Wednesday, April 30, 2008

End The Blackout On Key AG Water Opinion

For a year, I have posted items on this blog about a crucial document ignored by the state's traditional media - - a heavily annotated opinion about Great Lakes water diversion law written in 2006 by then-Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager.

The opinion lays out what the law says Wisconsin officials can and cannot do, and should and should not do when reviewing or approving diversions of water out of the the Great Lakes basin.

You can read the opinion in full, here.

In a nutshell, the opinion says that the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the State of Wisconsin cannot open the spigots and move water beyond the boundaries of the Great Lakes basin without the approval of the other Great Lakes states.

Yet that very thing has happened twice in Wisconsin: once in 1989 for Pleasant Prairie, and again in 1999 for Menomonee Falls, facilitated by Wisconsin state officials.

Those precedents should not be repeated by state officials or be moralized into state statutes a) because they didn't meet the demands of the law, and b) because if Wisconsin wants to cite them as valid, then they could be similarly used by other states as the basis for moving water outside of the Great Lakes basin, creating net water losses across the Great Lakes - - including in Wisconsin.

Yet some policy-makers in and around the State Capitol, as they are working to establish water policies statewide, want to embed those precedents as valid diversion guides into a bill passed along with legislative approval of the pending Great Lakes Compact.

And the policy-makers are able to consider this option because a) the Lautenschlager opinion has been undercovered by media, and b) Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource officials have repeatedly said they believe the DNR, based on its past practice, can approve diversions of Great Lakes water without the approval of the others states.

A lengthy commentary on the DNR's arrogation of authority is here.

It would be foolhardy to reward bad procedure and put those predecents into Wisconsin law at the very moment the state is joining the Great Lakes Compact, and thus agreeing to standard diversion procedures.

It would would undermine the cooperative nature of the Compact, and invite litigation from the other Great Lakes states.

If a stunt like that is pulled by the state legislature, why would the other states do business with us?

Ending the journalistic denial surrounding the AG opinion would be a public service.

And it would help everyone grasp the need for sound, legal-and-fact-based legislating, giving the Great Lakes Compact and its conservation principles their proper grounding in our state.

How And Where To Register Opposition To The $1.9 Billion I-94 Boondoggle From Milwaukee-To-Illinois

Despite skyrocketing gas prices, rising demand for transit and a plan that even its sponsor says won't trim commuting times, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation is forging ahead with plans to spend $1.9 billion on the Interstate highway between Milwaukee and the Illinois line.

There is a public comment period that ends next Monday, May 5th.

Below is information about where to register an opinion about the project, and further information about the plan, in detail:


Comments can be sent via e-mail to, phone (262) 548-8721 or fax (262) 548-5662.

You can read the entire most recent transportation report on its plan at

Thanks to Gretchen Schuldt and Citizens Allied for Sane Highways (CASH) for continuing leadership on these issues.

Plan B To Duck A Great Lakes Water Bill Hearing

Some legislators want to approve the Great Lakes Compact implementation bill without a hearing.

That would draw less attention to it.

Now there's a Plan B to cut the public out of the process - - literally roll the bill into Budget Repair legislation - - a one-step, take-it-or-leave-it package. reported last week that the two measures could be taken up in tandem, and I posted that report, but now the the Compact implementation could be completely subsumed in a deal over the budget if the money bill and the water bill are in a joint measure.

Pretty awesome subterfuge, I'd say. Why not just change the state motto from "Forward" to "More Logrolling!"

Legislators say they want to get out and campaign, putting their personal agendas and re-election schedules ahead of the public interest.

Let's see how this looks on the scales of political justice:

Imagine, on the one hand, approving an eight-state, two-nation agreement seven years in the making to govern water access and conservation in the state and region, in a package with hundreds of millions in significant revenue changes to put the budget back into its mandatory balance.

On the other hand, boogying out-of-town to unimpeded fundraisers, potluck dinners and coffee klatches.

I guess if you are a certain type of legislator, the bolt out of town is no contest.

The Road To Sprawlville, Chapter XIII, Through Dane County...

Has stopped.

Not that it's particular to Dane County. The housing-and-mortgage-bust is nationwide.

So with upcoming subdivisions at Pabst Farms on hold, and people redirecting their discretionary income from clothing and appliances to gas tank fill-ups, why are Waukesha County and the State Transportation Department so hell-bent on building that $25 million interchange to the once-scrapped-already Pabst Farms mall?

What Is The Real Value Of Water: Waukesha Will Find Out

The City of Waukesha is eyeing a parcel of land for condemnation in the neighboring Town of Waukesha because there is a supply of fresh water beneath the 42-acre parcel.

So how much is it worth?

The City's appraiser and the owner's appraiser are about $1 million apart on their estimates - - nice summary article by Darryl Enriquez in the Journal Sentinel here.

Milwaukee and suburban officials will also have to address this issue if and when sales of Lake Michigan water take place.

At that point, the value added by diverted water to development in the buying community will have to be factored into the price, or the selling community will not receive a share of the full value of the water.

The Waukesha estimates' dispute opens the door to this potentially-thorny issue.

Journal Sentinel Calls For Hearing On Great Lakes Compact Bill

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel adds its voice to the growing call for a hearing on whatever amendments legislators agree to add to the Great Lakes Compact implementing bill.

I have been hammering away on this blog and in a Sunday Journal Sentinel op-ed about the need for full disclosure of these amendments prior to their introduction - - especially if legislators have agreed in advance to approve them.

That is because adopting the Compact is a good thing, but could be undermined if the implementing bill contains key wording similar to what has been circulating around the Capitol.

Those phrases and other amendments could establish an indefinite period of time during which diversions of water outside of the Great Lakes basin could be allowed in Wisconsin using previous diversion permissions that were granted without the review and approval of the other Great Lakes states.

That would undermine the cooperative, conservation spirit and letter of the Compact - - using bad old precedents to establish bad new precedents - - akin to intentionally throwing good money after bad.

Additionally, some GOP legislators want fewer water conservation requirements in the bill, even though the legislation could be a fulcrum to obtain popular, once-in-a-lifetime water conservation planning and achievements.

Turns out that a poll released this week shows 77% of the Wisconsin public supports requiring statewide water conservation planning, so chalk up the Assembly GOP, which takes credit for stripping it out of the so-called water implementation "deal," as out of touch with public sentiment.

No wonder that GOP legislative leaders in the Assembly have been saying "no way" to a hearing.

On April 26th, the Journal Sentinel published a few updating paragraphs on its NewsWatch blog about the matter, including these:

"A legislative vote on the Great Lakes compact could still be two weeks off.

"Gov. Jim Doyle announced April 8 that he would call a special session for lawmakers to ratify the eight-state deal governing water diversions from the five big lakes, but legislators are still crafting the final language of a compact bill, and nobody can say now when a final vote will occur.

"The vote should happen within two weeks, said John Murray, spokesman for Assembly Speaker Mike Huebsch.

"Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett has asked for a public hearing, but Murray said that won't happen.

"As soon as we get the amendments drafted, the plan is to take it to a vote," he said.

The possibility of quick votes before the public is allowed into the process through a hearing, or widespread distribution of the contents of the deal arranged behind-the-scenes, has gotten stronger.

Some legislators in the last few days suggest putting the Compact's implementation bill into a package with a deal-ridden budget repair bill - - then putting the whole shebang up for a take-it-or-leave it vote.

That would obscure the water legislation bill and make a hearing something of a logistical impossibility.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and the Common Council leadership have called for a hearing, as have citizens in Waukesha County,

That sets the correct, non-partisan tone for what should be routine in Wisconsin - - letting the public see the fruits of the legislative process, and comment on them, before a vote is taken.

As the newspaper rightly points out, a "watershed moment" like this demands full vetting and public disclosure.

Chicago Beats New York

It's the transportation equivalent of "Cubs Win! Cubs Win."

A few weeks ago I posted an item about New York's efforts to raise money for transit expansions through fees on motorists driving into the city using what is known to transportation wonks as "congestion pricing."

Well, it turns out that the New York plan fell through. Too much suburban opposition.

So the feds instead like what Chicago is doing so much with transit improvements and increased parking meter fees that it decided to ship $153 million of the New York plan's federal funding to the Windy City.

Details here.

Of course, nothing is happening in Milwaukee with transit improvements because Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker has said "no" to anything with a rail under it, preferring to starve and dismember his dying bus system.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Smog Can Be A Killer, But Wisconsin Still Has Its Dirty Air Apologists

A federal scientific study shows that smog can be a killer.

But the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, Patrick McIlheran and the Doyle administration are arguing that federal clean air regulations in southeastern Wisconsin are too restrictive.

Now there's a trifecta for you.

The smog tolerators claim that our region will lose jobs if George Bush's Environmental Protection Agency adopts rules to make the air cleaner - - rules watered down already, but still unacceptable to some on the non-compassionate side of conservatism.

I imagine the next step for the dirty air advocates is asking the state's medical, funeral home and cemetery professions to calculate the economic benefits from smog-exposure illness and death, then fold those numbers into the pro-jobs' cost/benefit analysis.

That could take the sting out of the scientific study's finding of "strong evidence that short-term exposure to ozone can exacerbate lung conditions, causing illness and hospitalization and can potentially lead to death," and turn it into a heckuva plus!

Murphy Oil Expansion in Superior Has The Duluth, MN Daily Paper Engaged, Too

An excellent primer on the economics surrounding the potentially-large refining expansion at Murphy Oil in Superior, WI is laid out nicely in the Minnesota daily paper next door, the Duluth News Tribune.

For related information, see this post and the comments.

Less North Dakota Wheat, More Corn And Soybeans Instead...And That Bagel Is Going Up In Price

Those amber waves of grain - - wheat - - are being replaced by corn and soybeans for fuel and export across the Great Plains, says The Washington Post, and all your basic bready starch products are going up in price like, well, gasoline at the pump.

County And Pabst Mall Developer Playing $25 Million Game Of Chicken

Imagine the temerity of those Waukesha County officials - - asking for the names of the stores headed for the already-delayed-once-still-not-ready-for-launching Pabst Farms shopping mall before they release $1.75 million tax dollars to help build an I-94 interchange to deliver customers to said mall and stores.

The mall developer promises the stores will be more than a collection of your basic Big Boxes that is truly worthy of a county subsidy and also that larger helping of public cash - - $21.1 million in state highway funds to be expended on this boutique interchange.

And be the veritable regional draw promised by the developer, because if it isn't, it makes no sense to commit millions in public dollars, as budgets are about to be trimmed in Madison, (and don't forget that Ocononomoc is also in for the bargain basement sum of $400,000), to a special interchange if it's only to serve a glorified strip mall.

Granted that the developer has to match the county share - - $1.75 million - - 7% of the total - - and it looks like the developer has to show its cards before the county releases the funding, which, in turn, makes the state's contribution a "go."

Maybe the first mall developer that stepped back from the initial big, regional mall concept knew that a recession was coming, fueled by spiking gas prices that make traveling across a region in search of goods and services at an upscale shopping destination something of a costly anachronism.

Maybe Waukesha County would be better off using that $1.75 million to fill some potholes, or put more buses on the streets, and the state can take $21 million-plus off the books and erase a bit of that shortfall in state spending.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Past Sentencing Raises Questions In Wake of Triple-Fatal Wreck In Oconomowoc

The Waukesha County man charged with three counts of vehicular homicide while driving intoxicated (under the influence of painkillers, sleeping pills and anti-anxiety pills) after last Friday's gruesome wreck in Oconomowoc had been charged with his third OWI in July, 2007, records show.

According to the state DOT website, a third OWI conviction can carry a maximum penalty of a year in jail, and confiscation of the vehicle.

Had those penalties been imposed when the driver, former physician Mark Benson, finally pleaded guilty to that third OWI just two days before the wreck, Benson would not have been back on the road and in his heavy Cadillac Escalade that rear-ended a Honda Accord, killing a pregnant woman and her nine-year-old daughter.

Why wasn't Benson incarcerated upon his guilty plea by the Waukesha County justice system after that third conviction, given a lengthy dangerous driving record that included repeat offenses, including additional tickets after the third OWI arrest?

Some explanations are already overdue.


Benson's 75-day sentence, imposed by Waukesha County Circuit Judge Lee S. Dreyfus Jr., was to begin May 9th.

Too late, it turns out.

Note also that the sentence imposed by Dreyfus, had it taken effect immediately, would have kept the defendant off the roads - - but it was but 20% of maximum one-year potential incarceration, and without vehicle confiscation.

As discussed on this blog previously, Wisconsin does not adequately address intoxicated driving.

A first offense is treated as a ticket, not a criminal offense - - an unusually easy arrangement among the 50 states - - meaning that only repeat offenders in Wisconsin acquire criminal records.

With little deterrence to first-time offending, and as Dreyfus' sentencing indicates, relatively light treatment even for 3rd-time offenders, the state, irresponsible drivers (and at times, bars that served drunk-driving customers described as "blitzed" before their fatal crashes) enable each other.

And the carnage continues on Wisconsin roads.

US Supreme Court Endorses Voter Suppression

The US Supreme Court says the Indiana voter photo-ID law is a good idea.

Is that wailing I hear outside my window today's 30 mile-per-hour wind, or the sound the state GOP makes when it realizes that losing the State Senate cut them out of installing such a law here?

Glad to see that the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel agrees the Supreme Court ruling was unjustified.

Sell The SUV And Move Into The City: $10/Gallon Gas Predicted

Industry sources are predicting gas at $10-per-gallon in a couple of years.

Still think we don't need more transit and fewer new highways?

Murphy Oil Expansion At Superior Continuing To Raise Questions

Minnesotans next door to the proposed seven-fold expansion at the Murphy Oil refinery in Superior are raising broad questions about the wisdom of the massive project.

And even company officials concede that the expansion will put more greenhouse gases in the air - - the same issue that is already plaguing the destructive extraction of the tar sand oil ticketed for Great Lakes refineries from beneath Canadian bogs and forests.

I have posted numerous commentaries and sources on this blog about the Murphy Oil project, emphasizing the potential loss in Wisconsin of up to 500 acres of wetlands on the refinery site, and the damage to Lake Superior and its surrounding water, land and air resources that are inevitable in a project of this scope.

The refinery expansion is a $6 billion endeavor, along with an $8 billion pipeline addition - - good for some of the local economies, but not necessarily a boon to the region's fishing and tourism industries.

Or the long-term health of residents who will breathe in the additional pollutants that Murphy officials say will accompany the expansion.

As I have said before, it's such a contradictory time in Wisconsin and the rest of the Great Lakes region.

On the one hand, there is an effort to adopt the Great Lakes Compact, an eight-state, two-nation (with Canada) agreement to help preserve the Great Lakes.

On the other, Canadians are tearing up Alberta to gouge out the tar sand oil, expending huge amounts of energy and water to separate the oil from the sand and pipe the gooey product to the Great Lakes states for refining.

We seem to want better Great Lakes water quality, and preserved quantities, yet we also want more oil and, if Wisconsin and federal officials agree, are willing to dirty up the Great Lakes ecosystem to refine what the Canadians have dug up at great cost to the north.

Media are filled daily with stories about renewable energy, and the tar sand approach is certainly the exact opposite, so we march in the opposite direction hoping that tar sand oil will somehow keep the price of a gallon of gasoline affordable.

Don't count it.

Renewable Energy Conference Set For Milwaukee May 21

Johnson Controls and WE Energies are sponsoring a conference on renewable energy technologies in Milwaukee on May 21.

The program is free. Details here.

Op-Ed Call For A Hearing On The Great Lakes Compact Bill For Wisconsin

Thanks to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for op-ed space to urge the legislature to at least air the contents of the Great Lakes Compact bill at a hearing prior to its probable vote this coming week.

Does The Wisconsin Idea stop at the academic end of State Street?

Has it somehow been banished from the State Capitol?

Muskego Activist Speaks Out On Great Lakes Legislation

A Muskego resident active in grassroots land use and power issues has begun writing legislators about the Great Lakes Compact, and I have agreed enthusiastically to post the letter on my blog. Here is the text:


I am writing to you today to express my concern with the potential language in the Great Lakes Pact and the State of Wisconsin Legislation related to it. I am also asking for specific information with regard to the Waukesha County or areas straddling the great lakes basin line.

As I understood the language to this point, there were different provisions for areas in the basin, communities straddling the basin and communities within straddling counties, but completely outside the basin. I have a reasonable understanding of that.

I also understood that there was specific language that required a conservation component that shall be implemented before an area is granted access to Lake Michigan Water, assuming they request it.

I am very concerned that the conservation component might be eliminated or compromised to the point were it is no longer effective. I find it disturbing that many of the people who participated in this matter to this point have been restricted due to the heightened level of political participation at this point.

I recently attended the Town of Vernon (Waukesha County) annual meeting at which State Senator Mary Lazich spoke about the pact and upcoming legislation.

I also read articles in which State Rep. Scott Gunderson spoke about the issues. Both are claiming victory for the Republican party and praising the outcome.

Oddly, the issue has not yet been voted on or signed into law to my knowledge.

My questions related to this are as follows.

1. What do they know that they would go on record and be quoted so specifically on this matter?

2. Has the conservation component been eliminated or compromised? Historically, conservation issues are typically not a platform from which Republicans speak.

My community, the Town of Vernon, has for some time been discussing the formation and completion of a study to measure the seasonal variation in ground water levels in the Town and quite possibly the water quality in relation to those levels (if I have my may).

This study has become increasingly necessary due the previous threats of privately owned power plants at the Town's eastern border with New Berlin and Muskego and a recent quarry expansion along with other threatening developments.

Also, in this regional community the City of Waukesha has taken or considered to take steps to condemn an area in the Town of Waukesha so that they can annex it for the purpose of placing high capacity wells that they feel are necessary for the blending of water in their municipal supply.

Blending their water with good water from somewhere is necessary to dilute the radium levels that are in excess of EPA upper limits. The Town of Waukesha is located immediately North of the Town of Vernon and the ground water flows southerly (for the most part) in that area.

The City of New Berlin has been growing unsustainably for many years along with many other communities in this region. Many areas with conservatory designations have been compromised or eliminated with the overall end results not entirely seen.

If areas that have habitually experienced unsustainable growth are allowed easy access to Lake Michigan water then the current problems will not only continue, but they will multiply with very serious environmental consequences with some that are unpredictable.

My third and final question is this. In your opinion, do you believe that it is in my best interest to continue the formation and completion of a ground water study for the Town of Vernon or will my time be wasted?

Will it be easy for communities to obtain access to Lake Michigan water?

Personally, I believe that if the Town were to seek access to Lake Michigan water at any point in the future then the treated waste water would be required to be returned to the basin and if the Town were to create it's own municipal supply then a sewer system would still be necessary, but with the waste water routed differently.

So, my summation would be that the Town should proceed to monitor ground level activity to assist with future decisions so that the availability of water is better understood and the expense of dealing with any depletion in the supply is better decided.

Your assistance with this matter is greatly appreciated. Please take the time to advise me accordingly, knowing that your opinion and time are greatly respected. Thank you for your time and understanding.

Kurt Barikmo
S77 W22180 Eleanor St.
Muskego (Vernon), WI 53150

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Why You Gotta Love The New York Times...

And why Prince Fielder is the King of Milwaukee.

Why Sprawl Is So Dang Complicated, Expensive And Ubiquitous

Sean Ryan, the indefatigable chronicler of development in these parts for the business publication Daily Reporter, has a fascinating piece about one major homebuilder's efforts to win the full panoply of municipal services for its 29-acre parcel in the Town of Waukesha.

Meaning sewer, water, police, fire and street services.

To say that there are hoops to jump through doesn't really cover it, as there are permits, approvals, inter-governmental cooperation, finances and more to nail down... in a certain sequence.

What's really instructive about Ryan's piece is that it describes but one of the multiple, similar developmental examples in various stages underway across the region at any given time, explaining why the state is spending billions on roads crisscrossing the area.

And why legislators are cutting deals to make Lake Michigan water more easily available to certain communities in Southeastern Wisconsin, or why the regional planning commission (SEWRPC) is busy writing a set of wide-ranging recommendations that will make that fresh water supply a faster-occurring reality.

After SEWRPC used a million public dollars to write a 'transportation plan' for the region to add $6.5 billion in major highway projects, without a penny for transit, to match up with its existing landuse plan for the region's seven counties that made sprawl the SEWRPC territory's official policy.

All this governmental activity, paid for with public dollars, is to enable development on open land, because in the real world, government, road-builders and developers constitute a civilian equivalent of the military-industrial complex.

It's powerful, hard to fight, and combines power and money that is both inside government and serving it.

And this focus, this priority on developing open land with public funds to serve private interests also tamps down any serious debate about whether it's the best use of the land and the public dollars in the first place, or in the final analysis.

The more development, the more need there is for road-building, and vice-versa. And the development keeps the transportation and water utility bureaucracies expanding in a loop of subsidized self-interest inside and outside of government - - paid for by taxpayers, of course.

What a sweet deal for all these public and private sector insiders.

So thanks to Sean Ryan for the case study, and to those, like the Waukesha Environmental Action League, for example, who keep hauling out the big picture and urging their policy-and-decision-makers to at least think about it.

Heavy Rain In Waukesha Got Me Thinking

True story:

I was caught in Waukesha during Friday's downpour, and all that rain got me thinking: in that water-hungry area, and elsewhere for that matter, why haven't the water supply folks long ago called for the installation of water catchment systems to collect, store and apply rainwater in any number of uses?

Such devices were routine in rural areas, some still exist and rain barrels are being distributed by the MMSD in large numbers, so the concept is still alive.

Sophisticated systems are in place in plenty of areas worldwide: even the toniest homes in upscale Bermudian neighbors have them because there is precious little potable groundwater in Bermuda, but certainly plenty of rain falling on the island - - free for the collection.

There are voices in our region calling for capturing rainwater and using it where reasonable.

Longtime Waukesha County conservation activist Lisa Conley is a member of the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission's water advisory study committee,

One of two women on the 31-member committee, and the sole designated representative of the environmental community (industry and government, of course, have more), Conley has more than once pitched catchment systems as worthy of serious inclusion in the study committee's recommendations due out at the end of the year.

As low-cost, reasonable and practical are Conley's proposals, I wouldn't expect to see them given great weight in the probable committee's final recommendations wherein water conservation plans will be a supplement, a side dish, if you will, to the preferred main course:

Diverted Lake Michigan water widely piped to many communities in the region.

That recommendation will be made easier to implement when the state legislature adopts the Great Lakes Compact next week along with a crucial companion bill that will make some diversions easier to achieve for the next several years, at a minimum.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Milwaukee Leaders Call For Open Discussion Of Great Lakes Compact Legislation

As the Great Lakes Compact implementing bill progresses towards approval most likely next week by the state legislature, City of Milwaukee leaders are urging that the bill's language be disclosed prior to adoption.

This eminently reasonable position, which includes a call for a public hearing - - themes I have been pounding away about on this blog for weeks - - (sample item here) was contained in a letter signed jointly by Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, Common Council President Willie Hines, and 10th Dist. Alderman Michael Murphy, the Council's most senior member and resident water expert.

The letter, dated Wednesday, April 23rd, was sent to the chairs of the State Senate and House Assembly committees who have been instrumental in guiding a compromise bill towards adoption in a special legislative session.

Manure-To-Biogas Conversion Systems At Work In Wisconsin

No - - this is not a sly reference to hot air at the Capitol.

It's for real, with more and more Wisconsin farms converting manure to fuel that eliminates the use of some fossil fuels and cuts down on ground and water pollution.

Thanks to the Daily Reporter.

Waukesha's Diversion Dilemmas And State Legislation Coming Into Clearer Focus

Saturday's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that Illinois officials downstream from Waukesha and the Fox River, concerned about the City of Waukesha's probable application for a diversion from Lake Michigan, could formally object to the application.

That is because Waukesha has said it is working towards some measure - - just precisely what and how has not been announced - - of returning diverted water back to the lake via the Root or Menomonee River as required by the pending Great Lakes Compact.

Under its current procedure, Waukesha dumps treated wastewater into the Fox River, where it maintains the Vernon Marsh and water supplies downstream into Illinois before it ends up in the Gulf of Mexico - - but would not carry water back to Lake Michigan if Waukesha began discharges into the Root or Menomonee to comply with the Compact.

The Compact requires return flow to the Great Lakes to maintain lake levels there - - but federal law and the Compact also give a Great Lakes state, and Illinois is one of them, the power to veto a diversion to a community that is outside of the Great Lakes basin like Waukesha.

This is yet another illustration of the fundamental dilemma facing Waukesha.

If it doesn't pledge return flow, or tries to get by with returning water to Lake Michigan only in the colder months while keeping its Fox River treatment and discharge plant running in the summer when evaporation already draws down water flowing in the Fox and through thee marsh, then a Great Lakes state like Michigan, which historically has vetoed most diversion applications, might deep-six Waukesha's plan.

If it does pledge return flow, then another Great Lakes state like Illinois unhappy with the consequences of return flow also might veto it under current federal law that requires unanimous approval of diversion proposals by the Great Lakes states.

This conundrum facing Waukesha means three things:

* It helps explains why, as I have said repeatedly on this blog that the bill to implement the Compact in Wisconsin is apparently going to establish a period of indeterminate time during which Wisconsin could approve and advocate for diversions - - based on earlier diversion precedents - - that were achieved without the approval of the other states.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has argued that it has that power.

* It points out again why Waukesha's long-term water supply needs may have to be met with a combination of technological improvements to its wells, water recycling and reuse, other new wells drilled into clean, shallow underground reserves, and conservation - - alternatives that do not involve a Lake Michigan diversion.

* Waukesha needs to look much more carefully at its annexation policy, which has historically accepted virtually every expansion proposal from developers, and which then expands its water supply system and needs even as its laudable conservation measures show promise.

Currently, Waukesha uses something like 9 million gallons a day, but in its two confidential applications for Lake Michigan made to Gov. Jim Doyle in 2006, Waukesha sought 24 million gallons daily, suggesting that it expects its population to increase along with its total water needs.

Estimates for Waukesha County's population increase vary to 520,000 from its 2000 census level of 360,000, according to various officials, so that would mean significant growth in the City of Waukesha and other water-hungry areas of the county.

Where is all that water going to come from?

If Waukesha forges ahead with a Lake Michigan application, there could be massive litigation costs looming if one or more Great Lakes states exercises a veto.

And that raises the possibility that either the Compact or the current federal law would unravel or be overturned, opening the Great Lakes to wholesale and chaotic withdrawals without any rules or standards whatsoever.

It's a complicated issue, and all parties need to proceed very carefully so that unintended or unappreciated consequences are not the result.

Levee Repaired In Louisiana With Newpapers

Newpapers instead of rubber seals.

A post-Katrina horror story. and the people who did it worked for the US Army Corps of Engineers.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Ballast Water Regulation Gets Support In Interesting Places

The US House of Representatives has passed the first-ever national rules to combat the release of invasive species from ocean-going ships' ballast water tanks that are devastating fish populations in the Great Lakes.

If the Senate passes the bill, the country will have a standard to address a serious economic and environmental problem - - one that has bi-partisan support and is especially important to Wisconsin and other Great Lakes states.

In Wisconsin, a number of organizations have been pushing hard for state and national action, including the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, led by former Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Secretary George Meyer.

A nice explanation of the issue is in this piece by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Dan Egan.

On Friday afternoon, WISN-AM's conservative talk show host Mark Belling weighed in strongly backing the measure despite its origins in the Democratic-led US House.

Belling had to assure his audience that he wasn't turning into a lefty Al Gore-type, and professed a bit of dismay when liberals, including yours truly, called in to agree with and praise him.

He tried unsuccessfully to find some partisan ground on which to stamp his feet, blaming "lefty" lakefront city Mayors and Gov. Jim Doyle for failing to do something about these problems here.

But, in fact, the DNR has been involved, as has Doyle, on pilot projects to remove invasives in Wisconsin ports precisely because there was no national approach.

And it would be settling for a half-loaf if the national standards could not be superseded by stronger standards sought for Wisconsin. (See Midwest Environmental Advocates statement below.)

Never the less, no one called to complain that Belling was somehow taking the side of big government against business.

People understand that a healthy Great Lakes is crucial to the Wisconsin economy.

Tourism, recreation, commercial and sport fishing all are dependant on clean, abundant, appealing water in Wisconsin - - and that is why the ballast water rules, a water quality approach, is just as important as a larger Great Lakes Restoration plan stalled in Washington, and the pending Great Lakes Compact, which is a water quantity issue.

It's all tied together: it's time to pay great attention to the Great Lakes, whether you're conservative or liberal, Democrat or Republican, righty or lefty.

I've dished out plenty of criticism to Belling over the years, but when he's right about something, it's important to acknowledge it.

I also need to note that Midwest Environmental Advocates, a public interest law firm, is calling for amendments to the bill to strengthen it.

Below is the text of the MEA position, (a link is here) all of which make sense to me:

House Bill Threatens EPA and State Authority to Regulate Invasive Species in Ballast Water

Madison, WI -- Today, Midwest Environmental Advocates (“MEA”), along with the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy (“MCEA”), expressed its opposition to portions of the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2008, H.R. 2830, which includes the Ballast Water Treatment Act of 2008, in letters to Wisconsin’s and Minnesota’s congressional representatives. The bill, scheduled for a House floor vote this week, could take away important federal and state tools currently available to fight invasive species.

As currently drafted, the bill is objectionable because it could undermine two crucial tools that State officials have to control the introduction of aquatic invasive species from ship’s ballast water. The bill would largely preempt States from adopting discharge standards that are more stringent or that take effect sooner than those in the new law. In addition, by superseding the existing invasive species law’s savings clause, the bill could be read as limiting the application of the federal Clean Water Act to these point source discharges of pollutants.

Invasive species, such as zebra mussels or Eurasian water milfoil, cause incredible devastation to the native fish and plant life of the state’s waters. Invasives also place a strain on Wisconsin’s economy. Tourism, recreation and sport and commercial fishing industries face the most obvious impacts, but any industry that uses raw water for processing is also affected (power companies and paper mills, for instance).

MEA believes that this bill will perpetuate the economic and environmental harm from invasive species for many years to come. “The bill, as currently proposed, would limit a state’s authority to protect its own waters from invasive species,” states Karen Schapiro, MEA’s Executive Director. “We would like to see a bill that allows and encourages states to set standards that are even more stringent than the absolute minimums set forth in federal law, such as the Clean Water Act.”

In the letters, MEA and MCEA urged the addition of two provisions to H.R. 2830 that will protect the efficacy of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act and the State’s ability to exercise its authority in upholding the Federal Water Pollution Control Act or its own applicable laws and authority.


Fast Facts

Ø Invasive species are incredibly pervasive across Wisconsin’s waters. According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, 1,655 waterbodies in the state have aquatic invasives. These include such invasives as zebra mussel, banded mystery snail, Chinese mystery snail, curly-leaf pondweed, Eurasian water-milfoil, freshwater jellyfish, Japanese mystery snail, hybrid milfoil, rainbow smelt, rusty crawfish and spiny waterflea.

Ø Several industries in Wisconsin are impacted by invasive species, including tourism, commercial and sport fishing industries, forestry and even the power companies.

Ø Power companies use raw water to cool their machinery during production. Invasive species like zebra mussels clog their intake and discharge pipes, leading to extra costs. These costs are then passed along to customers.

Ø The Great Lakes sport and commercial fishing industry, valued at almost $4.5 billion, is at risk due to the growing numbers of invasive species present in its waters.[1]

Ø Midwest Environmental Advocates is Wisconsin’s first and only public interest environmental law center. MEA provides legal and technical support to grassroots organizations that are fighting for clean air, clean water, and environmental justice. See for more information.
[1] Facts taken from Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ website, “Invasive Species Make Themselves at Home in Wisconsin’s Lakes and Landscapes,” (last visited April 24, 2008).


Vote Now In An Online Poll About UWM Engineering School Location

If you think locating the UWM's new engineering school in Wauwatosa makes little sense, and that a downtown location is preferable, then express yourself in a Business Journal poll, here.

Nice TV Feature About Tia And Gaylord Nelson

This WISC-TV Channel 3 Earth Day piece also includes a nice feature about another Wisconsin Giant, Aldo Leopold.

It's great that both Leopold and Gaylord Nelson's legacies are so well-maintained, and especially fortunate that Tia Nelson, Gaylord's daughter, returned to Wisconsin and public service a few years ago.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Rethink The Subsidies For Corn-Based Ethanol

The worldwide run-up in food prices is proof that corn-based ethanol is hardly the panacea once promised.

Corn is food and shouldn't be turned into fuel. Let alone grown with subsidies and refined in subsidized plants.

Too much raw land and farm acreage in this country is being converted to corn production for ethanol, drawing down water supplies and costing more energy in the growing, refining and transporting than it saves - - and with similar soybean-to-ethanol programs worldwide, is helping to distort food markets.

Conservation of existing petroleum resources, along with production of non-food ethanol from grasses and wood products is a far more rational approach to shortages of oil, water and oil.

I've noted this before, fyi.

This is all of particular concern in Wisconsin, where government, agriculture and industry are working hand-in-glove to vastly expand corn production for ethanol conversion.

And while it's understandable that all sectors want farmers and their rural communities to be successful, focusing on corn growing and ethanol production puts a heavy strain on the state's water resources - - at the very time when consciousness about water preservation is at its peak during the debate over the Great Lakes Compact.

It has been estimated that it takes a total of 1,700 gallons water to grow enough corn to produce a single gallon of ethanol.

I know that sounds impossible, but that highlighted link takes you to a Cornell professor quoted in the Wall Street Journal, so I'm betting it's a good statistic.

Here's the key paragraph:

"Ethanol plants consume roughly four gallons of water to produce each gallon of fuel, but that's only a fraction of ethanol's total water habit. Cornell ecology professor David Pimentel says that when you count the water needed to grow the corn, one gallon of ethanol requires a staggering 1,700 gallons of H2O. "

That's a poor use of water resources, adding to the illogic of trying to grow enough food to make a gasoline additive to stretch petroleum a little farther.

Savings that could be achieved with more efficient vehicles and greater reliance on transit.

Wisconsin has begun modest research and development funding aimed at producing ethanol from wood products and grasses, all of which are better alternatives to corn, the King Crop when it comes to water and fertilizers needed to grow it.

You know that agriculture has had its booms and busts, and that it's just a matter of time when this iteration of planting fencepost-to-fencepost will inevitably lead to farm mortgage failures when the ethanol market moves away from corn to alternative sources.

Will Wisconsin include that sort of transition planning as it moves away from the unsustainable fixation with corn-based ethanol?

Great Lakes Compact Legislation Losing Priority, Visibility reports that the Great Lakes Compact bill could be dealt with in next week's special legislative session in tandem with a much-needed state budget repair bill - - raising the possibility that the Compact bill gets even less attention and appropriate fine-tuning.

And opens the door to the cutting of deals that have nothing to do with water policy, and everything to do with unrelated state finances.

There has to be a separation of these two matters, and full sunshine throughout.

SEWRPC Continues To Snub The Public That Pays It

The Executive Committee of the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission - - an appointed committee of the unelected Commission (SEWRPC) - - will approve an agreement Thursday naming Kenneth Yunker the next SEWRPC Executive Director, acccording to the committee's agenda.

The committee has the power under SEWRPC rules to hire the Executive Director; it did so without a job search, or any outreach within its seven-county region - - Milwaukee, Waukesha, Washington, Ozaukee, Racine, Kenosha and Walworth Counties.

SEWRPC likes to call this hiring from within.

Or, you could call it hiring by excluding everyone else from the process except the insiders.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Public Policy Forum Blog Delves Into Wind Power

MilwaukeeTalkie, the online voice of the Public Policy Forum and by far the area's best-named blog, has a nice posting about wind power.

I appreciate the blog's citing an earlier post of mine about the subject and will overlook its misspelling (Rowan) of my last name (Rowen).

Documentary Film In The Works About Our Region's Transportation Gridlock

A film is in production about our transportation gridlock in Southeastern Wisconsin.

Great idea. Here's a story a trailer.

Wal-Mart To Slowly Discontinue Plastic Baby Bottle Sales

The good news: Wal-Mart is joining the movement to stop selling plastic bottles for babies that contain BPA, a plastic toxin.

The bad news: the removal won't take place until next Spring.

Yeah, what's the rush?

Major UWM Climate Change Conference Begins Thursday In Downtown Milwaukee

UWM is hosting a major conference on Global Climate Change & Sustainable Development beginning tomorrow, April 24th, at the Double Tree Hotel in Milwaukee.

Details here.

The two-day conference will certainly impart useful information and help raise the institution's scientific profile.

Drunk Driving Puts Our State To Shame

Statistics say that more than 25% of the drivers in Wisconsin have driven drunk in the last year, making us the worst in the nation.

I noted a little while ago on this blog that Wisconsin still treats an offender's first Operating While Intoxicated arrest as a civil, not criminal matter, meaning a fine, license suspension and alcohol assessment.

That sends the very mixed message that drunk driving is wrong...but isn't a criminal problem until you're caught a second time and become a repeat offender.

And since police officers know it is highly unlikely that a first offender's arrest is not that motorists's first episode of drink driving, how many more instances of OWI will that driver will commit between arrest number one and arrest number two - - all the while putting motorists, passengers and pedestrians at risk?

Denial...thy name is official policy.

So it was surprising this year when the state announced its annual "get tough" patrolling on St. Patrick's Day, that it added the odd note that there wouldn't be any warnings issued that day.


For OWI?

Say what?

That casual attitude is reflected in the national rating. It's a category that no state wants to lead.

We should get tougher on drunks that endanger the public with their cavalier and reckless attitude - - an attitude mirrored in the state's absurdly reckless and cavalier official approach to drunken driving enforcement.

Same thing goes for college town officials and their tavern owners and academic leaders.

They have for too long tolerated the state's legendary binge drinking, leading to repeat drownings in LaCrosse, regular Friday night bar closing fights in Madison, illegal keg and cup beer sales in student houses disrupting UW-Madison and Milwaukee neighborhoods, and daily loss in workplace productivity for everything ranging from hangovers to chronic disease.

Granted there is an educational component that needs to be provided in families and communities by parents, media and schools to turn the Wisconsin culture away from its distorted emphasis on alcohol use that begins early in life and stays late.

But because they endanger the rest of us, the party should be over for motorists through "no-warning," zero-tolerance law enforcement and justice system consequences.

And if we don't face the problem squarely, with the focus and vigor suggested recently by Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, then shame on us.

Earth Day In Wisconsin Brought Another Dirty Air Alert

How ironic and outrageous that there was unhealthy air across much of Wisconsin this Earth Day, according to the bulletin reprinted below from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

This was the pattern for much of the late fall and winter, despite assurances from the state and industry that the state's air quality was improving.

Note also that some of the very counties that are under this and many of the earlier alerts, like Milwaukee County, are among the counties that the state and the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce argued should be released from federal air quality air quality mandates.


The state is getting ready to add 75 miles of new interstate lanes through the heart of the southeastern Wisconsin smog zone, from Milwaukee to the Illinois line, as part of a $1.9 billion freeway rebuilding and expansion project.

The price of gas is skyrocketing, the air quality is already unhealthy, yet the state/highway lobby/road-building troika continues to spend our money on programs that are unsustainable, and unhealthy.

Wisconsin needs a reality check. It needs to address its air quality problems and substantially trim back the very highway expansion that keeps problems from being address and solved.

The City of Milwaukee has requested that $200 million from the $1.9 billion interstate project be shifted to the commuter rail program that needs to get out of the station.

What better time than on the heels of an unfortunate wake-up call about the state's polluted air on Earth Day.

Text of the DNR announcement, below:

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is issuing an Air Quality Advisory for Particle Pollution (Orange) for Brown, Calumet, Columbia, Dane, Dodge, Fond Du Lac, Green, Green Lake, Iowa, Jefferson, Kenosha, Lafayette, Manitowoc, Marquette, Milwaukee, Outagamie, Ozaukee, Racine, Rock, Sauk, Sheboygan, Walworth, Washington, Waukesha, Waupaca, Waushara and Winnebago counties effective 9:00 am on Tuesday, April 22, 2008 through 10:00 am on Wednesday, April 23, 2008 .

The advisory is being issued because of persistent elevated levels of fine particles in the air. These fine particles come primarily from combustion sources, such as power plants, factories and other industrial sources, vehicle exhaust, and wood fires.

The Air Quality Index is currently in the orange level, which is considered unhealthy for people in sensitive groups. People in those sensitive groups include those with heart or lung disease, asthma, older adults and children. When an orange advisory for particle pollution is issued, people in those groups are advised to reschedule or cut back on strenuous activities.

People with lung diseases such as asthma and bronchitis, and heart disease should pay attention to cardiac symptoms like chest pain and shortness of breath or respiratory symptoms like coughing, wheezing and discomfort when taking a breath, and consult with their physician if they have concerns, or are experiencing symptoms.

Fine particle pollution deposits itself deep into the lungs and cannot easily be exhaled. People who are at risk are particularly vulnerable after several days of high particle pollution exposure.

To receive air quality advisories by e-mail, visit

There are several actions the public can take to reduce their contributions to this regional air quality problem.

Reduce driving when possible and don't leave vehicle engines idling.

Postpone activities that use small gasoline and diesel engines.

Minimize outdoor wood fires.

Conserve electricity.

For more ideas on how you can reduce your emissions today and every day visit: Do a little, save a lot!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Earth Day 2008: A Few Thoughts

Well, this blog is called The Political Environment, so there's no way Earth Day 2008 could come and go without a few relevant observations, especially about the state and local picture.

Statewide, I'd say it's a mixed report card, maybe a B-/ C+.

The Governor got most of his upgrade to the Stewardship Fund approved in the last budget cycle. Similarly, some programming began for alternative energy research and funding.

With the state's agricultural, water and academic resources, there's a chance that more efficient ethanol and energy planning, R&D and actual production can take place in the state.

And it looks like the Great Lakes Compact will be approved in a week or so, no small feat given the flat-out "No!' voiced by Assembly Republicans last month.

That's all to the good.

Unfortunately, it's at least a step backward for each one forward.

The Compact's adoption is a good thing, but the precise bill setting up the rules under which it will be implemented are still unclear - - in large measure because the process to write them prior to their being introduced for a final legislative vote has not been an open one.

And for every step towards alternative energy production that the Governor's budget establishes, regression is in the wings with Murphy Oil's $6 billion expansion onto 400-500 acres of wetlands in Superior.

That's a prescription for harm to Lake Superior and the air downwind, along with miles of pipelines bringing in Canadian Tar San crude for refining, and then flowing out towards Chicago - - all with their inevitable promise of breaks and leaks.

In our neck of the woods, downtown Milwaukee's renaissance is the region's major environmental success story, with thousands of new residents chucking their fertilized lawns and vehicle-bound lifestyles for urban condos and apartments within walking distance of most amenities.

Yet the regional planning commission (SEWRPC) is still working hand-in-glove with state transportation officials to build more highways that starve transit - - a complete contradiction made worse by SEWRPC's recent closed process to hire one of its leading highway proponents as the new Executive Director.

So it's a mixed bag. Some good things, some not so good that repeat a mindset that someday will be just a distant memory.

At a time when every day will be a day that honors the Earth.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Local Businesses Ride The Economic Roller Coaster

Little surprise that Harley-Davidson and Midwest Airlines are both laying off employees.

A contracting economy and rising fuel prices are clobbering companies depend on consumers that are a) flush with cash and b) willing and able to absorb rising gasoline costs.

With a recession here, or coming, motorcycle ownership and airplane travel cab become relatively discretionary relatively quickly.But other businesses are doing well in these parts, especially Badger Meter and Johnson Controls.

Both sell high-tech equipment - - meters, batteries, control systems - - that are in high demand, especially in the so-called green sectors of the economy.

Managing water and saving energy play to these companies' strengths.

The bottom line is that there is green to be found in green, and Milwaukee, a Great Lakes port city with ample water resources, industry and available land and employees could be in a better position than other cities to ride out a recession.

Land Trust Adding Value At Rapid Rate

The Ozaukee Washington Land Trust has made great strides in recent days, closing a deal to turn the privately-owned 142-acre Squires Country Club and golf course - - with a view of Lake Michigan into conserved land, with public access, and working with state and MMSD funds to put the prized Mequon ravine described below into the public domain.

This is exactly how the state's Stewardship fund is supposed to work in partnership with land trust and other agencies - - so hats off again to Gov. Jim Doyle and the grassroots support he garnered to convince the state legislature to strengthen and expand the Fund.

And the often-maligned MMSD gets credit, too, because its forward-looking Greenseams program stabliizes shorelines and keeps stormwater from degrading lakes, waterways and their banks.

It's a coordinated, coherent, comprehensive effort and exactly the kind of Earth Day activity that will pay dividends for generations.

The only negative word I heard about the bald eagle habitat/Mequon easement purchase came from Mark Belling last week, but that can only mean is that the easement purchase is a winner, and we need more of them.

Story text:

MONDAY, April 21, 2008, 2:09 p.m.By Don Behm
MMSD OKs Mequon shoreline easement

The Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District's commission this morning approved spending $600,000 to acquire a conservation easement prohibiting development of 23-acres along the Lake Michigan shoreline in Mequon that is home to a nesting pair of bald eagles.

MMSD's Greenseams land conservation program would purchase the easement and become a partner with the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust in preserving the wooded ravine and bluff a few miles north of the Milwaukee County line.

Greenseams buys floodplains and environmental corridors, also known as greenways, in the district's service area.The appraised value of the property, known locally as the Donges Bay gorge, exceeds $3.5 million.

In addition to the MMSD easement acquisition, the land trust is seeking a $1.75 million grant from the state Stewardship conservation fund as well as private contributions and foundation grants to pay for the land purchase.

Businesses Win Deserved Praise For Green Innovations

The Sierra Club has given recognition to Wisconsin businesses that have met high standards for green innovation.

These awards underscore that there is wide common ground connecting business and environmentalism, with green benefits spreading from the bottom line to cleaner air and water for everyone's benefit.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Public Hearing Denial In 2007 No Reason To Make Same Mistake Again

It was about a year ago that the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources declined to schedule a public hearing on New Berlin's precedent-setting application for a diversion of Lake Michigan water.

At the time, I wrote that there was a need for full disclosure when it came to making Great Lakes diversion decisions.

I'd argue now that there is a fresh, urgent need for a public hearing before whatever compromise amendments are introduced when the legislature convenes its upcoming special session on how diversion planning and related matters are to be determined in Wisconsin under the Great Lakes Compact.

Understand that this is not an objection to the legislature approving the Compact, the multi-state agreement with Canada to adopt common rules and procedures to determine whether diversions are allowed beyond the Great Lakes basin.

What is needed is a hearing into the companion bill that will establish just how those rules and procedures are established in Wisconsin, since there will be a period of years before the Compact and its diversion procedures take full effect.

Too much diversion scheming in Wisconsin has already taken place out of the public eye.

In addition to New Berlin's proposal that was first released to the public by the State of Michigan to which it had been sent for review - - not by Wisconsin officials coming clean with the public here - - there were the two separate confidential pitches to Gov. Jim Doyle from the City of Waukesha's legal consultants in 2006 as well.

I found those documents in the files of the Waukesha Water Utility using the State Open Records law.

All these maneuvers, and statements by key Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources officials indicating that Wisconsin might continue to allow and approve diversions on its own, were cited by then-Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager (in a much-overlooked opinion) as compelling reasons to remind Wisconsin officials that they needed to follow the law when approving diversion proposals.

Sources have indicated that the final bill amendments being drafted in Madison to implement the Compact will give controlling legal status to some previous "customary" or "historical" diversions and review processes that did not meet the letter of the law, and which do not comply with the standards that the Compact will require when its ratifications are complete.

These so-called precedents were a diversion the DNR permitted Menomonee Falls in 1999 without the approval of the other Great Lakes states, and which does not send water back to Lake Michigan, and a 1989 diversion to Pleasant Prairie, to which some but not all Great Lakes states approved, and which gave Pleasant Prairie 20 years to complete a return flow process.

Letting New Berlin, Waukesha and other Wisconsin communities slip into the inside-lane on diversion's Easy Street would undermine the very reasons that the eight Great Lakes states are trying to approve uniform, conservation-based diversion standards and procedures in the pending Compact.

Wisconsin should not put into its Compact implementing statute any validation of the earlier diversion procedures that Lautenschlager said were inappropriate, and beyond the DNR's legal authority.

A public hearing will let the public know just what is in these compromise amendments before legislators raise their hands after lining up all the votes in advance.

It's not enough that key lobbyists and administration officials think the amendments are well-written, and are calling them merely "technical" - - while pushing staffers to find the exact legal language that would make the amendments pass muster in the courts and with other Great Lakes states' reviewers.

And some legislators are saying they have not been shown the amendment drafts - - which makes you wonder what the big deal is if all that's being done is drafting some technical clarifying language.

What's really happening is that Waukesha County interests organized by the State Assembly GOP's leadership - - with the assent of some Democrats and administration officials - - are carving into the implementing bill an interim period between the bill's approval and the Compact's ratification by Congress.

And during that interim period, diversions could be speeded-up in Wisconsin because those earlier "customary...historical...precedents" giving the DNR great diversion approval power would help guide the process.

This is not the way to make public policy in Wisconsin, especially when the future of the Great Lakes and water policy statewide, with all its ramifications, is at stake.

Hold a hearing on the Compact implementing bill and let the public be heard.

Campaign On Something Positive

As someone who's had an AARP card for a while, I think attacks on Sen. John McCain over his age are stupid and counter-productive.

It's one thing to have an opinion, another thing to verbalize them.

McCain is vulnerable to political criticism over issues, particularly the Iraq War. Isn't that enough?

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Pressure Your Legislators For a Compact Hearing

There's no good reason for the Great Lakes Compact to be pushed through a rushed Special Session without a full public hearing.

Call your legislators. Tell them the public should be heard, and that requires that amendments to the bill should be aired publicly, not just discussed and written among lobbyists, legislators and administration officials.

As things stand now, Waukesha County politicos are carving an interim period into the amendments that will permit eased diversions without required return of diverted water, based on prior diversions that were approved by the Wisconsin DNR without the full approval of the other Great Lakes states.

The interim period would begin when the bill is passed and ends when the Compact is approved by all eight states and the Congress - - a period ranging from years to infinite.

That's hardly in the spirit of, or to, the letter and intent of the Compact, which sets up uniform diversions rules, procedures and return flow mandates.

Letting some diversions proceed without all the states' approval, or mandated return flow just because in the past, Wisconsin custom (sic) or process (sic) allowed it ruins the Compact for Wisconsin and weakens it across the region.

This very lack of process as precedent was warned against by-then Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager in 2006 precisely because the Department of Natural Resources was publicly saying it had the power to allow diversions that skirted existing federal law and would be barred once the Compact is approved.

I have posted references to this opinion a half-dozen times on my blog: major media refuse to report on it.

A public hearing about the pending amendments can inform the public and deter legislators from intentionally opening loopholes in the Compact's implementation in wisconsin.

At Least In Dane County, Highway Planners Consider The Environment

What impressed me about this story from the Daily Reporter about highway planning in Dane County was the consideration given to environmental issues.

In southeastern Wisconsin, environmentalism and highway planning simply do not coexist.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Brownfield Session Planned for 30th St. Corridor In Milwaukee

There will be a public session about planning to rehabilitate Brownfields in the 30th St. corridor in Milwaukee on Earth Day, April 22nd.

Milwaukee's central city needs this focus.

Details here.

New Well Could Harm Lake Beulah, Suit Contends

The percolating objections to the drilling of a high-capacity well near Lake Buelah have led to a lawsuit, described in the news release reprinted below.

At stake, beyond the threat to the lake and surrounding wetlands, rivers and properties, is the process by which the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources awards such permits - - a huge deal particularly in water-hungry sprawl areas of southeastern Wisconsin.

Lawton & Cates, S.C.
Ten East Doty Street, Suite 400
Madison, Wisconsin 53703-2694
telephone: (608) 282-6200
facsimile: (608) 282-6252



In an effort to protect public waterways and safeguard vulnerable wetlands, several individuals and two lake management districts filed suit today in Dane County Circuit Court against the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the Village of East Troy, located in Walworth County, Wisconsin. The lawsuit focuses on the lack of testing and consideration of whether a high capacity well is likely to harm nearby natural resources. The well was installed by the Village and approved by the DNR. The plaintiffs in this action seek to prevent operation of this well, and construction of any similar well likely to impact wetlands and public waters, until and unless the DNR first determines that the amount of groundwater withdrawn will not harm natural resources.

High capacity wells are defined as wells capable of withdrawing at least 100,000 gallons per day. The DNR is the agency responsible for approving all high capacity wells in the state.

The well that instigated this lawsuit, designated as “Village Well # 7,” has been constructed in a location approximately 1000 feet from the shoreline of Lake Beulah and its adjacent wetlands. Lake Beulah is an 840-acre, spring-fed lake in southeast Wisconsin, and serves as a source of water to the Mukwonago River. The Mukwonago River is considered an exceptional resource water and is home to a variety of endangered species. In 2003 the DNR approved the Village’s application to construct the well, and it extended that approval in 2005. On neither occasion did the DNR consider whether the well would impact natural resources.

Under its permit for Well # 7, the Village is allowed to withdraw up to 1.4 million gallons of water per day from the shallow aquifer that feeds the lake. That rate is roughly twice the volume of water the Perrier Group of America sought approval to pump from a high capacity well it proposed to install in Adams County in 2000. In that instance, the DNR did perform an environmental assessment, although Perrier elected to install its well elsewhere.

The plaintiffs in this case contend that the DNR has a duty under state statutes and the “Public Trust Doctrine” of the Wisconsin Constitution to protect all navigable waterways in the state. The six-count complaint alleges that the DNR violated those public trust responsibilities and its associated duty to protect vital wetlands. The complaint also alleges that the Village of East Troy violated state law requirements that it protect navigable waters and that it proceeded to install Village Well # 7 without a valid approval. The complaint chronicles several years of actions and inaction by the DNR and the Village aimed at controverting and subverting existing environmental protection duties and policies so as to move forward with this well without having to analyze its potential detrimental impact.

The actual and potential impact of high capacity wells on shallow aquifers that also serve as the source of groundwater feeding lakes, streams and wetlands has become a significant issue throughout Wisconsin, and particularly in rapidly developing areas of southeastern Wisconsin. A reduction in the flow of groundwater due to the operation of a high capacity well could impact the temperature and chemistry of surface waters, further endangering ecosystems already threatened by invasive species. In some circumstances the operation of a well could reduce surface water levels and affect wetlands. The plaintiffs in this case contend that the DNR must evaluate such possibilities before approving any high capacity well whose operation might damage those resources.


Thursday, April 17, 2008

Gretchen Schuldt On The Bogus I-94 'Plan.'

Gretchen Schuldt again picks apart state transportation documents on the $1.9 billion I-94 boondoggle, and proves using the department's own words that this project does not need its 70 miles of new lanes to mitigate future congestion.

The City of Milwaukee has officially objected to the project's bottom-line and disregard for transit.

Where are our silent state legislators on this rip-off? Are they too tied into the highway lobby to raise a ruckus, or are they simply inert?

Hold A Hearing On The Great Lakes Compact Bill

The special session called to ratify the Great Lakes Compact and to adopt a bill that outlines how that Compact's provisions will be implemented in Wisconsin should not take place without a public hearing.

The special session, initially scheduled to begin today, has been delayed a week or two because the details of the implementing bill are still being filled in.

So now there is adequate time to include a hearing in the legislative process and much justification and need to do so.

I have reported on this blog that there are substantial changes in amendments being discussed privately in or around the State Capitol by legislators, state officials and special interests that alter, and in some cases, weaken the bill to which they will be attached - - State Senate bill 523.

That bill to implement the Compact in Wisconsin passed in March on a bi-partisan vote of 26-6, following...yes...a packed public hearing in Kenosha.

The public cares a great deal about this bill, but too often has been shut out of developments involving the crucial, eight-state agreement to manage the Great Lakes.

That should not be the Wisconsin way, especially on the eve of next Tuesday's Earth Day, founded by former Governor and US Senator Gaylord Nelson, the state's iconic environmental leader.

The amendments circulating around the Capitol weaken SB 523 in at least these areas, notable because they undermine the spirit of the Compact and its focus on water conservation through standard-setting and intentional planning:

* Mandatory statewide water conservation has been changed to voluntary programs.

* Diversion approvals, especially in what could be a lengthy interim period between the time that Gov. Jim Doyle signs what the legislature passes and final final final ratification by the other Great Lakes states and the US Congress.

What is being added to the Wisconsin bill to apply during the interim period is legal, precedent status to two ongoing diversions that have been allowed to pipe Lake Michigan water outside of the Great Lakes basin in Wisconsin that do not meet the review standards and procedures mandated by the Compact.

The key diversion language added is said to be "historical applications" or "interpretations" - - and that lowers the review standard because the Compact mandates that all diversions outside of the Great Lakes basin must get the approval of all the other Great Lakes states, and must promise return flow of the diverted water.

Citing historical applications or interpretations gives legal status to the Menomonee Falls 1999 diversion sanctioned by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources without the approval of the other states or return of the diverted water to the Great Lakes basin.

In the other relevant precedent, a diversion was granted in 1989 to Pleasant Prairie without all the other Great Lakes states' approval, and the city was not required to fully complete its return flow of the diverted water for 20 years.

* Other amendments circulating fail to spell our in detail what kind of water conservation plans a community seeking an out-of-basin diversion have in place when it applies for Great Lakes water.

These and other questions about this major piece of legislation could and should be answered during at least one public hearing.

There is nothing to be lost, and much to be gained - - not only in the quality of the information that would be forthcoming, but in the formal inclusion of the general public in a process that has been marred from the outset by secrecy.

The City of New Berlin's initial application for a Lake Michigan diversion in 2006 was disclosed by Michigan reviewers who had received it from Wisconsin's DNR.

And two applications for Lake Michigan diversions were made by the City of Waukesha confidentially to Gov. Doyle and were only disclosed after I discovered them in the files of the Waukesha Water Utility through an Open Records request.

It's time to break this pattern and open up the process.

If the amendments to the bill are the insignificant "clarifications" as claimed by the proponents of the compromise deal to move the Compact legislation compromise forward, then let's have the amendments displayed at a hearing and give the public a chance to see them prior to a vote.

Franklin Gets More Progressive Council, Says "Goodbye" To Local CRG

The Sprawled Out blog conveys fascinating information about the ascension of new progressive alderman to key Common Council positions, and also forwards details about how and why an off-shoot arm of the Citizens for Responsible Government in Franklin had to disband.

Gas Hits Record Price: The Wisconsin Solution Is ???

Build More Freeways!

$6.5 billion worth in SE Wisconsin alone.

Any transit expansion in the works, as fuel costs - - $3.59 a gallon at station-after-station in the Milwaukee area, and $115/barrel - - price people out of their cars?


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Vote On Great Lakes Water Bill Delayed Up To Two Weeks

Legislators working behind-closed-doors with administration officials to cobble together a Great Lakes Compact implementation bill are now saying that Thursday's special session to approve a new bill will be delayed one or two weeks.

That's good - - because the process to produce a new bill by amending State Senate bill 523 - - which passed in March with a bi-partisan majority of 26-6 - - has been taking place in secret.

And too many people around the Capitol are being told that the amendments will be mere technical clarifications, when in fact, Republicans want to use the Compact's implementing bill in Wisconsin as a way to restrict water conservation planning.

And to also make some diversions of Great Lakes water easier to achieve by using as legal precedents past diversions that were approved with questionable or incomplete procedures in Menomonee Falls and Pleasant Prairie - - procedures that the Compact will eventually forbid.

What the Assembly is trying to manipulate through the implementing bill undermines seven years of regional work to negotiate, write and then adopt an eight-state agreement - - the Great Lakes Compact.

Creating Wisconsin's implementing law must take place in the open to prevent the approval of a bill that is significantly weaker than what the State Senate had approved, and weaker than what the citizens of the state and region deserve.

Earth Day is April 22nd.

Let's truly honor it with a good bill, and not turn it it into a second April Fool's Day by enabling the Wisconsin GOP-led Assembly to foist a weak bill onto the State Senate.

A bill being negotiated right now with the participation of some conflict-averse Democrats, and the Department of Natural Resources - - the very agency that will be hamstrung by the implementing bill when it comes time to write administrative rules, or issue interpretations.

The same DNR that will be relatively powerless to seek strong conservation-minded diversion applications from the cities of New Berlin and Waukesha when they come in for Lake Michigan hookups - - either because the bill heading for approval in the legislature doesn't spell out the standards they have to meet for conservation planning, or because the bill will reference those earlier diversions in Wisconsin as grand-fathering precedents that would not have taken place if the Compact had been in force.

More details are available in a week's previous postings, with this a good place to start.

Let me also agree completely with the comment left by "Betsey," who, in part writes:

"And the public should be allowed a hearing for more input. Yes, there was a hearing on SB 523 and another on the Assembly NRC [Natural Resources Committee], but with so many substantive changes afoot--on the issues of conservation, public trust doctrine and public enforcement--the public should have every opportunity to comment, esp as the 3 issues mentioned are so critical to THE PUBLIC."

Compact Changes Being Negotiated Too Quietly

Amendments to the proposed Great Lakes Compact implementing bill being prepared for a now-delayed Special legislative Session are being discussed and touched up around the State Capitol but have not been released as a package for the public to to see.

Originally scheduled for April 17th, the session may not take place until early May. And that's good, because there needs to be sunshine on that process.

Because the amendments are being described as "technical," or "clarifications," as if they are mere language tweaks without major ramifications.

That is not accurate.

For example, I am told - - and I posted a blog item about this a few days ago - - that the words "historical application" will be added to the Compact implementing bill's procedures that will help determine whether some Great Lakes water diversions happen in Wisconsin.

Sounds technical, and it's just two words, but the words are there for a reason.

That's because "historic application" is code to cover two Lake Michigan diversions that sent water outside of the boundaries of the Great Lakes basin.

One was for Pleasant Prairie in 1989 and the other in 1999 for Menomonee Falls - - and both were pulled off without the approval of the other seven Great Lakes states

Even though at the time of their approval, federal law said all such diversions needed the approval of all the Great Lakes states.

The Pleasant Prairie diversion got some states' formal approval, Department of Natural Resources records indicate, while other states did not respond at all, or gave a conditional approval.

Talk about "technical" and parsing processes:

The non-responses, or conditional approvals, were interpreted by Wisconsin officials as unanimous approval by all the other states, and the water flowed - - and return flow didn't have to be finally completed for 15 years.

The Menomonee Falls diversion was simply allowed by the DNR, and no return flow is required.

In fact, the DNR's cavalier attitude towards allowing diversions that disregarded the federal law was one reason that Peg Lautenschlager, then-Wisconsin Attorney General, wrote a definite opinion telling the DNR it did not have the authority to approve Great Lakes diversions that were barred by federal law.

I have posted a number of commentaries about that AG opinion, but the so-called mainstream media continue to ignore it, thus wounding the debate over the need for both the Compact and a strong bill to implement it, and enabling the DNR in continuing to argue that, in fact, it doesn't necessarily feel bound by the federal law.

Find that hard to believe?

Read this.

The Compact is supposed to clean up these administrative or patched-together diversions with clear standards and procedures, and with exceptions spelled out.

Return of water back to the Great Lakes will be required under all diversion approvals when the Compact receives its final ratification by all the Great Lakes states and the Congress.

But adding "historical application" into Wisconsin's implementing bill, thus creating a process for diversion reviews until all those final legislative approvals are completed by the states and the Congress elevates the Menomonee Falls and Pleasant Prairie precedents and gives them a legal status they do not deserve.

It undermines the entire goal of the Compact.


I am also told that the amendments getting approval around the Capitol do not require a community seeking a Great Lakes diversion to have in place a demonstrable water conservation plan that meets specified, proven achievements.

Will these communities be required to have a plan operating when they apply for a diversion, or within a year, or twenty years? And is a plan something achieves something - - and what is that? - - or will an annual flyer in a ratepayer's bill count as a program?

The bill will also drop mandatory statewide water conservation programming - - all of which could have shown the other states that Wisconsin is serious about water conservation.

It certainly would have been a smart complement to Smart Growth, and a recognition that a warming climate will put more pressures on Wisconsin's waters, including Lake Superior, but some Republican legislators and business groups already opposed Smart Growth mandates, and would not have that concept extended to water conservation. No way.

The amendments will be offered as changes to the strong implementing bill approved in March by the State Senate , with bi-partisan action, 26-6.
The amendments are now being enthusiastically embraced by the same Republican legislators who blocked State Senate bill and wouldn't even bring it to the Assembly floor for a vote.

And the amendments appear to tow the line offered up by the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce when it applauded those GOP legislators when they stonewalled the Senate and its bill.

This is the bottom line:

The amendments will turn what was a conservation-based Compact implementation bill into a diversion-enabling bill.

Does anyone think that the broad philosophical and economic objections from the Assembly could be satisfied with just a few little technical changes?

State Proceeds With I-94 Plan Despite Public Comments

The Daily Reporter notes without having to directly call it ironic that the state Department of Transportation (WisDOT) is proceeding with its $1.9 billion no-transit I-94 highway expansion south of Milwaukee despite getting more negative comments from the public than positive comments.

One morsel from the story:

"WisDOT received 110 comments asking it to spend $200 million on transit projects, a plan championed by the city of Milwaukee, instead of building additional I-94 lanes. It received seven comments opposing the idea."

Amount of money in the plan for a ready-to-go commuter rail plan for the same corridor? Zero.

As I said earlier on this blog, So what else is new?

It's Standard Operating Procedure for the transportation department, or its sidekick agency, the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, and in other public planning in the region.

(It was just a few weeks ago that 150 people attended a public hearing In Kenosha on the Great Lakes water Compact legislation, speaking forcefully in favor of water conservation. Last week, a 'compromise' agreement was announced, considerably watering down what the public said it wanted at the hearing, and what had been approved by the State Senate already.)

Citizens line up at hearings, or dutifully send in letters, or sign petitions, and their input is routinely disregarded - - whether on highway expansion, transit improvements or water conservation - - because special interests work arm-in-hand with elected officials whose campaigns they enrich.

It's that simple.

So let's tell the truth.

These public input charades, these hearing, are a fake process, a formality.

Citizens have said for years in this region that they want transit in the major transportation corridors - - including light rail and commuter rail - - yet the highway bureaucrats and planners, with the public's money, forge on ahead with their highway-only alternatives.

More truth: It's a closed, tightly-controlled process, designed to look open.

The regional planning agency took $1 million in funds from the transportation department, issued the $6.5 billion regional freeway plan, didn't include a penny for transit, held 'hearings,' got tons of negative feedback, then approved the plan, and forwarded it back to the transportation department that paid for it.

And where implementation proceeds, with $810 million already committed to the Marquette Interchange phase, $1.9 billion about to be spent between Milwaukee and the Illinois line, with the Zoo Interchange also on a fast-track to satisfy State Sen. Ted Kanavas (R-Brookfield) and other demanding Waukesha commuters.

The same phony 'process' is happening with the state transportation department's plan to rush a $25 million interchange onto the books for an interchange in Western Waukesha County - - to serve a shopping mall at Pabst Farms that has already been cancelled once by its developers and has been downgraded from the regional upscale mall once promised to a rather routine collection of retail stores, including some Big Boxes.

The planning agency took public comments on the interchange plan.

Every comment received was negative.

And then?

All the comments were dismissed, and planning for the interchange continues.

More SOP by the DOT and SEWRPC. Beware that bitter alphabet soup.

And remember that all this regional freeway planning (sic) is based on gasoline costing $2.30 a gallon.

Seen that lately, have you?

Motorists today were lined up at a filling station in Shorewood on E. Capitol Dr. selling regular gasoline at the bargain price of $3.48 a gallon - - 50% higher than what the planning agency used to predict traffic patterns and congestion, and to justify 120 miles of lanes - - because all the other stations on Capitol Dr. had regular gas pegged at $3.59.

Any bets when gas will hit $4 a gallon? I'd say no later than June 30.

Wisconsin motorists are screwed by the gasoline companies. Disregarded by local planners. Used by the highway lobby, and flat run over by the state transportation department.