by media, is that sewage overflows, not stormwater pollution, presents the major public risk.
So the WATER Institute affects the public understanding of issues and risk factors, and can have an impact on policies that fix problems, too.
For a university looking for greater research credibility, that sounds like a mission statement.
Similarly, McLellan helped Miller Park discover that it was inadvertantly sending human waste into the Menomonee River.
It is known among scientists and regulators that the wrong plumbing connection at Miller Park is not the only mistaken or accidental source of fecal pollution ending up in the area's rivers, streams and lakes.
Elsewhere, WATER Institute professors are bringing years of experience with the region's groundwater into the debate over water resource management, and specifically into whether possible diversions from Lake Michigan are the wisest and most sustainable activities.
These UW-M scientists have created fact sheets and power point presentations about the region's water supply, all of which helps inject top-flight data, computer models and informed opinion into the water debate.
Along with colleagues in related agencies, WATER Institute personnel are getting solid information into studies and eventual recommendations by the regional planning commission (SEWRPC) and a state legislative study committee on the Great Lake Compact.
Materials posted by The US Geological Survey, and another scientific team that works closely with the WATER Institute here are helping policy-makers interpret differently Waukesha's suggestion that it was already part of the Lake Michigan basin through what it called "tributary groundwater."
So UW-Milwaukee doesn't have to look much farther than its Great Lakes WATER Institute for a research identity and anchor.
What the school needs is a media and grant-writing strategy to better promote and utilize the experts it already has on board, and who are well-connected with a larger scientific community, but are sometimes unappreciated.
The Great Lakes WATER Institute can become the authoritative site for information and policy recommendations about Great Lakes water conservation and resource management.
Posted by James Rowen at 7:14 AM
Sunday, March 25, 2007
Former Milwaukee County Executive Tom Ament's fall from grace, and office, in the wake of the pension scandal, began with stories on web sites run by Gretchen Schuldt (www.storyhill.net) and Bruce Murphy (www.milwaukeeworld.com).
But not until the so-called mainstream media picked up and pushed the story across the front pages, especially in The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel did Ament and several county board supervisors lose their positions.
The Ziegler conflict-of-interest story that dominates the current State Supreme Court race could be playing itself out along the same lines.
The news about the dozens of cases that Ziegler managed in Washington County Circuit in which she should have removed herself because of family connections or stock ownership began on a website, www.onewisconsinnow.org, spread to the blogger Jay Bullock, and landed in repetitive stories in the mainstream media.
The Wisconsin State Journal's Dee Hall has been the story's leading, traditional news reporter, and recounts the chronology in yet another Sunday story.
We'll know on election day - - April 3rd - - if the disclosures were consequential enough to knock out Ziegler, the primary winner.
Either way, the alternative electronic media continues to grow in stature when it does serious investigative reporting, though its punch is amplified when traditional media checks out the information, finds it credible and decides to advance it.
Posted by James Rowen at 2:00 PM
Saturday, March 24, 2007
The Milwaukee County Zoo was mobbed today. It was an annual Free Day. Families galore. White and Black. Young and Older. Just a wonderful warm early spring day.
But Free Day was a bit of a misnomer - - you still had to pay the $9 parking fee - - and I had a minor epiphany when I forked over my $10 bill:
Of course Scott Walker doesn't want a light rail train servicing the Zoo: The County would lose all that parking revenue.
Sorta like why and how Miller Park had to be built in the Menomonee Valley, away from the downtown and easy transit connections, because Bud Selig wanted the parking revenue, too.
So parking revenues trump rational transit planning in Miwaukee.
Scott Walker: Son of Bud.
Posted by James Rowen at 5:37 PM
Transit ridership is peaking across the US - - some of the best numbers in more than half a century, driven by the popularity of light rail, are being recorded and reported.
Huge gains are being made in cities like Salt Lake City, where even in the reddest of red states, modern trains are moving happy, conservative, well-adjusted people around town.
But Milwaukee's railophobics, ranging from Scott Walker, our County Exec, to regional rightist radio talkers, to Waukesha political leaders who derailed a two-county plan in the 90's, have decided that Milwaukee must remain a light rail-free zone.
Now, mind you, AMTRAK is OK with that crowd because it serves upscale daily commuters to Chicago.
The Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter line is moving towards a long-delayed startup with Walker's blessing - - because it will deliver services to his suburban constituents.
But Milwaukee's central city transit users: Let 'em ride the bus, Walker says, until they save enough money to buy a car.
And to Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett's modest plan for a trolley loop in the city's downtown?
Walker just says "no." Because that's the talk radio mantra.
If that attitude is allowed to prevail, and if public policy is made by elected officials who toe the talk radio line, Milwaukee will remain less competitive with a growing number of US cities that can offer its residents, businesses and tourists modern, bright and appealing transit alternatives to buses.
Friday, March 23, 2007
It has been two years since word first broke in the media that University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee researchers had found E. coli bacteria on Bradford Beach near five sewer pipe outlets (called "outfalls") owned by Milwaukee County.
Right: it's a county-owned beach, on the shore of Lake Michigan, at the foot of Lake Park - - and bacteria frequently originating in the intestines of human beings and other mammals, and therefore their fecal matter, was pouring in polluted water right across the sand and into the shallow wading water.
The outfalls are in concrete structures visible from Lincoln Memorial Dr. When it rains, channels through the sand are visible across the beach. One of the premier public beaches in Wisconsin.
Milwaukee County has budgeted money to fix the problem, but there's no evidence that the money is going to be spent.
Question for Scott Walker: Miller Park fixed its recently discovered sewage line problem fast.
It's been two years - - actually more than 26 months - - and what's happening in County government to end the E. coli pollution of Bradford beach?
E. coli can cause intestinal and extra-intestinal infections, including urinary tract infections, meningitis, peritonitis, mastitis, and other serious ailments.
Spring is here. April is a known month of heavy rain that has been associated with water-borne illness in and around Milwaukee.
Then it will be summer: beach and wading season.
We don't want it to be another beach closing season because the County is still polluting its beach.
Posted by James Rowen at 4:00 PM
Not long ago, I blogged about Rocky Anderson, the Mayor of Salt Lake City - - a progressive Democrat running the biggest city in the reddest state of all.
Anderson has made Salt Lake City into one of the greenest, most conservation-conscious municipalites in the nation.
He even got light rail built!
And as he says in the first linked story above - - an interview with the excellent online publication Grist - - he overcame the biggest political firestorm in his tenure only to find now that neighborhoods that fought and feared light rail the most are now clamboring loudly to be connected.
Now The New York Times has discovered him, and its piece is worth a read.
Imagine if, in this town, the biggest opponent to light rail - - County Executive Scott Walker - - had a fraction of Anderson's political spine.
We'd have rail in the ground, boosting the local economy, linking workers to jobs, shoppers to restaurants and stores, and tourists to county-run destinations like the Zoo, the Airport and the failing Public Museum, too.
Leadership is what it's all about - - and that begins with turning off the rabid right-wing radio talkers that demagogue on rail to ramp up their ratings.
Salt Lake's got it.
Milwaukee County doesn't.
Thursday, March 22, 2007
Wisconsin environmental groups and others with a progressive message about important issues can use existing free internet options to publicize their work.
Here's one free, easy way to reach a large, national audience - - a Daily Kos "diary" posting.
Posted by James Rowen at 11:28 PM
It wasn't long ago that turning corn into ethanol looked like the magic elixir that could help to wean us off foreign oil dependency, and do even more good by boosting the agricultural sector, especially in places like rural Wisconsin.
But corn-based ethanol is looking and sounding and now smelling like anything but the basis of a perfect alternative fuel.
Denny Caneff, executive director of the River Alliance of Wisconsin Inc., in Madison, had an informative piece in The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in January highlighting the demands that corn-based ethanol places on groundwater.
Four gallons of water is needed to produce a gallon of ethanol. In Wisconsin, where groundwater availability is a big deal and a hot topic, that's not an attractive ratio.
Then there was a major report in The New York Times touting ethanol from other sources, including grasses and even wood chips, that don't require so much water and fertilizer (another energy-intensive product)to produce.
Now there's a more down-to-earth objection from a major dairy products factory in Sparta.
It's complaining that a newly-approved nearby ethanol plant will churn out four-smelling air emissions that will taint the taste of the dairy company's products.
Said the report in The Waukesha Freeman:
"Ethanol plants...emit pollution-causing chemicals and compounds and a smell that supporters liken to popcorn but critics compare to manure."
Sounds (smells, too) like another reason that Wisconsin and other agricultural states should slow down the bandwagon that's running on corn-based ethanol, and look to a wider range of sources to make better alternative fuels.
Posted by James Rowen at 12:02 AM
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
You don't have to be a genius to grasp that the Bush administration threw away the world's goodwill after the 9/11 terrorist attacks by launching the Iraqi invasion - - now morphed into an occupation amidst a civil war with no end in sight.
But there is also evidence that Bush's refusal to act on climate change has diminished our stature and credibility - - as has the Iraqi debacle - - across the globe.
Ironically, and tragically, the Chinese government, now sitting atop an economy belching out greenhouse pollutants like a runaway freight train, is citing American unwillingness to cut emissions as justification for its own failure to make anti-pollution efforts, too.
This is how a recent Reuters story (March 17th) explains the consequences that emerged after the US refused to adopt anti-pollution targets laid out in the Kyoto accords:
"The United States has been criticised for pulling out of the [Kyoto] Protocol in 2001 and [a spokesman] said any post-Kyoto agreement with specific targets would "have to involve the U.S., China, India and other developing countries."
"Canadian Environment Minister John Baird echoed this view in a conference call with reporters after the meeting.
"But developing states like China cite the U.S. position as a reason for their refusal to accept reduction targets."
Sure, there's an element of politics to all this: it's easier for China to blame someone else - - the US - - for its inaction, especially if it would cost the
Chinese government some money.
But we're not on the high moral or environmental ground condemning the coal-hungry, oil-draining, air-fouling Chinese industrial and automotive sectors because our government has caviled and obstructed on the issues, and at negotiating tables, too.
The Bush administration has pretty much said it doesn't care if the rest of world loves or hates us. The self-defeating arrogance of that position aside, we all have to breathe the same air.
Posted by James Rowen at 7:04 PM
OK, radio talk show squawkers and rail phobics, you haven't read that headline...but trust me, you will.
Two trips by car in the last ten days from Milwaukee to Madison, and I've made hundreds of these in the years I've lived in both cities, convinces me again that Waukesha County motorists will demand commuter rail connections, and sooner rather than later.
It's not just the housing that is filling in the farmland along the corridor, or the traffic (note to the State Patrol and county mounties: you could fill your budget holes with aggressive speed enforcement between Sunny Slope Rd. and the east side of Madison, as the left lane is a non-stop mini-Autobahn ribbon of 80+ mph violators, including the big rigs).
Waukesha legislators pressured Gov. Jim Doyle to move forward the the freeway expansion schedule for Zoo Interchange widening - - a project that will make the Marquette Interchange reconstruction look like a simple street repaving by comparison.
Western Waukesha County's stretch of I-94 is scheduled for a separate dose of widening, which means fast-growing Waukesha County will have a good chunk of a generation of orange barrels, lane and ramp closings and all the additional inconveniences that comes with their share of a $6.5 billion project.
Folks out west will look to their suburban neighbors to the south and begin demanding commuter rail similar to the Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee (KRM) line that appears to moving towards construction.
The ironies are that Waukesha County all the way to Oconomowoc used tbe served by the high-speed Interurban rail line which hit 110 mph on its run to Chicago, and that Waukesha killed a light rail plan back in the 90's that would have, in its earliest plans, entered Waukesha County, offering what would have been a respite for some commuters in the eastern part of the county.
And would have reintroduced many people to the rail option, paving the way, so to speak, for a genuinely balanced transportation system regionally that would have melded light rail, commuter trains and highways.
I'm still predicting a push for commuter rail from the west, and if it were to be part of a plan that included rail transit in the urban Milwaukee core, it'd be worth supporting.
Posted by James Rowen at 9:18 AM
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
Tommy Thompson's dabbling in presidential politics gets more, what, serious? Even that's overstating it.
Mentioned at the top of one cable news program? Gawd! Stop the hyping.
Posted by James Rowen at 10:59 PM
Build them and buyers will come.
Now if only we didn't have such risk-averse public officials who make public transportation policy (Milwaukee County Executive Scott "No Trains" Walker, and basically the entire state Department of Transportation - - that means you), we'd add modern urban and commuter rail to a genuinely balanced and less-polluting transportation mix.
Posted by James Rowen at 1:15 PM
Had we been in Washington yesterday, we could have watched the Bush administration's inexorable unraveling take on a decidedly green, spring-like tone:
Public testimony was finally taken on the administration's censorial tinkering of climate change reports by a former oil industry lobbyist, Philip Cooney.
"Before joining the White House," reports the New York Times," Mr. Cooney was the “climate team leader” for the American Petroleum Institute, the main industry lobby in Washington.
That would be a little like putting Joseph Hazelwood, the drunken ship captain who ran the Exxon Valdez aground in Alaska, in charge of the National Transportation Safety Board.
But hey: why bother to expect a straight story on climate science when other administration officials were off spinning tall tales about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, uranium sales to Iraq by Niger, sufficient troop levels in Iraq, adequate armoring of combat vehicles there, the true cost of Medicare reforms, eavesdropping and snooping programs here and abroad, etc. etc?
And don't weep too many tears for the Mr. Cooney, who was forced out of his job in 2005 by The New York Times and other media disclosing his heavy-handed, pro-industry editing.
Exxon Mobil - - the successor firm to plain old Exxon that once entrusted a supertanker to Joseph Hazelwood - - hired Cooney when his handiwork was done at the White House.
Another person sent over to NASA in 2996 by the Bushies to carry out more anti-climate change media spinning - - a 22-year-old campaign aide - - also had to resign after it was disclosed that he had not completed the college degree claimed on his resume.
And these sorts of folks are bashing Al Gore & Co. over climate change accuracy?
Posted by James Rowen at 6:42 AM
Monday, March 19, 2007
No joke: Former Major League pitcher Gene Garber will speak on March 28th on behalf of the Washington County Land Preservation April 3rd referendum.
Details are here on how, where and when to help the cause, get better educated and score an autograph, too.
More information about the referendum here, too.
Posted by James Rowen at 8:15 PM
J.J. Blonien, whose antics even got stale on the Sunday Mark Belling TV show, raises his extreme, rightwing voice against Wisconsin's stewardship fund.
That's the bi-partisan property aquisition fund that buys land for public uses by hikers, anglers, and hunters.
J.J. says the government shouldn't own all this land for the public to use, and it'd be okey-dokey by him to let the fund sunset in 2010.
J.J. thinks we don't need to put more land into conservancy, and why not, when there are strip malls, big box parking lots and subdivisions just crying out for more space?
Seems after his recent stint with failed State Sen. Tom Reynolds, (R-Wauwatosa), J.J. is up to a tired schtick nicely summed up in 2001 when he left Belling's show:
"You just never knew what was going to come out of his mouth," wrote Tim Cuprisin, Inside TV & Radio Writer for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Posted by James Rowen at 5:23 PM
Public officials in this region have not fully embraced water recycling as a means of supplying meaningful quantities of water.
We still like sending all that expensive, purified, chemically-treated, potable water onto our lawns, dirty cars, golf courses and into many other locations, situations and processes.
Other highly-industrialized regions are moving faster in this area, including Singapore.
As we learned after Katrina flooded New Orleans, better systems protect the Netherlands: there are best practices and technological opportunities, along with the political will to make changes elsewhere in the world, and we'd do ourselves an economic and resource management favor by paying closer attention.
Posted by James Rowen at 1:02 PM
I recently posted an item about the daily cost of the Iraq war - - $250 million - - and showed that the entire annual cost of renewing the US Clean Water Revolving Fund, $4 billion, amounts to 14 days of Iraq war financing.
Here's another example of how important domestic programs don't have the money they need - - but figured in Iraq daily spending, the shortfalls look easily affordable.
The US Fish & Wildlife Service needs $2.5 billion to meet a backlog of tasks. That's 10 days of Iraq spending.
But without the money, the service, which operates in all 50 states, will cut 20% of its staff.
Anglers, hunters, hikers, conservations, whether red state or blue, Democratic or Republican, etc. etc. etc. - - does that make sense?
Posted by James Rowen at 11:21 AM
Careful readers of The New York Times may have noticed last Wednesday that an intriguing climate change event is scheduled on Saturday, April 14th, at the bucolic Mississippi River retreat center at Sinsinawa Mound.
The event, a conference, is being sponsored by the Madison-based environmental group Clean Wisconsin, and the Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa Mound, located near Hazel Green in southwestern Wisconsin.
The conference will be one of nearly 900 varied national climate change gatherings and rallies scheduled so far on April 14th.
This national action chain is the brainchild of William Mr. McKibben, an author, long-time environmental philosopher and activist.
The Wisconsin event, on regional global warming and water issues, will feature Mike Tidwell, whose book, Bayou Farewell, predicted tragic consequences if a large hurricane were to hit New Orleans.
Other experts, including staffers from Clean Wisconsin, will give talks and conduct workshops on media, activism and other subjects.
To get more information and register, visit either Clean Wisconsin or the Domincan Sisters registration site.
As they say: April 14th - - Save The Day.
Posted by James Rowen at 12:01 AM
Sunday, March 18, 2007
The Obama people said they didn't create it, and I'm not taking a position one way or the other in the Obama/Hillary Clinton/Rest of the field contest - - but is it where campaign ads are headed, assuming it is indeed an truly independent attack ad?
It could be the beginning of the end of campaign control of electronic advertising.
Posted by James Rowen at 11:45 PM
New mantra for southeastern Wisconsin, where the local planning agency (SEWRPC) is the lead group pushing widened expressways into both cities and rural areas:
Be More Like Indiana.
Posted by James Rowen at 4:16 PM
Probably not, even though this Sunday Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story ought to make readers sit up and take notice. And notes.
Advocates of moving water out of Lake Michigan to the City of Waukesha without a solid commitment to returning it often pooh-pooh the impact their 20-24 million gallon daily diversion would have on the lake.
Heck - - Larry Nelson, Waukesha's Mayor, has said the amount of water that Waukesha wants evaporates from the lake in less than a minute.
A million gallons a day here. A billion gallons a week there. Multiplied exponentially by other communities (Chicago, and the fast-growing northern Illinois suburbs included), power plants (WE Energies' Oak Creek complex included), and various other users including water bottlers, and it won't take long to deal the Great Lakes a mortal blow.
Two questions not addressed in the Journal Sentinel article:
Where on these issues is Wisconsin's Department of Natural Resources, the key water management agency in the state, which bungled the initial review of New Berlin's Lake Michigan diversion application?
And will the state's legislative study committee get off dead center and recommend the necessary legislation to implement pending amendments to the vital, conservation centered US-Canada Great Lakes Compact?
Without the Compact's upgraded standards and procedures, diversions could happen without guaranteed conservation and water return flow measures, adding to the Great Lakes decline.
Posted by James Rowen at 12:00 AM
Saturday, March 17, 2007
Uh, oh: they're producing a powerpoint version of Al Gore's documentary, An Inconvenient Truth - - for kids!
And while you're on that site, get more acquainted with Grist. It's a fine online stop always filled with informative and funny stuff about politics and the environment.
Posted by James Rowen at 3:44 PM
Finding out that an error in Miller Park's construction had been sending bathorom flushings into the Menomonee River for years shows how vulnerable our waterways are to human error.
And how one project - - the stadium's construction - - could undo so much of the good work of another - - the Menomonee Valley restoration.
These lessons in the laws of unintended consequences should be at the forefront of other regional proposals that involve water.
Officials in New Berlin and Waukesha continue to press for diversions of water from Lake Michigan that are now prevented by federal law.
Those cities continually tell us that diversions would no negative impact on lake levels or quality - - but there is no consensus on those arguments.
Waukesha is considering using a Lake Michigan tributary, like the Root River, as its discharge point for new millions of gallons daily of diverted water for return flow, but is this a good solution for the Root River, and for the people and communities downstream from Waukesha?
The estimates for fixing the Miller Park plumbing problems have been pegged at about $10,000 (no estimates yet for the pollution impact on the valley, river and lake).
But the estimates for building new water utility pumping equipment in Milwaukee to supply New Berlin and Waukesha with Lake Michigan water, let alone the associated costs to those communities as well, and to the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage Commission are in the multiple millions.
And because moving Lake Michigan water farther from Milwaukee will also move the regional economy farther away, too, who will calculate and address those socio-economic costs?
Realigning water supplies from one basin to another across a region - - using one of the inter-connected Great lakes as the source - - is fraught with ecological and financial costs.
Those who want to fast-track these changes need to be mindful of the bigger pictures, of which the Miller Park screwup was but a little snapshot - - yet an instructive one.
Friday, March 16, 2007
A few days ago, I was happy to post a guest essay on regionalism and sprawl in southeastern Wisconsin by Steven Branca, longtime city planner and formerly the sustainability officer at Wingspread.
Brainy guy, Steve is, and a heckuva writer with credentials, too.
Steve's post was picked up and posted also in the March 14th edition of Regional Community News, as item #12.13 in the listings.
That site is structured as a Yahoo Group, and free online subscriptions are available.
Branca's was the second guest post put up since I started this blog about six weeks ago.
The first, from a Vietnam vet from Wisconsin who offered personal insight into the troubled Veterans Administration healthcare system, generated comment, too.
I'm glad to help with these messages: I think this internet thing is gonna catch on, so thanks to these guest authors and our readers, too.
Posted by James Rowen at 2:23 PM
One of the more consistently undercovered stories this winter in Wisconsin has been the disagreement, and now apparent stalemate, among members of a state legislative study committee drafting legislation to help protect the Great Lakes.
The Great Lakes. You wouldn't have thought this would be so hard.
The legislation, if drafted, would approve and implement amendments to the US-Canada Great Lakes Compact, establishing first-ever rules, standards and procedures governing diversions of water out of the Great Lakes basin.
Without these amendments, and their approval in all eight US Great Lakes states, communities and states could push to divert water without taking the common interest into consideration, and would not be compelled to return an equal amount of diverted water back to the Great Lakes basin.
That could stress the Great Lakes by reducing water levels, making the remaining water and ecosystem more susceptible to damage from invasive species and pollution.
And jeopardize the economies of all the Great Lakes states and provinces, Wisconsin included, where water is a key component in recreation and manufacturing.
Wisconsin was a leader in getting the Compact adopted in 1985.
And its negotiators participated in four years of meetings to help craft the proposed amendments (Gov. Jim Doyle is now the co-chair of the Great Lakes governors' council that will eventually implement and enforce the amendmed Compact).
But powerful business and political leaders in Waukesha County have objected at the study committee to the amendments, and especially to the requirement that all eight US Great Lakes states would have to approve any diversion request.
(You can read the committee staff's most recent memo outlining the areas of failed consensus in key areas that suggest impasse here.)
The international agreement's guiding principle is unanimity of state action on diversions because the Great Lakes are shared water resources held in trust for the common good.
Minnesota has already approved the Compact amendments, but Wisconsin's study committee last met in December; reports from the State Capitol suggest the committee could close up shop without forwarding a recommendation to the legislature.
That could lead to no bill to implement the Compact moving through the legislature.
Or...it could result in multiple bills being introduced, with so many deviations from the proposed Compact amendents that none would pass a divided, partisan legislature.
Or...what comes out of the legislature could have radical changes to the proposed amendments, as a bill that did not incorporate the basic law and science discussed at the committee, meaning that other states would see Wisconsin as a renegade on conservation and cooperation, putting the entire agreement at risk.
Creating another study committee is possible because the current committee is chaired by a Republican Senator, Neal Kedzie (Elkhorn), and the committee membership and chairmanship do not reflect the Senate Democrats' post 2006 election majority.
Regardless, delay only sends a message of uncertainty about Wisconsin's commitment to resource management and regional cooperation across the Great Lakes states.
And it keeps Wisconsin communities like New Berlin and Waukesha that are interested in diversions in legal limbo, so the 'Waukesha County-First' objectors on the committee are pursuing a self-defeating strategy.
Posted by James Rowen at 8:45 AM
Thursday, March 15, 2007
Mark Belling aimed a dustoff pitch at Gov. Jim Doyle in a Waukesha Freeman column the other day, but it was just another Belling wild pitch.
Belling's column is a rant, in familiar talk radio style, this time directed against Frank Busalacchi, Doyle's embattled transportation department secretary.
But Belling piles it on, accusing Busalacchi of leading former Mayor John Norquist's "goon squad" on the Summerfest Board of Directors.
As errors go, this one's a whopper.
Busalacchi was doing such a good job raking Norquist over the coals as chairman of the stadium board that Black added Busalacchi to the Summerfest board, and made him vice-chairman, to give him another platform from which to jab the Mayor.
Norquist never controlled the board: Most of the Summerfest board, in fact, was hand-picked by Black, who eventually lost control of the board, and her job, because she was too controversial despite her long career building up the festival.
Calling Norquist a Nazi looked unprofessional on Black's part, for example, but the bottom line is, and I can't figure out how the well-informed Belling missed all this: Busalacchi was not a Norquist appointee or a friend on the Summerfest board.
Posted by James Rowen at 9:01 AM
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
Let the finger pointing begin at Miller Park, and I don't mean the kind that managers wave at umpires over a blown call at home plate.
I'm referring to the inevitable excuses and denials of responsibility that are sure to follow in the wake of the discovery that someone, somehow, sometime connected toilet piping to a storm drain instead of the sanitary sewer system, flushing human waste for years into the Menomonee River, and eventually into Lake Michigan.
From which the city and much of the region takes its drinking water.
Granted Miller Park was a complex project, and there were multiple water and sewer connections to be made correctly, but there was also supposed to be a level of competency and sophistication built into the process, including checks, balances, certifications and inspections.
As screw-ups go, this is a pretty substantial one.
Think of all the effort that has gone into cleaning up the river, and the Valley. The goal there was to eliminate a brownfield, not create...well...you get it, right?
Will the stadium district board and staff point to its general contractor, who, in turn, will call out sub-contractors, who will then flush out a supervisor who can dump on a plumber who might rat out an apprentice who long ago left the state?
Miller Park sure has had a checkered history.
Tommy Thompson and the Selig family decided the stadium would be built where Bud Selig wanted it constructed - - far enough from downtown so it couldn't be part of the historic revival that was taking shape there - - and inaccessible enough to require ticket holders to drive there, and pay parking fees that all went to the team.
To make matters even more controversial, Thompson assigned local property taxpayers tens of millions in mandatory infrastructure costs, and then laid on top of that a five-county stadium construction sales tax that freed the team from any out-of-pocket donation.
Then the project's financing plan fell apart when Fritz Ruf, a savvy state development agency director, pegged the agency's terms at 10% on a crucial, $50 million loan to make sure it never happened.
And it didn't.
After the financing got cobbled together in dribs and drabs, including lending or loan guarantees by a diverse cast of non-traditional lender/investors including The American League, local foundations, The Metropolitan Milwaukee Chamber of Commerce and Journal Communications, three workers died when the partially-constructed roof collapsed due to unsafe winds during heavy lifts.
Finally open, Miller Park was rewarded with the 2002 All-Star game by now-Commissioner Bug Selig, who then declared that year's annual classic a tie when the managers ran out of bench players.
Now don't misunderstand: I'm a huge baseball fan, and I went to see The Brewers often during all the losing seasons, which has meant pretty much every year.
But Miller Park has had a wierd vibe to it - - from the first day that Selig suddenly announced that the place would have a roof at the cost of an extra hundred million dollars of other people's money.
So learning now that toilets have been draining directly into the Menomonee River Valley - - well, somehow that's just another not-so-surprising chapter in the project's troubled history.
Posted by James Rowen at 11:34 PM
Wisconsin has a program to help farmers keep farming, but the program has shortcomings.
Governor Jim Doyle's 2007-'09 proposed budget includes additional funding, and a diverse study committee has made recommendations to make the program work better, but there is a major need for public education about the program - - or else we'll have less homegrown food and more sprawl.
The Waukesha Freeman published a comprehensive examination of the program, and it's worth a read.
Posted by James Rowen at 4:52 PM
Talk about not knowing who is an ally and who isn't: antiwar activists targeting Dave Obey in Washington, DC and at his home office, too, are going after the wrong guy.
Obey is as antiwar as they get, and has done so while based in the conservative northern 7th Congressional district.
He opposed the war in Vietnam and voted against the original Iraq war authorization.
While he lost his temper with activists who confronted him in a House office building hallway (Obey's always had a direct manner and short fuse, which is a welcome alternative to the people-pleasing phonies who heavily-populate elected offices), his quick apology should help folks listen to what he has been saying for a while:
The Democrats don't have a big enough majority to cut off war funding, or override a Presidential veto, let alone get tough resolutions through committees for floor debate, so he's looking for a workable, winnable solution.
That's frustrating to antiwar people (including me), and certainly to those with family members in harm's way, but for goodness sakes: Obey didn't start the war and isn't the problem.
Antiwar activists should be pressuring pro-war Republican congressmen like Paul Ryan and Jim Sensenbrenner if they want to help create a real congressional counterweight to the troop surge and the rest of the Bush administration's devastating Middle East 'policy.'
Posted by James Rowen at 12:54 PM
Call it a business development/man-bites-dog story.
Call it something straight out of The Onion.
Call it simply amazing:
A former Wal-Mart site in Baton Rouge is being razed in favor of a mixed-use development with modestly-sized townhouse units aimed at pretty much everyday folk, even grad students at nearby Louisians State University.
Imagine a Wal-Mart becoming "Acadian Village," embracing "pedestrian-friendly, smart-growth principles: a public plaza, landscaped parking lot and public transportation pavilion...," according to one Louisiana television news report.
(Comparitive local angle: Unlike the new BayShore Town Center's layout, the parking structure at Acadian Village is more correctly situated - - off the street, and in the back.)
I'll bet not even the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Whitney Gould could have imagined that one day, a community would tear down a Wal-Mart and turn it into a New Urbanist daydream.
Posted by James Rowen at 8:16 AM
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
It's one thing for traffic noise and other surefire sounds of civilization to worm their way into rural Waukesha County, but consider the implications over the plan by an Oconomowoc dentist to use his rural Village of Dousman yard as a helipad.
Said one neighbor:
"There have been days when I’ve heard that helicopter fly by my house three to four times," said Bob Pfaff, a neighbor of Michaels. "The noise is obnoxious. I want to be able to sit outside in my back yard and enjoy peace and quite."
Location, location, location: Put a few more of those whirlybirds in once bucolic rural Waukesha County and a nice condo along the river in downtown Milwaukee's gonna feel serene by comparison.
Posted by James Rowen at 2:50 PM
Though their groups are not members, leading right-wing spokesmen James Dobson, Gary Bauer and Paul Weyrich are urging the National Association of Evangelicals to muzzle Richard Cizik, the NAE's policy director.
Did he say something positive about gay rights?
Did Cizik perhaps transgress on the issue of a woman's right to choose?
Worse: He's suggesting that evangelicals embrace environmental stewardship!
On religious and spiritual grounds.
The horror! The horror!
Posted by James Rowen at 2:24 PM
The good news is that the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (SRF) passed the House of Representatives last week.
This US Environmental Protection Agency program helps make sure our drinking and recreational waters are free of pollutants.
If approved by the US Senate (a bit iffier, but probable) and actually funded with appropriations by the Bush administration (even iffier, since the Bush administration prefers spending our tax money to blow up water systems in Iraq), the Fund would provide
$14 billion over four years for basic drinking water and sewage treatment upgrades across the country.
Getting new money into the Fund is an important piece of a related effort specifically to help clean up and preserve the Great Lakes.
And that's why it's crucial to move on a third front: passing pending amendments to the Great Lakes Compact that require active conservation plans and guarantees of return flow prior to diversions of water away from the Great Lakes basin.
Conservation. Improved drinking water and sewage treatment. Making sure that diversions from the Great Lakes are approved only as science-based last resorts, with guaranteed return flow of diverted water:
It's all linked together, something that Compact opponents like State Sen. Mary Lazich and the Waukesha County Chamber of Commerce just will not or cannot see.
And while $14 billion for the Clean Water Fund allocated over four years - - or $3.5 billion each year is a lot of money, consider that:
First, the Fund makes loans, so the money comes back.
Second, the Iraq war is costing $250 million dollars a day, and that money literally goes up in smoke.
(And that was the figure before the troop surge, and the administration's proposal for another $100 billion this year, and an eventual cost that could hit two trillion dollars, according to a year-old, pre-surge estimate from a Nobel Prize-winning economist.)
But back to spending $250 million a day in this now four-year-old war: At that price, the annual cost to finance the Clean Water Fund is a mere 14 days worth of Iraq spending.
And the entire four-year Clean Water Fund's $14 billion could be financed with just 56 days of Iraq spending. Think about it: That's just eight weeks. Summer doesn't even start for nine weeks.
We often hear that the country can't afford a domestic agenda.
Universal health care? Too expensive. Better passenger trains and light rail? Where would the money come from? Better schools, and pre-schools, too? Forget about it.
Remember when you hear the costs of things we cannot afford that the war in Iraq costs about $10 million dollars an hour, $250 million a day, $1.75 billion a week.
You decide if that's contributing real value to your security and our shared domestic tranquility.
Posted by James Rowen at 11:28 AM
With a lot less noise than its controversial launch a few weeks earlier, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett's downtown trolley and cross-town express bus proposal was approved by a study committee for a review that could run until the end of the year.
The positive vote by the study committee was something of a foregone conclusion, since Barrett has one representative on the committee, and members from two other institutions - - the Metropolitan Metropolitan Association of Commerce and the Wisconsin Center District - - backed earlier and even more expensive mass transit upgrades, so their "aye" votes were not really surprising.
The lone "no" vote was cast by Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker's representative - - another predictable move: Walker has backed himself into a corner with repetitive objections to anything running on a track in his county as "light rail," thus continuing his robotic marriage to archaic buses only.
Not to mention his belief that someday, Milwaukee County would be magically transformed into a municipal car-o-topia, where those he called transit dependent could afford to buy cars, insure and maintain them, and pour expensive gasoline into their tanks for the long ride to new jobs in faraway Waukesha County.
Of course, the Barrett plan has those two enticing new express routes connecting the west side, UW-M, and two county operations - - the airport and the County grounds in Wauwatosa - - but Walker still doesn't want the entire commuter/student/downtown shopper/tourist transit plan studied.
Good thing Walker has but one vote on the committee: The notion that it is better to study something new and innovative than stamp your foot and shake your head and pass that off as a transportation strategy with the local transit rider in mind carried by three votes to one.
With a projected completion date just months before the April, 2008 local elections, including those for Mayor and County Executive, the study committee's outcome, and its probable move into the next, "preliminary engineering" phase could make transit the defining issue in these races.
And it's about time - - politically and financially.
There is $91.5 million in federal funds dedicated to transit improvements available for a system upgrade like the one Barrett has proposed (federal money cannot be spent on bus replacements, as Walker has proposed) - - enough money to get a new system started.
State and regional support, with pre-paid passes accompanying conferees' registration fees at Midwest Convention Center conferences adding to fare box revenues (pre-paid passes and other transit tie-ins are a staple at other convention-and-tourism linked transit systems), could also help get the system into the ground and boost already sagging bus ridership numbers.
What's been lacking is a fiscally-manageable plan and enough political will to take bold steps.
Maybe the elections for the top posts in city and county government will drive Milwaukee out of its stodgy transit past and down a completely new and modern track
Posted by James Rowen at 8:41 AM
Monday, March 12, 2007
A suburban Milwaukee resident in Fox Point suggests in Sunday's Journal Sentinel "Crossroads" section that Milwaukee's 50's image is what we should be selling to the rest of the world.
Here's what Richard Thieme says he liked about Milwaukee, er, Fox Point, when he got here 20 years ago:
"Milwaukee!" cried a biker. "Harley!"
"Milwaukee!" cried a porky pal. "Cheese and sauerbraten!"
"Milwaukee!" cried a drinking buddy. "Beer!"
Selling a 50's image?
I remember a meeting of youngish business types at City Hall a few years organized by the chamber of commerce where the most frequently-asked question wasn't "where can I get me a cheesehead?"
It was - - swear to God - - "Where is the local train system?"
Note to Milwaukee 7 regional planners and assorted imagemakers:
Let's all move on to something...what...broader...more contemporary?
Posted by James Rowen at 2:07 PM
Sometimes a great letter to the editor jumps off the page because it's well-written and informative, and ever-so-timely.
Here's an example from Sunday's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - - "Hydropower is not a clean energy source," by Helen Sarakinos (among a group of letters), about matters as diverse as hydropower and the politcal right's reflexive abuse of environmentalism.
Newspaper editors get hundreds of letters a week and have room for but a small fraction. Here is how the decision-makers at one major US newspaper say they make their picks.
Posted by James Rowen at 9:44 AM
Jim Bouman, Waukesha resident and blogger, has posted items worth viewing and reading.
After a discourse about real estate values, development and taxes, Bouman comes to this conclusion:
"We have enough water for now, and enough for a conservative future. We do need to conserve it. It's the CONSERVATIVE thing to do. We might do well to recognize that continued uncontrolled growth of the city through annexation will produce a situation in which we do not have sufficient water from our only available source--deep wells and shallow wells.
Cutting back on development and annexation is the sensible choice. Pursuing an incredibly expensive and decidedly iffy path like trying to get expensive Lake Michigan water pumped to Waukesha (and then back to the lake) is not the choice of the homeowner who is concerned that the taxes are too high in Waukesha."
Of course, this is not the mainstream Chamber of Commerce and bankers' roundtable position out Waukesha way, but note that the Waukesha City Council and Plan Commission have held their ground in precedent-setting opposition to a 300+ acre annexation that was ostensibly to get access to more shallow well water.
Critics said it would be a costly extension of city services too far beyond the city's current borders and would remove land and water from the Vernon Marsh Wildlife Area.
So Bouman's down-to-earth conservatism in the name of conservation may be gaining acceptance in Waukesha, where sprawl is pushing west to the Jefferson County line
Posted by James Rowen at 9:42 AM
Sunday, March 11, 2007
How many Thompsons does it take to make a presidential race exciting?
Former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson can't be happy that former US Senator and "Law and Order" fake District Attorney Fred Thompson is thinking of entering the 2008 GOP presidential race - - thus overwhelming our Tommy's moribund candidacy with quasi-Hollywood star power.
Remember: This is Fred Thompson - - not to be confused with Tommy's more colorful brother Ed Thompson - - the political libertarian/supper club owner who helped tip the 2002 Wisconsin gubernatorial election to Democrat Jim Doyle.
Too bad that Hunter Thompson isn't available: There'd be a Thompson Trifecta worth following.
Posted by James Rowen at 11:09 AM
Talk radio has for years bashed the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage Commission as the villain for polluting Lake Michigan, when, in fact, the MMSD has been working with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to identify and fix the multiple ways that pollutants find their way into the lake.
More than two years ago, I wrote an op-ed piece for WisPolitics.com about UW-M testing having shown that storm water pipe outlets placed on Bradford Beach by Milwaukee County government was pouring water contaminated with e. Coli bacteria right across the sandy beaches and into the water.
But those findings were not widely reported in a timely way by the traditional news media because opinion makers and news editors were still more interested in hammering MMSD than looking at all the potential sources of lake pollution and fixing them.
And that meant that the world-class resources at the UW-M WATER Institute were not fully realized and appreciated as problem-solvers by media, governments and taxpayers.
That seems to be changing: A front-page story in Sunday's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel shows that UW-M scientists have found that fecal pollutants are in dozens of non-MMSD municipal pipes across the region..
And those pipes are contributing to contamination at beaches, in streams and other popular recreational sites at or close to the lake.
In the past, there was sensational finger-pointing at the MMSD, and, in fairness, the MMSD often fought its critics with a getting-nowhere-fast/tit-for-tat.
Now the focus seems to be on problem-solving, with the necessary first steps taken: better identifying just what the problems are, who the contributors are, and finally, getting to solutions.
The same science-based approach needs to be taken also when it comes to getting chemical and other non-organic pollutants out of the lake - - like metals and other contaminants that wash off streets and parking lots.
And, of course, science needs to drive the decision-making about who gets to take water out of the lake and return it - - but that has been and will be grist for other commentaries.
Posted by James Rowen at 10:12 AM
Saturday, March 10, 2007
This iconic Internet photo pretty much says it all.
The full story and 42-picture diary is at Salon.com and another posting.
Salon may offer you a free one-day pass to view its materials. A subscription is pretty cheap and always worth it.
Posted by James Rowen at 3:10 PM
This updates an earlier posting:
What will be the tipping point in the conflict-of-issue saga now dominating Annette Ziegler's race for the Supreme Court - - the very branch of government that investigates and disciplines jusges for ethical lapses? What began as a single case involving Wal-Mart ballooned to 24, then 35, then 59 - - and today there another 164, according to blogger Bill Christofferson and others.
UPDATE: A Wisconsin attorney with a practice of more than thirty years sent me the comment below. I put it in bold face type.
The attorney offers the simplist reason why "gut checks" are the wrong way to measure whether a judge should sit on a potentially-conflicted case, and what this issue should mean for Ziegler's campaign:
"This should cost Ziegler the election. I really can't believe that she was dumb enough not to have just gotten off the cases.
The "gut check" line is quite outrageous. The rules of judicial conduct are written precisely so that judges don't do "gut checks."
They just have to read the rules.
That's what judges do."
Posted by James Rowen at 2:39 PM
I posted information yesterday about the Dane County Circuit Court ruling that found problems with the permit issued by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources allowing WE Energies to construct a massive power plant complex in Oak Creek without cooling towers.
Without cooling towers, 1.8 billion gallons of water a day is going to be sucked into the plant and returned 15 degrees warmer, resulting in fish kills and other unacceptable ecological problems.
Today's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel offers more in-depth coverage.
The importance of the ruling is two-fold.
First, if upheld in higher courts, the design of the plant may change to better protect the lake.
Second, better protecting the lake will inform and instruct other controversial plans that are also not in the lake's best interest - - specifically, the ragged efforts to date by the City of Waukesha to get permission to divert water from Lake Michigan - - without having to justify it with a formal application, or agreeing to return it.
Waukesha's sense of entitlement to Lake Michigan water, though currently blocked by geography, federal law and a US-Canada Great Lakes management compact, has stirred deep opposition in southeastern Wisconsin.
Recent statements by some Waukesha legislators, business interests and the Waukesha County Chamber of Commerce that Wisconsin should weaken diversion provisions in the Compact and/or refuse to sign some pending Compact agreements suggest they find protecting Lake Michigan less important than getting water into new sprawling subdivisions.
What the Madison ruling has done, along with the good work by the Sierra Club and Clean Wisconsin to get the attention of the court and the force of law, is to remind us that Lake Michigan and the rest of the Great Lakes are precious and finite resources that need stewardship, management and conservation before consumption and bottom-line considerations.
Friday, March 9, 2007
Pesky federal regulations that protect our common resources, like Lake Michigan, have been applied by a Wisconsin judge at the Oak Creek Power Plant under construction.
From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's newsblog Friday afternoon, with, no doubt, a major story tomorrow:
"A Dane County judge has sent an environmental permit for the We Energies power plant under construction in Oak Creek back for further consideration, based on a federal court ruling earlier this year.
At issue is a permit issued by state environmental regulators for a water intake structure in Lake Michigan that would serve the coal-fired power plant, a $2.2 billion project.
Judge Shelley Gaylord said a federal appeals court ruling in January means the permit needs to be revised. The federal court ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to rewrite the rules that were used by the state Department of Natural Resources when it granted the Oak Creek permit.
"This decision affirms what we've been saying since 2003: that this is an illegal facility," said Katie Nekola, staff attorney for Clean Wisconsin, one of the environmental groups challenging the permit. "When the DNR reconsiders this permit as directed by Judge Gaylord, it will have no choice but to invalidate the permit."
But We Energies says the decision does not invalidate its permit and that the utility plans to continue building the plant, the largest construction project in state history.
"We will continue construction of the needed project while we work with DNR on those aspects that have been remanded," said utility spokesman Barry McNulty."
Wonder if others thinking of tapping into Lake Michigan for other purposes, like diverting water to communities in Waukesha County, will get the message, too:
Federal law and procedures have to be adhered to, or you do nothing but buy yourself trouble and raise your costs - - so thanks again to Clean Wisconsin and the Sierra Club for taking these arguments to court and making sure that basic natural resources get genuine stewardship, even if takes a lawsuit to ensure it.
(Note: An earlier post about the WE Energies permit issue from February read this way:
Was The Oak Creek Power Plant Approval Legal?
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 3:15 PM
What will be the tipping point in the conflict-of-issue saga now dominating Annette Ziegler's race for the Supreme Court - - the very branch of government that investigates and disciplines jusges for ethical lapses? What began as a single case involving Wal-Mart ballooned to 24, then 35, then 59 - - and today there another 164, according to blogger Bill Christofferson and others.
UPDATE: A Wisconsin attorney with a practice of more than thirty years sent me this comment. The attorney offers the simplist reason why "gut checks" are the wrong way to measure whether a judge should sit on a potentially-conflicted case, and what this should mean for Ziegler's campaign:
"This should cost Ziegler the election. I really can't believe that she was dumb enough not to have just gotten off the cases.
"The "gut check" line is quite outrageous. The rules of judicial conduct are written precisely so that judges don't do "gut checks."
They just have to read the rules.
That's what judges do."
Posted by James Rowen at 11:01 AM
Good thing that LaCrosse is beginning to face up to its college student binge drinking problem with a first-ever ordinance against public intoxication: Spring is coming and that is the sad time in that Mississippi River town when very drunk and disoriented college students tend to end up drowned in the river after bar closing time.
I wrote a piece nearly three years ago for The Capital Times about what I think is the bigger picture, both for LaCrosse and across the state. Here it is.
Posted by James Rowen at 10:44 AM
Doug Hissom, a former Shepherd Express stalwart, updates the Annette Ziegler political story here. Look for more online reporting on a regular basis from Hissom, according to Dave Berkman, a former Hissom colleague at the Shepherd and now a regular panelist on Eric Von's Thursday afternoon "Backstory" media panel on 1290 WMCS-AM.
Thursday, March 8, 2007
Conservative politicians and commentators routinely invoke fear of foreigners in the current political environment, with most of the misinformation or downright demagoging directed at immigrants from south of the border.
Curiously, some misleading misinformation about Canadian influence over Wisconsin water supplies has worked its way into the debate about whether Great Lakes water should be diverted beyond Great Lakes basin boundaries and into communities in western Waukesha County.
The Waukesha County Chamber of Commerce has entered that debate and opposes Wisconsin endorsing a set of new diversion rules and standards in pending amendments to the 22-year-old US-Canada Great Lakes Compact.
The Chamber says it's wrong to require the eight US Great Lakes states to unanimously approve an application from out-of-basin communities like Waukesha or New Berlin.
But in a posting on its website, the Chamber says that the two Great Lakes Canadian provinces could also veto a US community's diversion application - - and that is not the case.
Says the Chamber's posting:
"Specifically, the compact includes a provision by which any one of the member states or provinces can veto any future requests for Great Lakes water diversions. Waukesha County, considered a straddling county by compact definition as the basin lies partially within the county, may need to consider Great Lakes diversions to meet future water needs. As the compact is currently written, our destiny may be in the hands of governors or premiers who are not accountable in any way to our electorate nor invested in the future success of our region."
The italicization is mine - - so you spot the worries raised about Waukesha's future being in foreigners' hands.
Under the US-Canada agreement, the Canadian provinces are to be consulted on US diversion applications, but the Canadians do not have a vote - - something that has not gone down well in Canada.
And the absence of the 'Canadian veto' was reported factually in the local media: The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel put it this way in three paragraphs of a February 10th story by reporter Darryl Enriquez:
"The proposed compact contains a controversial condition that Brian J. Nemoir, chairman of the chamber's Advocacy Committee, called "a deal buster."
Under it, water withdrawals from communities outside of the Great Lakes Basin, but in a county that straddles the basin, must be approved by all of the Great Lakes states.
That means a single negative vote can veto a project, Nemoir noted. The provinces have a say, but not a vote, in diversions." (Again, the italics are mine).
Isn't it time that the Chamber starts giving its members and website readers a more accurate explanation of just what the Compact and the pending amendments are all about?
It could begin a more rational regional discussion of the benefits of protecting a shared, common resource.
Posted by James Rowen at 2:50 PM