Tuesday, July 31, 2007

National Protest Over Indiana Allowing British Petroleum To Pollute Lake Michigan: Wisconsin Curiously Uninvolved, So Far

The US House of Representatives has overwhelmingly voted a protest against Indiana's outrageous decision to let British Petroleum increase to three tons daily the amount of ammonia and polluted sludge BP dumps into Lake Michigan.

Citizens in Illinois are signing petitions by the tens of thousands against Indiana action, says The New York Times.

Mayors of shoreline communities along Lake Michigan have sent letters of opposition, including Milwaukee's Mayor Tom Barrett and Chicago's Richard Daley.

And from Wisconsin...nothing official.

Could it be that it's hard for our state to raise questions about how a Great Lakes state is using Lake Michigan when it is Wisconsin (through the DNR) that has asked the other Great Lakes states to allow New Berlin to divert Lake Michigan water before Wisconsin and the other states (except for Minnesota) have ratified the pending Great Lakes Compact?

Monday, July 30, 2007

Scott Walker Will Never Support City Rail, Move Forward Without Him: Part II

A few days ago, I posted an analysis of Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker's intransigent one-track opposition to rail transit for City of Milwaukee residents.

My point was that Walker is largely a creation of Milwaukee's loud, pro-Republican talk radio show hosts, and for them, blocking rail transportation for the state's largest urban and Democratic population is a means of keeping their suburban audience stirred up.

So Walker is their guy, and he will not, cannot cross them on their most sacred of litmus-test issues. Especially if Walker wants to be promoted some day to the seat held by the region's senior Republican office-holder, US Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner.

So the Journal Sentinel editorial board is spinning its wheels when it urges mediation between Walker, and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett - - as if mediation would bring Walker to the same middle ground on transit that Barrett is already occupying.

Barrett has already offered to basically split $91.5 million in available transit federal funds with Walker.

That would allow the County's bus system managed by Walker to receive some upgrades and also leave Barrett with some financing to begin work on one his priorities - - a three-mile, downtown trolley loop - - for the city he manages.

Walker has more than once rejected that compromise - - as recently as in a Journal Sentinel Sunday, August 29, 2007 Crossroads interview - - and in an earlier discussion in March, among many.

As far back as an April 6th, 2002 Journal Sentinel story during the race for County Executive, Walker was described this way when it came to rail transit:

"Walker is opposed to light rail, or any rail-based option."

So what's to mediate?

Walker has had years to endorse city rail, (coincidentally, just as he has years to lead on pension reform, but hasn't) yet all he's done is finally support commuter rail through Kenosha, Racine and Milwaukee Counties - - a benefit to his suburban base, but a virtual wash when it comes to measurable benefits to the downtown.

As a component to a comprehensive AMTRAK/trolley/commuter rail and bus system, linked at the city's new multi-purpose transit hub in the old AMTRAK station - - sure, commuter rail is a plus.

But as the only new rail option on the table, and in town, it's flawed and wanting.

So how do you get the rail debate on track in Milwaukee?

If you want a rail system for downtown Milwaukee, as the Journal Sentinel has editorially backed, the paper and others with a deep commitment to the city will have to support a candidate for County Executive who shares that vision.

A candidate who can approach modern transit and downtown development linkages with more than a reflexive, politically-motivated "no!"

Scott Walker, Reformer? Bring On a Real Reformer

Scott Walker has been County Executive since replacing Tom Ament in 2002 on a reform agenda driven by the first pension scandal.

So while we dissect the Journal Sentinel's great investigative reporting on a new pension system scandal, it's not too early to ask this political accountability question:

Why has the money for special deals for some employees' retirements been allowed to flow in the last five years when Walker was in charge - - a period subsequent to Ament's demise ?

Ament, his staff and the county board deserve whatever brickbats are still coming their way - - but Walker cannot say he's shown the kind of leadership the public deserves in the two areas most associated with Walker's rise to County power:

Pension system reform, and;

Fiscal responsibility to manage the pension abuses that began under Ament's regime - - but which we now know have been allowed to flourish on Walker's watch.

If that's reform, then we need another reformer.

Update: The Journal Sentinel agrees that Walker has some explaining to do. Let's hope they apply the pressure to Walker outlined in this editorial, published Tuesday,

The key sentiment, and one that needs widespread follow-up:

"Walker also has called for a review of all of the county's benefits to search for other "land mines." He's right.

"But it's also legitimate to question what Walker or his department heads knew about these buybacks and, if they didn't know, why not?

"The first buybacks predate Walker's election, but some occurred on his watch. Walker was swept into office as a result of the pension scandal that occurred when other county officials were in office. He should have found all the land mines then."

In other words, the investigative line first made famous during the Watergate hearings:

"What did you know, and when did you know about it?"

And add this: "What did you do about it?"

Detroit Paper Urges Water Compact With Eased Rules

The Detroit News, that city's second-largest newspaper, says the Great Lakes Compact will hurt job growth in Michigan, and lauds that state's highest court for a recent ruling in favor of the bottled water industry.

Environmental groups in Wisconsin and elsewhere in the eight-state Great Lakes region think the mild restrictions on exporting bottled water in the pending Great Lakes Compact are, in fact, a loophole that needs closing.

So support for a strong Compact in Michigan is not a given, as feared by some Wisconsin Compact foes, and at least one major paper in Michigan isn't looking for Michigan at all to take the lead on tough regional water conservation and diversion rules, either.

As I noted on this blog last week, anti-Compact forces are gathering in Traverse City, MI, in late August; property rights, state soverignity, water access and ownership are major sticking points for the Ohio critic who is organizing the Traverse City meeting, and Waukesha County political and business interests, sharing some of the Ohio perspective, are leading the battle in Wisconsin to weaken or derail the Compact.

The Compact faces substantial obstacles across the region.

The alternatives are diversion of Great Lakes water, and its usage, without reasonable procedures or standards.

Another contradiction:

Compact critics are fooling themselves into thinking that their perceived entitlement to Great Lakes water wouldn't be threatened and overwhelmed by greater diversions of water by dozens of far-flung communities in many other states.

Blockbuster Story About Another County Pension Ripoff A Must Read

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Dave Umhoefer has produced a package of stories - - main story here - - that should be reading in every Milwaukee County taxpayer's home, and in law and tax enforcement agencies at the state and federal levels.

Get ready to be outraged.

Umhoefer has documented a weasily and flat-out greedy fleecing of the County's pension system - - on top of the highly-publicized pension scamming that led to the removal of many top elected officials from their jobs a few years ago.

The new abuses Umhoefer revealed could cost an additional $50 million in dubious-to-unjustifiable benefits that - - at best - - skirt the law, but profoundly violate every fiber of the relationship that binds voters and taxpayers to the people entrusted to work for the public sector.

When that relationship has been broken, government fails, because it lacks the necessary trust that guarantees its success and survival.

Another political point: Scott Walker has been County Executive since replacing Tom Ament in 2002 on a reform agenda driven by the first pension scandal.

So why has the money for these special deals for some employees' retirements been allowed to keep flowing in the last five years when Walker was in charge - - subsequent to Ament's demise and the purported restoration of ethics to county pension procedures?

Ament, his staff and the board deserve whatever brickbats are still coming their way - - but Walker can't say he's shown the kind of leadership the public desperately needs in the one area most associated with his election and tenure in office: pension system reform.

Umhoefer's findings center around a group of about 500 county employees who were permitted under a willful tweaking of the rules to expand their already-generous pensions.

They were allowed to claim summer job stints or other hours worked decades earlier, thus adding thousands of dollars to their pension calculations or taxpayer-paid health care benefits upon retirement.

And the eligibility to reclaim, through so-called buybacks, those hours for pensionable credits was frequently obtained at a fraction of a fair cost, according to industry standards.

It's like insider stock trading - - being let in on the purchase of some shares of artificially low-priced stock, knowing that the bargain would inflate the value of the shares of the stock you already owned (and all the shares come with a nice publicly-subsidized purchase price, too).

In any workplace, but especially one supported with public funds in a county of modest wealth that is burdened with staggering social problems, the policy-making decisions and resulting personal windfalls that Umhoefer documented are unconscionable.

Pension systems do not have to be managed or altered this way.

I was Mayor John Norquist's chief of staff in the late 1990's, when city government coincidentally went through a systematic reform of its pension system.

At Norquist's direction, the city attorney, the common council and several city agencies agreed on procedures that were 180 degrees different from the county's pension 'processes.'

The city hired lawyers and actuaries to carefully study various alternatives that would eventually lead to changes in pension benefits, and to the distribution of part of the system's surplus - - but the solvency of the system and the protection of its reserves were always the top priorities.

Insiders didn't sit around and figure out how to scoop up every stray dollar as if they were bystanders at the scene of an over-turned armored car in a traffic accident.

The changes in the city's pension system not only had to pass political and fiscal muster - - they had to be approved by all the interested parties, right down to a costly and cumbersome election-by-postcard in which retirees' votes were gathered, tallied and certified by a circuit court judge.

There was litigation. There were settlements. There were tedious and contentious negotiations within a framework of checks and balances - - but at the county, it turns out there were only to be checks.

Time and time again, getting more money - - regardless of the consequences to the county system and taxpayers' wallets - - was the apparent object and the outcome.

Looking at the history of the county pension mess is like watching a long episode of The Sopranos, where greedy people focus on one thing: grabbing more of other people's money for themselves.

After the pension scandal broke a few years ago, hard-hitting reporting, some of it belated, some of it originating on then-relatively new websites - - along with recall elections - - swept many of the highest-profile greedmeisters out of elected offices.

One senior ex-bureaucrat, Gary Dobbert, was charged with misconduct in public office. The county's top personnel officer, Dobbert was convicted, fined and spent 60 days in jail.

Some officials were shamed or politically-astute enough to waive some of the gaudier extra benefits they couldn't justify accepting.

But some didn't, and left county employment with pensions equal to full-time salaries, years of paid-up health insurance, and in some cases, gold-plated six-figure bonus checks.

And now we know that Dobbert wasn't much more than a scapegoat, and that the grifting was worse than imagined.

Enough is enough.

County government is reducing services because it has a constant shortfall of money. The unsustainable demands of ramped-up pension and related health-care benefits are among the reasons that fees are rising, pools are closing, bus lines are ending, and county government in Milwaukee keeps devolving into a political, fiscal and ethical joke.

There needs to be a complete overturning and undoing of the decisions that led to millions in public dollars awarded to people who do not and did not deserve them.

And there needs to be a detailed, deliberate, documented and sworn investigation of all the chicanery that fleeced county taxpayers and the pension system of millions and millions of dollars.

It's not enough to say that it's all water under the bridge, or money out the door, and that nothing can be done about it.

Dave Umhoefer and the Journal Sentinel have done a great public service. This is investigative reporting at its finest - - the best story in memory - - and a solid investment of the paper's political capital on behalf of the community, too.

Now we need to know that the stories will be clipped, printed-out, underlined and summarized for the next steps: repayments requested of fair-minded recipients, efforts to win refunds through claims and lawsuits from the recalcitrant, and formal inquiries by prosecutors and tax officials to help with a long-overdue systematic review of the entire debacle.

Anything less means that county government in Milwaukee has no credibility, and that the disrespect shown to county taxpayers is unlimited.

Gov. Doyle, Michigan's Gov. Granholm Meet Privately With the EPA Administrator

A small newspaper in Michigan, the Record Eagle in Traverse City, carries a column mentioning a recent, private meeting there with Michigan's Governor Jennifer Granholm, Stephen Johnson, the US Environmental Protection Agency administrator, and Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle.

According to the report in the Traverse City (MI) Record Eagle about federal action on Great Lakes issues:

"Granholm said she and Doyle told Johnson: "You've just got to realize that on the ground here, it looks like nothing has happened.”

That's interesting - - could media in Madison get a report on the meeting for interested Wisconsin citizens, from our Governor?

Lots going on with regard to the Great Lakes, doncha know?

Federal inaction on Great Lakes restoration.

Water levels dropping in Lake Superior.

Indiana allowing an oil company to pollute Lake Michigan.

New Berlin moving towards a Lake Michigan diversion, though Wisconsin has yet to adopt the Great Lakes Compact and help establish regional standards for diversions and conservation measures across the eight-state Great Lakes region.

Last year, it was Granholm's office - - not Wisconsin officials - - that notified the public about New Berlin's diversion application. Now a Michigan newspaper carries information about an interesting, potentially significant meeting.

Minnesota blogger Dave Dempsey, a former Michigan environmental state official, also noted the Record Eagle item on his blog.

Could Wisconsin residents be kept in the loop with Wisconsin sourcing, and from state officials, so we don't have to keep relying on officials and media in Michigan, and bloggers in Minnesota?

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Tommy's Iowa Bus Tour Photo Album: If A Picture Is Worth 1,000 Words...

Then an entire album doesn't have a word count.

Gingrich Has Another Headline-Grabbing, Unoriginal Idea. So Does Tommy.

Newt Gingrich predicts that Democrats will nominate a Hillary-Clinton/Barack Obama ticket.

Gee: how come no one thought of that before?

And then there was the story that Tommy Thompson alleged Mitt Romney was copying the barely-visible Thompson campaign by riding around Iowa on a bus.

Next thing you know, Tommy'll accuse Rudy Guiliani of stealing another Thompson invention - - the campaign button.

Lake Superior Warms, Level Keeps Falling

Scientists can't agree on a cause, but water levels in Lake Superior continue to decline, the water temperature rises, shippers are losing millions with lighter loads and media are paying more attention.

Including, somewhat ironically, The Freeman, Waukesha's daily newspaper that circulates right in the heart of Lake Michigan's potential water diversion zone.

Concern about management of the Great Lakes in Wisconsin is not just an issue along Lake Michigan, or in southeastern Wisconsin.

It's truly an issue of statewide concern, involving the quality and quantity of two of the Great Lakes on our borders.

That's why Wisconsin needs to adopt the pending Great Lakes Compact, firming up standards governing diversions from the Great Lakes, conservation standards and other important water management issues in the entire eight-state Great Lakes region.

The Pat Tillman Story Gets Worse

Public opinion has turned solidly against the Iraq War, but for the Bush administration, the unraveling coverup of the details of Pat Tillman's death in Afghanistan is a political and moral problem that simply cannot be fixed.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Waukesha County Drops Anti-Immigration Offensive

Should local law enforcement officers spend their time tracking illegal immigrants, which is a federal responsibility?

This bad idea originated with former Waukesha County DA Paul Bucher during his unsuccessful run for Wisconsin Attorney General.

The scheme was half political grandstanding, half overreaction.

Mercifully, Waukesha County officials have dropped the idea, allowing local law enforcement officers to do their jobs, and the feds' to do theirs.

The Federal Court Verdicts In The Frank Jude Case Are Good News

The guilty verdicts delivered in court Thursday, along with early guilty pleas, are a solid healing step for the City of Milwaukee.

The damage to Jude, Lovell Harris and the larger community were severe, but seeing justice roll from the courthouse, though a long time coming, should lift everyone's spirits.

The Journal Sentinel editorial board says it all on point, here.

And the full injustice will be finally wiped clean when the legislature repeals the special state law, lobbied successfully by the police union, that requires Milwaukee taxpayers to continue paying convicted ex-police officers until their appeals are over - - leaving two of the convicted ex-officers/felons in this case even yet on the city payroll.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Michigan Supreme Court Sides With Water Sellers, Other Corporate Interests

State Sen. Mary Lazich, Ohio State Senator Tim Grendell and others in the region believe that the State of Michigan is the anti-business, Great Lakes regulatory boogeyman.

They might be surprised to learn of the Michigan Supreme Court's pro-business ruling this week that has sharply limited the public's standing in court to try and restrain corporate abuses of natural resources.

Details here in the ever-reliable Dave Dempsey blog.

Foes Of Key Great Lakes Compact Provisions To Gather At Michigan Meeting

There could be more problems ahead for the pending Great Lakes Compact - - a water management and conservation plan that has to be adopted by the eight Great Lakes states' legislatures with identical language already agreed upon by their governors in order to go into effect.

Ohio State Senator Tim Grendell (R-Chester Township), confirmed in a telephone interview Wednesday that he is organizing a meeting later this summer where opponents of the pending Great Lakes Compact can meet with supporters "to work out a solution."

That may be easier said than done, since the pending Compact took five years to negotiate, and meeting some opponents' objections could unravel the entire agreement.

Ohio media have named Grendell as a major opponent of the Compact in that state, and he has been quoted saying it contains "un-American" language.

The areas in the Compact that Grendell and others are opposing, including State Sen. Mary Lazich, (R-New Berlin) are already spelled out in the Governors' December, 2005 agreement, so altering or deleting them negate the entire agreement.

Grendell's meeting is scheduled in Traverse City, Michigan on August 25th, and coincides with a separate regional conference for state legislators.

Grendell said his major concerns about the Compact were provisions that permitted one state to block a diversion of water in another state - - "the loss of an individual state's authority in their state," as he defined it.

"We don't want Michigan or Indiana to limit our [water] use or our economic development," Grendell said.

The Ohio legislator said he also was concerned that language in the Compact defining Great Lakes water as a resource held in the "public trust" could cause Ohioans to lose their property right to water - - a protected right that he said the Ohio Supreme Court has ruled required compensated if violated.

He also said there was other "vague" language in the Compact that needed clarification.

On the pivotal matter of public trust, the Wisconsin State Constitution includes broad public trust doctrine language that predates statehood and originates in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. That is a water protection principle that guarantees that the state's waters are owned by all the people of the state, with the state as trustee.

Lazich is a member of the Wisconsin legislature's Great Lakes Compact study committee that has been meeting for a year to draft a bill implementing the Compact, and sent Grendell's objections to the committee in January, documents show.

Lazich and Lawrie Kobza, a water law expert who works for some Wisconsin municipalities, have formally suggested stripping the "held in trust" language from Wisconsin's eventual Compact implementing bill, according to Committee records (see p. 2). And here.

Kobza is also a consultant on legal issues to the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, whose regional water supply study is about half done and is building a case for diversions as a regional policy, I have argued.

Opposition by Compact opponents stalled the Committee's work for many months; the creation of a parallel working group by Gov. Jim Doyle seems to have energized the Committee; Lazich was left off the working group and has been unhappy about it.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources told the committee by memo after receiving Grendell's letter from Lazich that Grendell's property rights concerns were inaccurate and had no relevance to Wisconsin.

Grendell said by telephone that his objections to Compact provisions could be cleared up "in less that 20 words," would make sure Ohio's economy will continue to benefit from proximity to Lake Erie, and would continue to guarantee that Great Lakes water would not be diverted from the basin.

Lazich has also strongly objected to the so-called 'single-state veto,' and has been joined in that criticism by the Waukesha County Chamber of Commerce.

In a July 19th New Berlin blog commentary, Lazich echoed Grendell's thinking when she concluded:

"I will not endorse a Compact that puts our communities in the precarious position of having water access stripped away by the whims of a single Governor in a neighboring state. Furthermore, I will continue to speak out against the many defects in the document as long as they pose a threat to the welfare of residents in New Berlin and Waukesha."

The full blog is accessible here.

Also objecting to the 'one-state' veto provision and other Compact items including restrictions on diversions to communities in Waukesha County is Committee member Matt Moroney, executive director of the Metropolitan Builders Association, headquartered in Waukesha.

Moroney is also a member of the SEWRPC water supply advisory committee.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Help Make Milwaukee County Government Green

You want a greener Milwaukee County government? Votes are approaching: One Wisconsin Now tells you how and why to contact your supervisors, pronto.

Item #1 For The Incoming DNR Secretary

Would it be too much to ask that the DNR do its regulatory job and work aggressively under Matt Frank, the newly-nominated secretary, to keep mass cattle fecal runoff out of Lake Michigan?

An earlier posting about this outrage in Manitowoc County is here.

Or is shoulder-shrugging by the agency in the face of obvious pollution now part of some new, secret DNR mission statement?

Should the entire burden of environmental protection in and around Manitowoc be borne by dedicated volunteer neighbors of these offending large animal operations?

Should sampling and improving Lake Michigan water quality along the lake's eastern shoreline be the responsibility of these activists?

Isn't that why we have a Department of Natural Resources?

I'd recommend that Matt Frank make splash in his new job with a road trip to Manitowoc, then a visit to the woodshed with his new staff, followed by an announcement of action.

And follow-up.

Editorial Call For A Center For The Great Lakes

From Michigan, a plea for one coordinated center for Great Lakes' water-related study.

An excellent idea, one that UW-Milwaukee should jump on because it already runs the Great Lakes WATER Institute, has world-class experts with expertise in surface and underground water, and could easily morph into a broader research institution.

UW-M's administration should leverage its existing resources and make itself a key regional player - - in this case, the region being the Great Lakes basin - - in water policy.

Soglin Gets To The Heart of Water Planning

Paul Soglin gets to what's important in water planning with a short, must-read summary.

And correctly points to a solid source, Midwestern Environmental Advocates, whose work, he correctly points out, is essential.

MEA is a lead group in a coalition pushing for a strong Great Lakes Compact for Wisconsin, and the coalition's priorities can be found here.

Sign An Online Petition Against BP's Lake Michigan Pollution Permit

You can get in on the action to stop British Petroleum's fouling of Lake Michigan with sludge and ammonia - - three tons daily - - at its northern Indiana lakefront refinery by signing an online petition.

Details here.

SEWRPC Lays The Foundation For Lake Michigan Diversions

The Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC), signalled last week that it's likely to recommend that Lake Michigan water be diverted to Waukesha County suburbs, and perhaps elsewhere in its seven-county territory, as a preferred solution to regional water supply demands.

This should come as no surprise.

The suburban-leaning SEWRPC green-lighted regional freeway expansion and has declined to write a regional housing plan since 1975 - - both decisions assisting growth in water-demanding areas.

Draft data was presented on July 17th to the SEWRPC water supply advisory committee projecting an increase in water demand in the SEWRPC seven-county region of 30% by 2035.

In annexation-crazy Waukesha County, ground zero in the effort to pipe water to thirsty communities west of the subcontinental divide at Sunny Slope Rd. (the geographic barrier that also makes up the current legal barrier preventing Lake Michigan diversions), the projected water demand is much higher, said SEWRPC's documentation.

The key numbers comparing 2000 to 2035 water needs in Waukesha County that will be used I predict to underpin eventual recommendations from SEWRPC supporting diversions from Lake Michigan are:

* Square miles in Waukesha County served by municipal water systems would increase to 171 square miles from 82 - - a boost of more than 100%.

*Municipal water systems in the county would increase to 24 from 16, or a 50% expansion.

* The average water pumpage each day by the anticipated number of county municipal water systems would jump to 49 million gallons from 26 million gallons - - an increase of 88%.

* Waukesha County's population of 360,000 in 2000 is projected to rise to 446,000 by 2035, according to data presented by SEWRPC earlier.

But County officials believe their eventual population could hit an even higher number - - 520,000 - - in what they call "build-out" scenarios.

That's a lot of new residents - - an increase approaching 50% from 2000 levels - - which would make the Waukesha County demand for water even greater than what SEWRPC is suggesting.

The inconsistency in the numbers raise a number of questions, but in no way suggest that demand for water will go anywhere but up, as will the political pressure from Waukesha for diversions, too.

Let's also examine the framework that SEWRPC is using to turn numbers into policy recommendations, especially the kind of "costs" the committee and SEWRPC staff and consultants have decided are important considerations when writing a regional water supply plan

Its approach is why I'd argue that the die is cast for the Lake Michigan option over, say, water re-use and recycling technologies to create supplies as an alternative to tapping into an already stressed lake and Great Lakes system.

From its 2005 beginning, the water advisory committee, heavy on water utility managers and other municipal officials, defined the study primarily with supply-and-demand parameters - - into which dollars-and-cents cost/benefit analyses fit nicely.

And avoid big-picture, inter-basin perspectives that argue it's poor water management practice to solve the problems in a watershed - - in this case, in Waukesha communities in the Mississippi River basin - - by transferring water from another - - the Lake Michigan/Great Lakes basin that is east of the sub-continental divide.

The SEWRPC approach, boiled down to essentials, is this:

Q: Where in the SEWRPC seven-county region would there be a pressing need for water?

A. Waukesha County, and also in lesser volumes, the other counties, such as Kenosha. (The Journal Sentinel reported this, with a chart, here.)

Q. Where is water in short, inaccessible, unacceptable supply.

A. Waukesha County.

Q. Where is there a big supply of fresh water?

A. Lake Michigan.

Q. Where is there an excess of existing pumping capacity?

A. The City of Milwaukee, which has two big water treatment facilities right on Lake Michigan.

Some members of SEWRPC's water supply advisory committee wanted to add "non-monetary" costs to the study scope, going beyond piping, pumping, buildings, and other engineering, operating and capital expenses.

At its second meeting in November, 2005 (minutes here in pdf, see pages 5-7, especially), the advisory committee debated that issue.

It turned back a proposal to specifically list potential legal costs as a factor in considering recommendations, because litigation could result if communities in the SEWRPC region won diversions from Lake Michigan water.

Diversions might be seen as communities solving one watershed's problems by subtracting water from another watershed, thus basically transferring the problem but disguising it as a solution.

The committee instead accepted the SEWRPC staff's opinion that potential legal costs were routinely factored into administrative budgets on engineering projects, and could also occur in non-diversion supply planning, so it was not necessary to have SEWRPC list potential legal costs when referencing potential Lake Michigan diversion plans

There was also a long discussion about whether to expand the scope of this regional water study objectives to include "all costs," including environmental. It was a sharp debate, not reflected in SEWRPC's dry minutes.

The committee was told by SEWRPC staff that environmental considerations would be included as a matter of routine, but some members balked at expanding monetary considerations in the study objectives to non-monetary.

The committee could not reach a decision by consensus, its preferred method of collegial committee decision-making.

So it voted on the "all cost including environmental" issue as a formal motion - - and declined to add the non-monetary parameter by a vote of 24-3- - locking in a more restricted, nuts-and-bolts study scope.

The final objective in question reads:

"The development of water supply facilities, operational improvements, and policies that are both economical and efficient, best meeting all other objectives at the lowest practical cost consistent both with long-term capital and operational and maintenance costs."

The only addition to the language was the insertion of the word "best."

With the study scope narrowed - - call it a victory for the engineers and the water utility managers - - fast forward a year-and-a-half to last week.

With population, pumping, and other data provided to the committee, I'm predicting that SEWRPC will focus its conclusions, as problem solvers, on meeting the demand side of the supply equation.

A proper noun comes to mind that defines the solution:
Lake Michigan.

And a verb: Divert.

What's coming next?

The water supply advisory committee, led by staff and consultants, will finish their work in six months to a year.

And don't get me wrong: it's a hard-working bunch. It's just that they could have made their project a ground-breaking effort.

Swung for the fences.

But that's not what is happening, and given SEWRPC's institutional track record - - not a surprise.

Ideally, the committee's work will wind up after, or concurrent with, the state's adoption of the Great Lakes Compact.

That would put a diversion application and review procedure of some sort, and other conservation standards into place for Wisconsin by inserting them in state law.

How strongly-written are those procedures and standards will greatly effect how often Lake Michigan water is sought or diverted out of the Great Lakes basin to communities like Waukesha and New Berlin, and perhaps to others.

The committee's recommendations probably won't be unanimous, but the final tally won't be close.

SEWRPC will then conduct public hearings on its water advisory committee recommendations, and if history is a reliable guide, the meetings will be a formality, followed by approval at the full, 21-member Commission.

That vote will be close to unanimous, with perhaps one, maybe two "no" votes, if that.

SEWRPC likes creating policy and drafting studies through its advisory committees, and is spending about a million dollars on this one. It's out-of-the-question to think it would set aside all that spending with substantive amendments, or to ask another group to start over.

It's a long pantomime, and while SEWRPC will say that it's only issuing recommendations, government officials, subdivision-builders, mall planners and editorial writers will call the findings valuable and timely - - and the recommendations will come with SEWRPC's imprimatur.

Sure this is all speculative on my part. I'd love to be wrong, but again, this is what I predict:

SEWRPC's final report will recommend Lake Michigan diversions along with relatively modest, "economically-feasible" water conservation as the keys to a regional solution, and where possible, will recommend regional management of water, too.

It will not recommend controls over farmland conversion or sprawl-producing annexations that help fuel the growing demand for water.

The report will not acknowledge the role of government, including SEWRPC's, in helping to create some of the escalating demand for water by having pushed development far from Lake Michigan, where existing infrastructure and easy-to-access water should have been recommended as catalysts for regional economic growth through in-basin development.

One of the committee's approved objectives is that the water recommendations support the existing SEWRPC land use plan - - the one that has not been supplemented for 32 years with a housing plan, that has not aggressively supported transit with the same gusto reserved for freeway expansion, and that has paved the way, so to speak for the very sprawl and water demand driving the water study.

A more environmentally-focused and cooordinated land-use, water, transportation and housing plan would have prioritized in-basin growth and led the region away from sprawl, and away from diversions and their costs - - all costs - - engineering, social, legal - - that will accompany the movement of water from Lake Michigan over the subcontinental divide.

Yet Milwaukee will be identified as a 'best' solution to resolve what will called a regional water supply and demand imbalance.

That geographic solution will pressure politically Milwaukee to participate as a water seller to the suburbs, instead of being the focus of a regional approach that could have recommended using Milwaukee water to boost the economies in all the lakefront communities.
But to do that, you would had to have much broader objectives, and looked at the positive costs of highlight that kind of in-basin, lakefront-community centered water use, or the negative costs of omitting it.
And what about the other imbalances (you could call them "costs" if you had been so-inclined) in the region - - access to jobs and housing, for instance, or public spending on freeways instead of transit - - that distort development along city (read: Milwaukee)/suburban/exurban/income and racial lines?

Those won't be be given real if any weight in the recommended water policy solutions - - because they were not identified at the beginning as SEWRPC study objectives.

Remember: That opportunity went away when the "all costs" motion lost 24-3, without even the support of Carrie Lewis, Milwaukee's Water Works Manager and the City of Milwaukee's lone representative on the committee.

And don't expect the City of Milwaukee's representatives on the full SEWRPC commission to refocus or amend the final report, or vote against it.

That's because Milwaukee, by state law, isn't permitted even a single one of those 21 Commission seats.

Some call this regional planning.

Others have a different label: A stacked deck.

Good National Roundup of Environmental Blogs Linked Below

Lots of good things about environmental issues are linked at this web consolidator's site.

Barrett, Other Lakeshore Mayors, Rip Oil Company Permit To Pollute Lake Michigan

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett got several other lakeshore Mayors to sign a letter to Indiana officials who earlier granted British Petroleum permission to dump tons of sludge and ammonia daily into the lake at a northern Indiana refinery.

Good for Barrett. Let's hope this is the beginning of the end of a stupid decision by Indiana and a reprehensible plan by BP.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

SEWRPC Task Force On Environmental Justice To Begin Meetings

To meet objections from critics who argue that regional planning has ignored the participation and needs of low-income and minority residents, the Southeastern Regional Planning Commission, SEWRPC, is announcing the first meeting of an Environmental Justice Task Force.

The meeting will be held on Tuesday Aug. 7 at 4 p.m. at Heartlove Place, 3229 N. Martin Luther King Jr Dr., in Milwaukee.

The public is encouraged to attend; more information about the goals of environmental justice is here.

Paul Soglin Doesn't See Much Value In Waukesha's Water Conservation Rate Plan

Certainly not for Madison, as he points out on his blog, or to achieve much savings in Waukesha, either.

When Words Have Consequences

A few weeks ago, a former Waukesha Freeman editor named Pete Kennedy wrote a diatribe against Milwaukee that, by any standards, was the cheapest of shots.

His theme: "Milwaukee Sucks."

There were immediate reverberations. Bill Christofferson wrote a pointed blog response, which, in fairness I will point out, the Freeman also published.

I weighed in, too (here), and one of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's community columnists has added a thoughtful op-ed piece.

Those were some of the more public responses.

Privately, I spoke to several officials or movers-and-shakers, and separately, their reactions and political analyses were relatively similar:

'Don't those people out in Waukesha understand it's Milwaukee that they want to get water from?'

Granted that Pete Kennedy is not a Waukesha city or county official, or a policy-maker.

But he is an opinion-maker, and outside of Waukesha, would be seen a credible spokesman because he has a media history and platform in that city and county's leading local daily paper.

It'll be interesting to see how long the Kennedy column continues to stir things up.

Christofferson has already referenced the original Kennedy piece again.

I wouldn't be surprised if Kennedy's slur replaced Tommy Thompson's "stick it to Milwaukee" line as permanent fighting words for Milwaukeans, which could mean political problems for Waukesha.

Getting The Language Right: When Is a Ban On Great Lakes Water Diversions A Ban?

Michigan's Governor Jennifer Granholm reportedly described the proposed prohibition on Great Lakes diversions as an outright ban, according to a media report from the just-concluded National Governors Association annual meeting

As we know in these here parts, such is not the outright case.

New Berlin and Waukesha have already applied for Great Lakes water diversions, either through exceptions spelled out in the proposed Compact (New Berlin, 2006 and 2007), or through direct appeals to Governor Jim Doyle in confidential pleas (2006, twice rebuffed).

Former Michigan water policy expert and now-Minnesota blogger Dave Dempsey works his way through the terminology, parsing and other linguistic thickets regarding possible Great Lakes diversions, here.

And a second Great Lakes blogger turns Granholm's remarks into an essay about water and economic policy, here, raising broad policy questions about water seldom articulated in Wisconsin.

Of course, much of this uncertainty could be resolved if Wisconsin would pass the Great Lakes Compact, a process stalled in a state legislative council committee over objections from some Waukesha County politicians, and business interests, who want few, if any, diversion restrictions.

Monday, July 23, 2007

SEWRPC Takes A Pass On Assertive Climate Change Plan

The Southeastern Regional Planning Commission is midway through an historic water supply study for the seven counties in its domain, and has said it would fold climate change into the study.

Makes sense: there are few more pressing scientific and social issues facing planners and experts today because of measurable increases in world temperatures.

But a draft document that makes up a portion of the water supply study handed out at last week's water supply advisory committee meeting suggests that SEWRPC isn't aggressively focused on climate change and its impact on the region's water supplies.

At the end of what SEWRPC labels "Chapter VII: Water Supply Problem Identification And Issues To Be Resolved," the agency concludes that there's too much uncertainty in climate change data and its interpretations for conclusions, let alone a bold, pro-active plan.

"...it was concluded," say the drafters," that there is practical (sic) no way to make the effects of climate change quantitatively operational in the development of the regional water supply plan. Rather, it was determined to consider the issue by developing a recommended water supply plan which is flexible and adaptable to change."

In other words: change is happening, but it's a big, murky subject.

So let's plan for climate changes - - with a plan that can change.

Is that the best that SEWRPC can offer us?

Aren't all plans subject to change, unless they're issued by some sort of dictatorial Planners Star Chamber?

Are we getting a predictive, useful regional water supply plan - - or a planning tautology?

Big Business Opposes Health Care Reform - - With Big $$

Interesting that corporate interests opposing universal health care coverage for Wisconsin citizens find it necessary to throw big money at Gov. Doyle, and an even greater percentage of donations to GOP health care coverage reform opponents in the State Assembly, a report finds.

And you wonder why it's so hard to shift government policy, or why we remain a major industrial power - - a collection of states within that rich but inequitable nation - - without health care coverage that gives everyone an equal shot at long, health life.

For $25, Iowa Gives Ethanol Plants A Permit For Ten Years Of Water

There's short-sighted, there's really short-sighted - - and then there's Iowa's protectionist giveaway of its underground water to business that turn Iowa corn into ethanol.

It takes four gallons of water to turn out a gallon ethanol, so Iowa lets ethanol producers take as much groundwater as they want for a $25 permit.

That's good for ten years.

Ethanol does help reduce dependence on foreign oil, but corn is the most expensive, water-dependent vegetative source for ethanol, so there should be focus and incentives to turn to more sustainable and less water-reliant sources.

And Wisconsin, which is pushing corn-based ethanol, too, also needs to look to alternatives, a subject dealt with on this blog earlier, here.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Will Saukville Take The Fluoride Out Of Its Drinking Water?

It was odd to read the other day that the Northern Ozaukee County Village of Saukville was considering ending its fluoridation of the municipal water system.

You'd have thought that debates over the wisdon water fluoridation was a closed issue, since it's known to reduce tooth decay and help children and adults avoid other related diseases, too.

It does cost a few thousand bucks a year to put fluoride in the water, but the Village of more than 4,000 people is a growing community with family incomes that exceed Wisconsin averages.

And the Village seems to be able to provide other municipal services, and amenities. The annual cost of $5,300 to fluoridate the drinking water doesn't look like a budget-buster.

Fluoridation was a contentious issue in America in the 50's, when some claimed it was an insidious Communist plot to weaken Americans through contaminated drinking water supplies.

Saukville has been adding fluoride to its drinking water since 1964, and with the Cold War over, it's hard to imagine that Saukville's possible fluoride removal is part of some throwback, 'better-dead-than-Red' resurgence.

Let's hope that the idea gets set aside, and the region can focus its interest in water policy on getting a strong Great Lakes Compact, with solid conservation and diversion restrictions, adopted in the legislature.

Manitowoc Farms Flush Feces Into Lake Michigan: The DNR Does Nothing

Activists have for years been raising a stink - - pardon the bad turn of a phrase - - about the knowing cow manure pollution of Lake Michigan that runs daily from super-farming operations north of Milwaukee.

The Journal Sentinel lays out some of the facts here, and among the most galling of all is the admission by Department of Natural Resources regulators that they intend to do nothing with the proof.

Journal Sentinel Community Columnist Opines On The Approaching Water Wars

More and more people are talking about it.

Sample quote:

"In a future in which the price of water may supersede that of gasoline, we need to put the price of our most precious resource out of reach. By waiting for the opportune moment, we'll preserve the natural beauty of the area while setting ourselves up to become one of the United States' most prosperous communities."

Water Demand, Not Conservation, Is The Real Regional Water Story

It is true that there are some water conservation measures underway in Waukesha communities, most notably in the City of Waukesha, which will charge some large users a new premium rate.

But data released last week by SEWRPC, the regional planning commission, predicts a big jump in water demand throughout its seven-county region, especially in Waukesha County.

You don't have to be a hydrologist or a statistician to know which direction that water planning will flow in the region: just drive around and look at the subdivisions, malls, and office parks that are replacing area farms and woodlands.

All that development needs water. New supplies will help it happen, and water conservation, which is certainly a good thing, will be a footnote, even a fig-leaf, for some developers and planners.

More about this later.

Journal Sentinel Digs Deeper Into The Health Care Reform Issue

After the predictable GOP/talk radio hysteria over consideration of a health care reform package by Wisconsin legislators, a Journal Sentinel Sunday piece goes beyond the rhetoric.

NY Times Doesn't Include Tommy In Long-Shots' Review

Our favorite cheesehead Tommy Thompson can't even catch a break when The New York Times pays some attention to the oft-ignored long-shot presidential candidates.

The paper of record features Republican Libertarian Ron Paul.

Along with some ink, bytes and links about the other Thompson - - Fred - - and Joe Biden.

Tommy did score some publicity in the local media last week, but again, nothing that's going to win him the Iowa caucuses.

The Journal Sentinel's Katherine Skiba noted that Tommy has raised just $890,000, far less than his goal of $2.5 million.

That's what Obama or Clinton or Romney or Guiliani can raise in a good three-day weekend.

Plus, Tommy has put $100,000 of his own dough in the campaign, Skiba says. That's more than 10% of the total, which means Tommy is basically paying a lot of campaign expenses out of his own pocket.

Tommy made quite the stir in April when he told a Jewish gathering in Washington, DC that he admired Judaism because the religion understood how to make money, and he was finally out in the private sector to get some.

But to so heavily-subsidize his - - what shall we call it - - Quixotic campaign?

He must not have been blowing smoke when he said he was finally making serious money if he's got 100k to dump into staff salaries and fuel for the campaign's RV - - but blowing it on a sure-to-fail run for the presidency suggests Tommy doesn't know how to invest it.

Daley, Other Key Mayors Protest Oil Company's Lake Michigan Pollution

Chicago's Mayor Richard Daley, Racine's Gary Becker and Toronto's David Miller signed a letter published in The Chicago Tribune slamming Indiana's approval for vastly permitted ammonia and sludge dumping by British Petroleum into Lake Michigan.

This blog posted information about the decision to expand the dumping here.

Lake Michigan doesn't benefit from a willful daily dose of three tons of these dangerous pollutants; these mayors, whose communities and many others that draw drinking water from the lake, have every right to be upset.

Furthermore, Indiana's decision to allow BP's refinery this contemptible action illustrates why Great Lakes states have the commonsense duty to monitor each other's usage of Great Lakes waters.

When abuses or poor management occur, joint attention and solutions are required.

Said the Mayors, in part:

"...it is not in anyone's interest to facilitate expansion at the expense of our region's greatest natural resource and economic engine -- the Great Lakes."

That concept is at the foundation of the pending Great Lakes Compact, an eight- state agreement, with two Canadian provinces in an advisory role, to supervise large withdrawals of water from what is the world's largest supply of fresh surface waters.

Some legislators and business leaders in Waukesha County miss this point entirely, opposing Wisconsin's approval of the Compact - - even though it will protect Wisconsin's fair access to Great Lakes water and allow Wisconsin also to monitor and approve new large uses in the other states, too.

Without a working Compact, communities from New York state to Minnesota could divert Great Lakes water without scientific and legal standards - - imagine a thousands straws pulling water from the Great Lakes, only those straws are intake pipes, moving hundreds of millions of gallons of water daily out of the lakes - - disregarding its reasonable use, or mandated return to preserve the levels of the source.

Wisconsin's public officials need to join Mayor Daley's effort to stop British Petroleum's outrageous plan to knowingly pollute Lake Michigan.

But that's only protecting the waters, as they are. It's important, but covers half the equation.

Wisconsin residents need to pressure legislators and editorial boards, urging our state to adopt a strong Great Lakes Compact that manages the waters usage.

That means a program for Wisconsin requiring conservation of all the waters in the Great Lakes ecosystem - - and requiring region-wide high standards for the waters' use, along with guarantees that as much diverted water is returned to its source.

That will protect and preserve the Great Lakes - - precisely the opposite of what BP will be allowed to do with its refinery's discharge into Lake Michigan in northern Indiana.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Mary Lazich Says Chinese Trade Surplus Rules Out Health Care Reform In Wisconsin

State Sen. Mary Lazich, (R-New Berlin), has published an op-ed in a Monroe, WI newspaper that takes opposition to a Wisconsin health insurance plan global.

Expanding the standard, anti-government GOP line against the "Healthy Wisconsin" plan adopted by the State Senate, Lazich says the booming Chinese economy means we can't afford health insurance in Wisconsin.

So...buying all those Made in China sweaters and electronic gadgets means Wisconsin kids can't have the same kind of great health insurance that is, say, available to state legislators?

And while you're grappling with the foreign trade/Wisconsin health care connection, diagram her concluding sentence:

"However, now is clearly not the time for the Senate Democrats' plan fraught with politics controlling health care, and Wisconsin current economic indicators ranking Wisconsin as one of the highest-taxed states, with the lowest income growth, and a forecast of less jobs and less income due to the largest housing slump in 16 years."

But the best part of her op-ed?

Lazich has attacked this blog - - The Political Environment - - for its criticism of her staunch opposition to Wisconsin's adopting the Great Lakes Compact - - a hypocritical and self-defeating stance because she also wants a water diversion from Lake Michigan to New Berlin approved before the Compact's diversion procedures are in place.

But I did enjoy the following phrase in her op-ed, because it tells me this blog is having a subliminal effect in her thinking:

"I noted that the Senate Democrats' [health insurance] plan would be administered." Lazich wrote, "in a political environment."

Friday, July 20, 2007

First Impressions On The Shakeup At The Wisconsin DNR

What are the implications of Gov. Jim Doyle replacing Scott Hassett as DNR Secretary with Corrections Secretary Matt Frank?

1. Frank is a smart guy, and a professional manager, but will have to hustle to get up to speed on large pending issues, including mercury emission controls and the Great Lakes Compact. Both are technical and political issues of the highest magnitude.

2. Frank's appointment further solidifies Doyle's control of the DNR, formerly an independent agency, but a political cabinet appointment thanks to former Gov. Tommy Thompson's aggressive politicization and control of state government.

In January, Doyle named another loyalist, Randy Romanski, as DNR executive secretary. Romanski has held several positions in the Doyle administration, including that of deputy chief of staff in the Governor's office.

Bottom line: Frank's appointment cements lines of communication, policy-making, and other connections between Doyle and the DNR, so when the DNR acts, it is absolutely clear that the position has been cleared, vetted, approved by the Governor and his staff for implementation.

Scientist Says Lead Poisoning, Crime Linked

It wasn't too long ago that the City of Milwaukee lost its lawsuit against lead paint manufacturers.

The scientific research referenced in this Washington Post story strongly correlating lead contamination to criminal behavior could have made a good exhibit for the city. Or in an appeal?

New Berlin Should Lead On Great Lakes Compact Approval

Now that the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has moved New Berlin's application for a Lake Michigan diversion to the discussion phase- - with final approval contingent on many factors that could take months or a year or more to iron out - - New Berlin should be taking the lead in the legislature and throughout Southeastern Wisconsin in advocacy for the Compact's adoption.

New Berlin's Mayor, Jack Chiovatero, seems to understand that, given his remarks to the business publication Daily Reporter.

With a Compact in place, New Berlin's application and further approvals from the DNR will have the Compact's legal and procedural rules governing Wisconsin's review of New Berlin's diversion request.

The other seven states in the Great Lakes region, then, are more likely to consider the DNR and New Berlin approach to a diversion as acceptable - - because the Compact provides a fair and consistent framework that all the Great Lakes states can follow.

Plus: a working Compact protects Wisconsin from water grabs by other states and communities faraway - - something that New Berlin's very own state senator, Mary Lazich, just can't seem to grasp.

She mistakes protections for a true, two-nation, eight-state regional resource - - and also one of the planet's most precious sources of fresh water - - as somehow bad for New Berlin and Waukesha County, though they are surely part of the Great Lakes region, and the planet, too.

Lazich is among those in the legislature slowing up Wisconsin's approval of the Compact, even though her city wants to be the first to receive diverted water since the Compact was approved by the eight Great Lakes governors in 2005 and moved to their legislatures for ratification and state-by-state implementation.

How odd and contradictory is that?

Chiovatero told the Shepherd-Express that Lazich's obstructionism was a problem for New Berlin.

Wrote the Milwaukee weekly paper's Dennis Shook, a long-time reporter in Waukesha County and an expert on politics there:

"Chiovatero, who has meetings this week with Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett to discuss water access details, said he sees Lazich as the major obstacle to solving the city's water woes.

"These are her people ... she lives here," Chiovatero said of Lazich, who could not be reached for comment.

"She has Lake Michigan water herself and she's enjoying it. So let everybody else [enjoy] it. This is just a political thing going on that has me upset," he said of her opposition to the compact."

Chiovatero seems also to understand that the sequence to win Great Lakes water for a Waukesha Count community should be: Compact first, then final diversion application review, and if everything is OK in those processes, then a negotiation and deal with a water seller and treatment system to handle the logistics and finances of both a water sale and a safe and feasible return flow.

That's what the Compact is all about - - on behalf of the entire Great Lakes ecosystem - - rules, standards, procedures, whether you're in New Berlin or New York.

On the other hand, if it looks like the DNR and Wisconsin are jumping the procedural gun on behalf of a Wisconsin community - - New Berlin or any other city - - another Great Lakes state could sue Wisconsin. Chiovatero gets that, too, and he, unlike Lazich, grasps that'd be a bad thing.

As the Daily Reporter said:

"Chiovatero is also pulling for the compact to be approved soon, as it is his belief that New Berlin would qualify for the diversion either way as a straddling community.

“I think the governor’s office feels for us,” Chiovatero said.

“They know we should get the water, but they don’t want to break the rules and upset other states, and I don’t want them to either. The last thing I want is to get approval and then have to fight lawsuits, because that will only delay us getting the water. The DNR is being sensitive to that.”

Conclusion: Give Chiovatero credit for clarity, and for supporting the Compact.

And let's see more leadership from the very part of the state that seems to want Lake Michigan water, but has done little to approve and implement the reasonable rules and standards that took negotiators five years to write in the proposed Compact.

State Rep. Cory Mason (D-Racine) On Great Lakes Fact-Finding Tour

Here's something revolutionary: A Wisconsin legislator touring the Great Lakes to learn more about the Great Lakes Compact and exchange information with counterparts.

Good for freshman legislative Rep. Cory Mason, (D-Racine). I can think of half a dozen Waukesha County legislators that could benefit from such an open-minded, refreshing approach to legislating.

He's even bringing along a video camera to produce a presentation for use on his return.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Xoff Speaks Truth To The Waukesha Freeman In Its Own Pages

Former Freeman editor Pete Kennedy played the fear card on the pages of The Freeman, and Bill Christofferson responded with an op-ed that put Kennedy in his place.

You can read Kennedy's screed, and another response to it, here.

Scott Walker's Administration Continues To Fail

Scott Walker's smoke-and-mirrors budgets that he creates and manages as Milwaukee County Executive have become an administrative joke in local government circles, but Thursday's news that the red ink is flowing early and deeply highlight again what a failed tenure he has had in office.

True enough that he inherited a mess from the disgraced and recalled F. Thomas Ament, but that was years ago, and Walker's inadequacies are his to own - - though note in his comments below, it's all someone or something else's fault.

Details below, from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newswatch blog:

"THURSDAY, July 19, 2007, 2:39 p.m.

By Steve Schultze

County agencies report potential deficits

More bad budget news for Milwaukee County was served up today, with more departments reporting potential year-end deficits.The bottom line, for now, is a year-end shortfall of $4.2 million, which County Executive Scott Walker wants to erase by another round of belt tightening.

"While I am very concerned about the mid-year projections, I am optimistic that by working together we can make corrections now... without jeopardizing essential county services," Walker wrote in a memo given to supervisors today.

The latest tally includes projected shortfalls of $3 million in the Behavioral Health Division, $950,000 for the Economic Development Division, $1.8 million for transit and $239,000 for the Department of Child Support Enforcement.

Walker said all county departments should immediately halt any non-essential spending, including travel and to hold off hiring whenever possible.

He also asked other elected officials to take action to save money.

He blamed the worsening budget picture on unexpected increases in juvenile corrections placements, needed hiring of additional staff at the county's mental health complex and a decline in revenue from real estate fees."

More Support For Milwaukee Rail, Criticism Of Scott Walker

The blogger Mobile's Take supplies more data about the benefits of rail than I have posted. Check it out.

Assembly Budget Cuts Key Public Land Program To 1990 Levels

The GOP-dominated State Assembly, showing its hostility to the common interest, adopted a 2007-'09 state budget proposal that rolls back a popular, bi-partisan land acquisition budget to 1990 levels, according to Gathering Waters, a Wisconsin conservation organization.

The Assembly budget would cut financing proposed by Gov. Jim Doyle for the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund by nearly 60%, vastly limiting acreage left undisturbed, or available statewide for hunting, fishing, and hiking, in the years to come, according to Gathering Waters.

Doyle's proposal was endorsed by the Democratically-controlled State Senate, so a conference committee will attempt to reach a compromise. Details about that process, and how to influence it, are at a Gathering Waters website.

Scott Walker Will Never Support City Rail: Move On Without Him

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial board lays the blame at the doorstep of County Executive Scott Walker for preventing downtown Milwaukee from getting a downtown rail system.

That is fair criticism: even flying Walker by private jet to see the transportation and investment benefits of rail systems elsewhere in the US has failed to move Walker into a partnership with Mayor Tom Barrett, leading Barrett to consider moving on rail without the county executive's participation.

The paper says that's a bad idea.

I disagree.

If Walker remains county exec, continuing efforts to persuade, cajole, or reason with him on this issue are a fruitless waste of time.

And the more time that elapses due to Walker's intransigence, the higher the price tag on the rail system that will eventually be built because fuel prices and a growing number of downtown residents will mandate it.

The politics surrounding the issue make clear that Walker can't and won't bend, as the paper hopes he will, to support city rail because:

A) Walker is a Republican and Barrett is a Democrat, and Walker will not do much to help the Democratic mayor of the largest city and the Democratic voter base in the state.

B) Walker owes much of his successful campaigns to AM talk radio, on which "light rail" is a cheap, easy and potent ratings ploy.

Any candidate or official for light rail is immediately attacked, demonized, pilloried by the talkers, who use light rail to stir up their suburban listeners fears of big government and urbanites' easier access to towns, villages and subdivisions.

C) For Walker, supporting a rail system would be defined as a fatal flip-flop, so surviving in office and perhaps running for a higher position, such as Cong. Jim Sensenbrenner's seat, means treating trolley cars as if they were toxic.

It's also worth noting that the politics of transportation in the Milwaukee area mirror the politics of water.

(The same people and interests that support easy access by Waukesha County suburbs to Milwaukee water also support freeway expansion over transit extensions. It's a generalization, but the underpining is the same: Resources are to be pulled out of the city for the benefit of growth in the suburbs, but the reverse is never the case.)

Walker is in such an irrational box on transit of his own making that it leaves him opposed to more modern connections to county-run facilities, such as the zoo, the airport, and the research park.

And also stunting economic development - - jobs, tax base, commerce, residents - - along rail corridors and at stations - - the very thing that governments and businesses interests agree is the life-blood of a growing community.

Walker's inconsistenciese and failures are the penalties paid by narrow-minded ideologues when their reflexive politics collide with commonsense, but that's Scott Walker, and he's standing as an obstacle blocking modern transportation and economic development in Milwaukee.

Update: Another blogger, Mobile's Take, offers good data on rail and development, here.

New Berlin Legislator's Opposition to Great Lakes Agreement Lands On Minnesota Blog

Great Lakes water expert Dave Dempsey discovers Wisconsin State Senator Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin), and says on his blog that her obstruction to a key element of the Great Lakes Compact could kill the whole agreement.

More good publicity for Wisconsin policy-making!

Lazich has been outspoken against the Compact, and was left off a Governor's new working group that is trying to resolve political differences between Compact supporters and detractors.

Belling's TV Departure Is No Big Loss

The disappearance of Mark Belling's Sunday Morning rightwing jabberfest is no big loss.

His numbers were small, the show was boringly formulaic, the lighting and the set were odd and tired, like much of the opinion aired there.

Belling's TV downfall began when the show moved to Channel 58 from 12, and some of his more entertaining panelists, like Todd Robert Murphy and Walter Farrell, had moved on.

And when Belling had to serve a suspension for using a slur to describe Mexican immigrant residents of Milwaukee, you knew his days were numbered.

He's still got his powerful drive-time afternoon radio program on WISN-AM 1130, and a weekly column in The Waukesha Freeman, but it's a sign that better days are ahead in our market when rightwing squawk TV loses appeal and commercial sustainability.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Bush To Veto Increase In Poor Children's Health Insurance; Proves Michael Moore Correct

Pres. Bush doesn't want too many more poor kids using a government-funded health care plan instead of private insurers, The Washington Post reports.

Is Michael Moore writing Bush administration strategy on health care, turning "Sicko" into Republican talking points?

In threatening to veto an already-compromised funding increase, Bush even has turned a deaf ear to key Republican Senators, including Utah's Orrin Hatch, who know that Bush's stubbornness on foreign and domestic agendas will lead the GOP to ruin in the '08 elections.

Rick Esenberg And Some Of His Readers Discuss Regional Segregation

Though I've been absent for the last few weeks, I try and spend Thursday afternoon's on Eric Von's "Backstory" media roundtable on WMCS-AM 1290 with other guests, including conservative blogger Rick Esenberg.

Rick's got a residue of some liberal tendencies (maybe he'd find "moderate" less of a slur), and is usually a thoughtful, lawyerly-logical guy, which is why I'm putting up this link to a discussion that began on my blog (here) about race in the Milwaukee region, and mutated to his blog.

Some of the comments, though long-winded, and worth reading, too.

Water Compact Critic Lazich Not Invited To Another Committee She Can Criticize

State Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin), has been blasting the Great Lakes Compact from her position on the state's legislative study committee that is trying to draft a Compact ratification bill.

The Compact would establish rules and standards governing diversions from the Great Lakes - - rules and standards that Lazich and her allies on the pro-development, laissez-faire Waukesha County Chamber of Commerce do not like.

Now she's blasting a new state task force designed to try and break that logjam at the legislative study committee. Her complaint: she wasn't invited to the task force meeting.

Why wasn't Lazich invited?

Probably because the task force's goal is to work through the impasse Lazich is partially responsible for creating.

Some of that history is here.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Barrett Should Leave Walker At The Curb

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett is exploring if the city, blocked from spending federal transit funds on a downtown streetcar system by noted rail phobic and naysayer Scott Walker - - a/k/a/ the Milwaukee County Executive - - can invest the funds in the system without Walker's approval.

It's a long-overdue move.

Walker has for years vetoed modernizing transit in the downtown, diminishing development in the city.

This is the same tactic used by former Waukesha County Executive Daniel Finley, whose anti-rail politics served as a model for Walker's.

Barrett is on the right track. Walker is off the track - - by choice - - and that's where he should left.

Ed Garvey Weighs In On Great Lakes Issues

Nice to see activists statewide - - in this case, Ed Garvey - - beginning to take note of efforts to move water out of Lake Michigan while important legislation to preserve and administer Great Lakes water remains blocked by Waukesha County business interests and legislators.

Wisconsin media have tended to define the Great Lakes Compact, and diversion applications from Lake Michigan, as southeastern Wisconsin issues only.

But the Great Lakes are central to the entire state's economy, and questions addressed by the compact, including bottled water export and conservation programs, are state and regional issues.

So thanks to Ed: more coverage is welcome.

Organizations Amplify Their Support For A Strong Great Lakes Compact

Nine Wisconsin environmental, health and conservation organizations said today that the Department of Natural Resources' encouragement to New Berlin to seek a sale of diverted Lake Michigan water from Milwaukee underscored the need for Wisconsin to adopt a strengthened Great Lakes Compact agreement.

The Compact, if ratified in similar versions by the eight Great Lakes states, would establish first-ever rules and standards governing diversions from the Great Lakes, guarantee conservation and establish other public policy goals.

Minnesota has adopted the Compact; New York is close, leaving six states, including Wisconsin, without ratification.

New Berlin applied for a diversion of Lake Michigan water last year and submitted a revised application earlier this year.

The DNR said last week that New Berlin's application was in order, and also was in the spirit of Compact, but the DNR is helping New Berlin jump the gun because the Compact has yet to be approved by the Wisconsin legislature.

And the DNR is also jamming the City of Milwaukee by pushing on to the city the political responsibility for transferring water to New Berlin, while also exaggerating the DNR's role in getting New Berlin and Milwaukee talking about someday agreeing on a water deal.

The nine statewide organizations are bringing some perspective to the table.

In their joint statement, the groups argue that a strong Compact is in the interest of New Berlin, the state and the region because it will help preserve a shared resource.

More than 40 million people utilize the Great Lakes for drinking water, and the Great Lakes anchor the economies of the eight states and two Canadian provinces.

Only 1% of the Great Lakes' volume is renewed by rain and snowfall every year; the Great Lakes make up 20% of the world's fresh surface waters.

Update: Gov. Doyle has convened a bi-partisan, public-private working group to help a deadlocked legislative council study committee draft a bill to approve and implement the Compact in Wisconsin.

The working group met Tuesday. State Sen. Mary Lazich, a persistent critic of the Compact, tells The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel she is mad that she was left off the working group.

Lazich has gone so far as to suggest there's merit in setting aside the five years of negotiations that led to the December, 2005 Compact proposal.

She also favors gutting the Compact of a key diversion approval procedure - - the unanimous vote of all eight Great Lakes governors if water is to be shipped to a community like the City of Waukesha that is completely outside the Great Lakes basin boundaries.

So leaving Lazich off the working group is hardly a surprise.

About Those New Berlin - - Milwaukee Water 'Negotiations'

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel applauds the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources grant of negotiation permission to New Berlin and Milwaukee over a possible water sale from Lake Michigan.

Actually, the DNR doesn't need to authorize these negotiations, or what they really are - - discussions - - because the cities are free to discuss this matter anytime they choose, and were exchanging information anyway.

New Berlin already knew that Milwaukee's Water Works pipes and pumps were insufficient to handle moving water across the subcontinental divide, so the DNR was doing a little theater - - pronouncing that something of substance was happening to begin to get water to New Berlin.

What the DNR really did with New Berlin's revised application was to say it met a DNR technical assessment.

If New Berlin and Milwaukee or another city were to reach an agreement to sell water, then the DNR will determine if the agreement, technically and legally, is in line with the revised application.

That could happen this year, or the next year - - and would move more quickly or rationally if Wisconsin legislatively approved and adopted the pending Great Lakes Compact.

This is something that Waukesha County business and legislative leaders have been obstructing.

So it's been a backwards process by the DNR - - approving New Berlin's application, even technically, prior to the Compact's adoption.

The City of Milwaukee's long-standing position was - - Compact approval first, then diversion application review under the terms of the Compact - - a process that would allow time to figure out who's going to pay for all the new water piping and pumping infrastructure, too.

Maybe if the state is fast-tracking New Berlin's application it should pay for the improvements.

All in all, not much of process by the DNR.

Not a great moment for Wisconsin.

Gretchen Schuldt Continues To Expose SEWRPC Spending

Transportation activist Gretchen Schuldt has the goods on SEWRPC, finding through Open Records requests that the regional planning agency has recently spent or agreed to pony up $130,000 on image-building, while failing to find the resources to update its 32-year-old regional housing plan.

The agency is going to need more than image burnishing if it wants to save its credibility, as supervisors in both Milwaukee and Waukesha Counties, complaining about separate issues, are saying publicly that SEWRPC is increasingly out-of-touch with the counties that supply most of SEWRPC's funding.

BP Allowed To Add More Pollution To Lake Michigan

The next time you see those ads for British Petroleum touting the company as "BP - - Beyond Petroleum," a phony rebranding of the oil giant as a green company, remember that BP has been awarded a new permit for its northern Indiana refinery to vastly increase daily dumping of ammonia and sludge into Lake Michigan.

Altogether, BP will be allowed to drop about 3 tons of these contaminants into Lake Michigan everyday, constituting an increase in pollution that is already tolerated.

A more complete story from The Chicago Tribune is here.

The permission for more willful contamination of Lake Michigan allowed by the State of Indiana is a telling example of the mounting stresses placed on the Great Lakes, including invasive fish species carried in by ocean-going freighters, and runoff from municipal, industrial, construction, highway and agricultural sources.

It is in this context that the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources' encouragement of a diversion of water from Lake Michigan to New Berlin should be considered.

Instead of focusing on protecting the Great Lakes, the DNR is adding additional pressure to an already-stressed ecosystem.

Grant permission to New Berlin for its diversion, and it will be harder to say "no" to Waukesha, or other communities sure to line up in Waukesha County, Northern Illinois, Ohio and in other Great Lakes states, too.

And the more that the DNR enables diverters, or politically off-loads the decision-making nitty-gritty to potential water-supplying communities, like the City of Milwaukee, the more regulatory and conservationist high-ground Wisconsin sacrifices.

It would be hard for Wisconsin to muster up much outrage about bad process and insensitivity elsewhere in the Great Lakes region on water issues, or to criticize Indiana about its retreat on water quality near the BP refinery, when Wisconsin has been working behind the scenes to speed up diversions from Lake Michigan for Wisconsin communities.

Wisconsin and the other Great Lakes states need a coordinated approach to managing and protecting Great Lakes water.

And that consistency begins with adopting the Great Lakes Compact, and its conservation standards and processes.