The number might surprise you.
Thursday, December 31, 2009
I'm pouring through some open records documents that have caught my interest in the wake of my earlier revelation that the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission has been springing for a $1,000 taxpayer-paid annual dinner at The University Club on Milwaukee's lower East side for commissioners, staff and consultants.
After the holidays, I'll post the details - - I've got follow-up requests sent by email - - but suffice it to say that SEWRPC's Executive Director Ken Yunker takes various officials and other opinion-makers to breakfast and lunch on a regular basis, with an agency credit card, even though he has a very nice office quite close to the Waukesha-area restaurants where he (tazpayers) picks up the tab.
At The University Club, SEWRPC's soiree came with cordon bleu or beef tenderloin and truffle cake for dessert.
When I get more details about precise costs (in the Waukesha/Milwaukee cases) and the guest lists (in SEWRPC's case), I'll pass them on.
Not sure whether SEWRPC will comply with the request for names to match up with the meals, as I had asked for that without the names being sent in a subsequent communication.
Happy New Year, readers.
Posted by James Rowen at 11:41 AM
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Well, the intrigue is over: Wisconsin becomes the fourth of eight Great Lakes states to urge US Supreme Court action to force Illinois to close canal connections through which destructive Asian carp could invade Lake Michigan and wreak havoc in the Great Lakes.
Though a brief filed by Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen. Wisconsin joins Michigan, the lead in this matter, and the states of Ohio and Minnesota.
But will it be enough?
And is legal action the only strategy to get Illinois to give up its parochial protectionism for an antiquated canal through which the carp could get into the Great Lakes?
I'm not sure if the Supreme Court will take any action because it might have to reopen Chicago's long-standing, Court-sanctioned diversion of Lake Michigan water - - though a multi-state action legal attack might, through public pressure and opinion, convince Illinois to take remedial action.
But maybe Illinois needs a stronger push to be a better Great Lakes steward and neighbor.
Remember when the State of Arizona refused to make Martin Luther King, Jr's birthday a holiday?
That led to a national tourist boycott - - which, along with bad publicity, helped the political and business establishment there finally approve the holiday designation.
In fact, it was just a few months ago that Chicago-area motorists were picketing British Petroleum gas stations over Indiana's approval for a permit allowing BP's Whiting, Indiana refinery to expand and add pollutants to Lake Michigan.
A few days of bad PR, and BP backed down and said it would capture those pollutants for on-site treatment instead.
So let's not rule out a good, old-fashioned consumer and tourist boycott aimed at Illinois should the Supreme Court dawdle, or worse, decline to force the canal and locks to close.
The canal is an artificial tributary that connects the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River basin and serves as Chicago's sewerage discharge route.
Yes, it has helped keep sewage out of Lake Michigan but now could be the Great Lakes undoing because it offers the invasive carp an easy and direct route from the Mississippi River to Lake Michigan - - endangering a multi-billion dollar commercial fishing and a regional recreational industry.
Right now, Illinois and Chicago seem wedded to the canal for economic reasons and decline to take alternatives seriously.
Maybe closing off the flow of tourist revenue to Illinois businesses and state tax collection coffers will help Illinois officials close off the canal and locks.
Posted by James Rowen at 10:02 PM
The US Coast Guard has implemented restrictions on boaters to try and block Asian carp from moving through the Chicago sanitary and ship canal, and into Lake Michigan,
Here is the text, with contact information and additional materials:
U.S. Coast Guard establishes safety zone and regulated navigation area near Romeoville, IL.
CLEVELAND – The U.S. Coast Guard Captain of the Port Sector Lake Michigan has issued a safety zone and regulated navigation area on the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, in Romeoville, IL.
The regulated navigation area is from mile marker 295 to 297.5, and the safety zone is between mile markers 296.1 and 296.7.
The regulation has been established to protect mariners and the environment.
In summary, the regulation states all vessels (towboats, barges,recreational craft) are prohibited from transiting the safety zone if they intend to carry water attained from one side of the barrier and discharge that same water, in any form, within or on the other side of the safety zone. This applies to vessels north- and south-bound.
If vessels intend to discharge water, they must request permission from the Captain of the Port Sector Lake Michigan prior to transiting and any subsequent discharge will be done in a biologically sound manner.
This regulation serves as a precautionary measure to prevent the possible movement of live Silver or Asian carp, their viable eggs, orgametes from these carp across the fish barrier through discharge of non-potable water.
There is no direct evidence that this is an actual bypass vector, but the ACRRW Executive committee agrees it is a prudent measure to eliminate the possibility.
As a precautionary effort, industry has been voluntarily complying with this practice since September.
CLICK HERE for a full copy of the regulation http://greatlakesrestoration.us/action/wp-content/uploads/12-18-2009-CSSC-Safety-Zone-and-RNA.pdf
Pranas Pranckevicius, CISSPU.S. Environmental Protection Agency Great Lakes National Program Office 77 West Jackson Blvd. G-17J Chicago, IL 60604-3590
Tel 312 385-5446
Posted by James Rowen at 5:40 AM
Glenn Grothman has had enough of Madison and the weather, so look out!
The ultra-conservative Republican State Senator from West Bend, wants to strip Madison of its local governmental power to plow the streets and establish road salting practices.
He said in a recent hissy fit that Madison's policies endanger people.
But Grothman reminds me of the classic visiting motorist from down South who didn't leave enough time to get to work in a predicted December Wisconsin snowstorm - - and wants the Nanny state to ease his insecurities the next time winter breaks out here.
What's next for the cranky gentlemen from Washington County: A special state patrol detail, complete with plow, to escort Grothman to his reserved parking spot on the Capitol Square?
Posted by James Rowen at 12:03 AM
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett is urging Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen to get actively involved in efforts to help block Asian carp from taking over the Great Lakes.
Here is the text of Barrett's letter:
December 29, 2009
Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen
Wisconsin Department of Justice
P.O. Box 7857
Madison, WI 53707-7857
Dear Attorney General Van Hollen:
I am asking that you join the State of Michigan’s request to the U.S. Supreme Court for an injunction to close the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal and prevent the spread of Asian Carp into the Great Lakes.
I recently sent a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency urging that these two agencies undertake a review of closing the locks at the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. I believe that we have reached the point where it is imperative to close waterways in Illinois to prevent the introduction of Asian Carp into the Great Lakes.
Asian Carp pose an economic and ecological threat to the entire Great Lakes, and their entry into Lake Michigan would cause irreparable harm to not only the Great Lakes, but also to Wisconsin’s rivers and lakes.
Other states, such as Minnesota and Ohio, have filed suit to the U.S. Supreme Court seeking legal means to stop the spread of Asian Carp. It is imperative that Wisconsin also takes an active role in this suit, and I urge you to file a brief with the Supreme Court prior to its consideration of this matter on January 8, 2010.
Posted by James Rowen at 5:29 PM
Congratulations to Joel Brammeier, succeeding Cam Davis at the helm of the Alliance for the Great Lakes,
Posted by James Rowen at 4:55 PM
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation - - having handed out an $11 million contract for a interchange repair job to a sole bidder - - now spins out reasons we should be happy that last-minute negotiations have run up the cost of the job another $4 million.
Can you imagine the backlash from legislators and talk show hosts if a social services contractor or agency was behaving this way with millios of public dollars?
Posted by James Rowen at 1:24 PM
Monday, December 28, 2009
Minnesota joins Michigan, and Ohio asking for US Supreme Court intervention to force a fix in the Illinois shipping canal and lock system through which the northward-migrating, predatory carp are moving.
Wisconsin? Once the leader in Great Lakes preservation?
Will we be fourth among the Great Lakes states?
Fifth? Six? Last (Illinois not included)?
Posted by James Rowen at 9:56 PM
And you would let Scott Walker oversee Wisconsin's treasures?
Think again. Milwaukee County First has the evidence.
Posted by James Rowen at 8:03 AM
Sunday, December 27, 2009
Waukesha continues to spend heavily on water planning consultants - - now bringing yet another firm on board for annual funding in the $125,000-range.
These dollars, while coming from water bill payments and not property taxes, are still public funds and hardly small city chump change:
Waukesha budget records show less was budgeted in 2009 to buy all projected supplies for Fire Department Emergency Medical (EMS) and Fire Prevention and Education Services ($111,293), or to run the entire 15-member Waukesha Common Council ($105,114) - - and that's just a fraction of the totals Waukesha has paid in recent years to diversion-related scientists, lobbyists, consultants, PR firms and lawyers.
A document among many provided by the Waukesha Water Utility to this blog in mid-December indicates that the Milwaukee consulting firm CH2M Hill , at the 11th hour, will take over Waukesha's Lake Michigan diversion planning work that was handled primarily since 2004 by two Chicago firms, The Cadmus Group, and later, GeoSyntec.
This task was described in a November 16, 2009 Utility Scope of Services memo to Utility commissioners - - details and some of the contracting history is below.
Waukesha's long-anticipated water diversion application, the first from a community outside of the Great Lakes Basin, but within a county that straddles it as defined in the historic Great Lakes Compact approved last year, was to be released for comment in early December - - after five years of study - - but was abruptly delayed.
Promises, promises - - made by officials at a special Waukesha Common Council meeting with the Waukesha Water Utility in October.
December release, scheduled.
Why the delay, even though Waukesha has been telling Milwaukee aldermen that time is of the essence and paperwork has to be approved immediately to allow Waukesha to explore buying its Lake Michigan water from the Milwaukee Water Works?
The Utility memo explained that its long-time scientific consultant GeoSyntec had eliminated the position occupied by the main person assigned to the Waukesha diversion application project, so with $112,500 available to CH2M HILL from accounts that could have paid GeoSyntec into 2010, CH2M Hill will do this with GeoSyntec's unreleased, still-confidential draft:
"...refine, rewrite and reformat the document. The goals in the new work are to:
* Present a clear understanding of the Compact diversion requirements for a straddling county.
* Review and explain the science, engineering, and planning that are the basis for the Application.
* Provide fact-based benefits of the Utility's Lake Michigan water supply alternative in layman's terms.
* Prepare graphics and messages to explain technical issues for use in Application and public involvement communications.
* Review previously prepared and presented cost estimates. Confirm cost figures are in 2009 dollars. Cite all sources of both financial and technical information at the end of each section of Application.
* Organize applicable technical backup information for ease of future reference. "
That's seems like one heckuva rewrite, though Water Utility General Manager Dan Duchniak told me by email that he is confident in the outcome:
"We have been working on our timeline and I anticipate we will have something to be released in January," he said.
Waukesha has already spent heavily without an application to show for it.
Utility contract records [I will work to flesh cite a complete set] show payments to Cadmus, then GeoSyntec, authorized by the Utility that included $126,000 to Cadmus in two phases in 2004 and into 2005, $75,000 in 2005 into 2006, and $183,400 in two phases in 2008 and into 2009.
On October 10, 2008, a Utility memo to its commissioners from Duchniak said the then-current contract with GeoSyntec signed in January of that year was "for work to finalize an application for Great Lakes Water, provide assistance to move the application through the approval process, [emphasis mine] and to continue assisting the Utility in developing and implementing a citywide water conservation and protection plan."
Now the task to finalize and explain the application falls to CH2M Hill.
In addition to contracts with Cadmus, GeoSyntec and now Ch2M Hill, the Waukesha Water Utility (through its ratepayers) has paid out additional hundreds of thousands of dollars in the same time frame to five public relations, lobbying, and law firms in Wisconsin and Washington, DC, for advice on the diversion application process and related water supply issues, records show.
Before it's all over, Waukesha will probably hit a million dollars paid to such firms. That's a lot of of dough for a small city.
Time will tell if it was well spent.
Also: I can't resist mentioning that some of this last-minute application rewriting by Waukesha might have been avoided had the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources written or at least gotten started writing more than a year ago administrative rules to more fully implement the Great Lakes Compact in Wisconsin.
The DNR could have unambiguously laid out, with public input, exactly what constituted a complete, comprehensive and workable application.
Last-minute scrambling by Waukesha, in the absence of Wisconsin administrative rules, will not raise the confidence level in the application of the other seven Great Lakes states - - and all eight of the states must approve the Waukesha application.
All in all, hardly the way you would want to see the precedent-setting application be rolled out.
Posted by James Rowen at 8:58 PM
Well-argued op-ed against eased rules for nuclear plant construction in Wisconsin.
Posted by James Rowen at 10:06 AM
The Washington Post notes Michigan's leadership in fighting the Asian carp invasion - - while Wisconsin sits on the sidelines, navel-gazing.
Posted by James Rowen at 5:28 AM
Saturday, December 26, 2009
A couple of weeks ago, two federal agencies renewed some authority that they give to the regional planning commission (SEWRPC), but told the planners they needed to better communicate with the public, using plain English and not plannerspeak (my word, not theirs).
And, of course, SEWRPC dutifully said it was making great strides in that assignment.
So on the SEWRPC homepage, www.sewrpc.org, here is the very first single paragraph of text that. ironically, comically, describes that federal reauthorization.
"Certification of the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission Metropolitan Transportation Planning Process
During the fall of 2008, The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and Federal Transit Administration (FTA) conducted a federally required quadrennial review of the metropolitan transportation planning process carried out by the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC). The objective of this review was to determine whether the metropolitan transportation process meets the Federal transportation planning requirements outlined in 23 CFR 450.300 and to assure that an adequate process exists to ensure conformity of plans and programs in accordance with the procedures contained in 50 CFR Part 51. The 2008 certification review was based on routine FHWA and FTA interaction with the Commission in day-to-day operations; a review of SEWRPC planning products and processes; a field review meeting with staff from SEWRPC, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, and local transit operators October 22-23, 2008; a public comment period from October 8 to November 8, 2008; and, a public open house meeting on the evening of October 23, 2008. Based on the reviews conducted and ongoing oversight by FHWA and FTA, the Commission’s metropolitan transportation planning process has been certified as meeting the Federal transportation planning requirements. The report documenting the evaluation of SEWRPC planning processes can be found here."
Posted by James Rowen at 8:17 PM
The editorial is right on the money.
If the Great Lakes are leaking water, plug the hole.
Posted by James Rowen at 8:14 PM
Waukesha Mayor Larry Nelson has pledged that his city's long- awaited application for a precedent-setting Lake Michigan diversion will be a "role-model" document.
So it was disappointing that Nelson canceled the touted December 2nd release of the role-model application that has been years in the making.
Waukesha, we learned, had switched consultants and assigned to the engineering and consulting firm CHJ2M Hill the task of rewriting and reformatting several years of work by other consultants.
Since this is all about water, you wonder about changing horses midstream.
Sources suggest that at the heart of the delay is a core issue for any community wanting to divert Great Lakes water out of the basin: how and where to send the diverted water back to the Great Lakes basin and still comply with the new, but untested Great Lakes Compact - - which at its core is a water preservation plan, not the enabling of diversions - - to manage the world's largest supply of fresh surface water.
That is a role-model document for a unique, planetary-scale resource.
Waukesha currently takes its water from wells near the city that are part of the Mississippi River watershed.
Because Waukesha lies entirely outside the Great Lakes basin, and is within a different watershed, all eight Great Lakes states must approve Waukesha's plan and it must meet all the Compact's rules about environmentally proper return of the water.
Not to mention a set of rules about eligibility and diversion need in the first place, too.
Waukesha had, I am told, hoped to send diverted water after treatment back to Lake Michigan through Underwood Creek in Wauwatosa using basically the same permit issued to the city from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources for the discharge of its current wastewater to the Fox River, which flows into the Mississippi River.
Different river than Underwood Creek.
Different watershed, too.
Apparently more work is needed to establish how that return flow can be achieved while meeting the Compact's standards, as well as existing legal and environmental standards.
The DNR has made Waukesha's task more difficult by declining to write administrative rules governing the implementation of the Compact in Wisconsin, and defining what a complete, comprehensive - - a so-called role model application - - should contain.
If you think about it, "role model" is a bit awkward to describe a product or document.
It's more applicable to label people that show leadership.
It's the stance that the Governor, DNR officials and senior legislators who pushed the Compact to its approval more than a year ago.
That would have guaranteed a process to help direct Waukesha and others who seek to move Great Lakes water.
And to underscore the Compact's core premise - - establishing methods to maintain the quality and quantity of an immense, shared resource - - all the waters of the Great Lakes basin.
Posted by James Rowen at 11:49 AM
It doesn't look like the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission is going to get its long-awaited, newly-designed website up and running before the end of the year, as Executive Director told commissioners was the plan in early December before they cut out for their fancy, taxpayer-paid soiree at The University Club.
Not while the tenderloin and cordon bleu were getting cold?
Let's remember that getting the website into the modern communications ere was going to be one of former Executive Director Phil Evenson's duties.
Evenson left the commission late last year and came back as a consultant with tasks that included work on a new and improved website, as SEWRPC told Journal Sentinel investigative reporter Dan Bice.
So here we are months later, with just a few days to go in 2009 and the website is as dull and dense as ever.
Posted by James Rowen at 6:59 AM
Friday, December 25, 2009
Much like the struggle at the County Grounds over preservation - - there the issue is habitat v. 'development' for UWM - - there is a separate but similar dispute at the VA Hospital Grounds near Miller Park.
And by the way, I am hearing it took the County a long time to even learn earlier this month a tree fell onto one of the historic Eschweiler structures on the County Grounds.
I know it's a rhetorical question, but is anybody minding the store, Mr. Walker?
Posted by James Rowen at 4:50 PM
Thursday, December 24, 2009
And not just warmer temperatures.
Anyone in the Midwest these last few weeks want to argue about it?
Posted by James Rowen at 3:53 PM
This add-on is due to bad weather, which is sort of a no-brain oxymoron when it comes to building in Wisconsin, on Lake Michigan.
I'd love to see a computation for the long-term health care costs of adding a new pollution-emitting behemoth in between Milwaukee and Chicago, and further downwind.
The calculation that would take into account the costs of projected cases of various cardio-pulmonary diseases, the attendant lost wages, and so forth.
Posted by James Rowen at 4:28 AM
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Chicago's sewerage spokeswoman, pooh-poohing the idea that closing locks on its wastewater discharge canal to the Mississippi River to help block Asian carp migrating towards Lake Michigan, says those huge predatory fish have other ways of sneaking into the Great Lakes.
Don't underestimate the carps' wily ways or superior intellect: closed locks or a blocked canal mean nothing to these aquatic geniuses.
They could shape-shift themselves into canoes or catamaran floats.
Or they could have themselves airdropped by extinct, pre-ice age raptors brought back to life by demented, gene-splicing scientists.
Or they could overnight each other in perforated Fed Ex shipping cartons, marked "Lake Trout Food: Release Into Lake Michigan."
Anything is possible.
Posted by James Rowen at 1:52 PM
The ink was barely dry on the newly-signed and very modest OWI reform bill when state officials pointed to a looming implementation shortfall of $70 million.
This was no accident: legislators set up a minimal revenue stream from increased fees on offenders for the 'tougher' enforcement after having run for the hills when it was suggested that the state's minuscule alcohol taxes could be raised a few pennies to produce more necessary funding.
So we have a legislature that first chickened out on significant statutory enforcement reforms, then completed their cowardice on the revenue side by adopting in the bill a plan to collect only $12 million of the estimated $82 million needed.
Posted by James Rowen at 5:29 AM
Michigan goes to court to force Illinois to close a canal through which predatory, oversized Asian carp are most likely to enter Lake Michigan and take over the Great Lakes.
Still quietly thinking it over,
ZZZZZZZZ. Not very inspiring, our policy-makers.
Over in Lansing, they are not messing around.
If Michigan perceives that Waukesha's diversion application improperly or inadequately proposes to take water out of Lake Michigan, or does not plan to send it back sufficiently, or clean enough, then look out: Michigan might well reject the application.
Michigan has a Democratic Governor and a Republican Attorney General.
A former Republican Governor rejected an application years ago from Lowell, Indiana - - and that community was seeking water for reasons similar to Waukesha's.
Strong support for Lake Michigan in the State of Michigan is traditional and bi-partisan; Waukesha and Wisconsin officials should make sure they are not missing a signal from Michigan about what it expects in a Waukesha application, and from Wisconsin's in-state review.
Posted by James Rowen at 12:41 AM
Monday, December 21, 2009
OK: the state legislature passed modest OWI statutory changes, so now will the state address the bigger picture - - Wisconsin's overt and ingrained tolerance, even encouragement, of drinking early and often?
Probably not - - because easy access to booze is a Wisconsin tradition even though there is often a mess in its wake.
We have more taverns per capita than most states, and more drunken driving arrests, too.
Data show that there is a good chance that alcohol is involved when a snowmobile goes through the ice or dies hitting a tree, or when a power-boater flips over and drowns.
College administrators know there is commonplace binge drinking on campuses; campus officials and students also know the connection between drinking and sexual assault.
Does the UW marching band still play the Budweiser song as students pour out of Camp Randall to the campus-area bars?
We even have a baseball franchise named the Brewers where the ritual tailgating starts as soon as the parking lot gates are opened.
Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk has more than once raised the cultural issue, but I do not recall other elected or appointed officials rushing to her side.
After all, how would they square it with their boozy fundraisers and acceptance of special interest contributions?
We have a political process completely captured by liquor lobbies, and populated by elected officials afraid of anything that could be twisted by the drinking industry as being somehow anti-Wisconsin, or anti-fun.
I am sure that if the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, or a legislative study committee ever tried to write a program, bill or model curriculum to educate young people about alcohol use and abuse, the lobbyists would get in there and write it so that beer consumption was defined as a Wisconsin citizen's personal obligation to beer company economic development.
Wine consumption would be touted as a source of healthy anti-oxidants.
And brandy? Surefire way to stay warm in Wisconsin winters.
State leaders will pose for holy pictures when the OWI 'reform' bill is signed.
It is a weak first step towards legal system changes that were long overdue and remain incomplete.
And one that will not have a great impact on the state's drinking practice until more comprehensive changes in attitude and approach are made in the schools and by parents.
Posted by James Rowen at 10:24 AM
It wasn't the greatest week to be a progressive.
Yes, the Democrats appear to have reached the necessary 60 votes to win Senate approval (against an intransigent, 100% negative GOP minority) for a health care reform bill, but the result is weaker than what was hoped for, as well as what's needed.
The public option is gone, barriers to legal abortions are codified and other shortcomings all indicate the stubborn power of conservative and private sector special influences.
And in Copenhagen, the world climate summit ended with a few targets set, and a decent deal on forest protections established - - but to a large extent, the major oucomes were victories for inertia and denial.
And you know what?
We will accept these health care and environmental changes as victories, though we had hoped for more.
They are certainly advances over Bush era obstinance, but progressives are in the political game for fundamental change and, as has often been the case, we have seen again that the status quo is hard to budge.
We will probably get more action on buth health care reform and climate-protection strategies when fiscal or environmental problems beccome even more severe.
So for now - - let's acknowledge that some progress has been made, that it's all a process with imperfection that has to be fought continually to be made better, that many people have tried and done their best (we're not looking your way, Joe Lieberman/Ben Nelson, et al), but progressives have to be realists to keep moving forward, lest we let our passion die or quit the game completely.
Then the status quo and its beneficiaries would really win.
Posted by James Rowen at 6:01 AM
Sunday, December 20, 2009
The Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District is looking for other units of government willing to partner up on green roof projects.
An innovative and substantive way to keep stormwater out of the system.
Posted by James Rowen at 5:17 AM
Saturday, December 19, 2009
In this case, it's the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District's plan to go way beyond mere flood prevention programming along the Kinnickinnic River on Milwaukee's south side by a) deconstructing and recycling the materials in buildings that will be torn down, b) hiring and training people in the deconstruction and preservation processes, and c) continuing to emphasize community involvement in all phases of the project.
Details are here in the request for proposal, (RFP) on the MMSD website in an advertisement for a project manager who can meet these community and environmental goals.
It took years for the MMSD to work this out with the community, and an assist from the Sixteenth Street Community Health Clinic and others I know I am omitting.
But the point is that everyone wins with a comprehensive community-first focus like this, and MMSD would be smart to send this initiative around to other agencies where genuine community outreach, with outcomes, remains somewhere between an unfathomable mystery and a matter of institutional, willful neglect.
Posted by James Rowen at 3:28 PM
Are we surprised that the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors went ahead and approved the sale of a parcel of priceless Milwaukee County Grounds land to the University of Wisconsin-Minwaukee - - with the 'preservation' portion of the plan split by development?
Details of yet another case where money and development trumps environment - - here.
* UWM gets far more land than it needs, 89 acres.
* Open space and habitat are sacrificed.
* Downtown synergies with the Minwaulee School Of Engineering, and Marquette University's new engineering school were ignored and declined so that UWM can extend itself miles from its East side campus, the airport and train station - - yet somehow convince the very businesses that have yet to pony up their share to fund UWM Chancellor Carlos Santiago's business-driven dream that the site was in the private sector's interest.
Oh, and the students?
Get ready for the Zoo Interchange/congestion-dominated commute.
Posted by James Rowen at 2:47 PM
I can't help noticing the contradiction in the way the Doyle administration has responded to two situations in Southeastern Wisconsin with profound statewide implication - - the need for repairs to Zoo Interchange bridges and the need to prevent an invasion of Asian carp into Lake Michigan.
With three bridges in need of repairs, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation rushed $22 million into a fast-track contract with only one bidder.
Reminded me of the way the first $97 million in federal stimulus funding got routed in the blink of an eye to the I-94 north/south project.
While I am not sure if conditions in the Zoo Interchange really justified quick repairs, I'll concede the argument, as the interchange is the most heavily-trafficked in the state.
But when it comes to pitching in legally or financially either independently, or in concert with Illinois, or Michigan to find a solution to the advancing, predatory carp, the state has been nowhere.
Let's be clear: Wisconsin has a multi-billion dollar interest in keeping the carp out of Lake Michigan.
No one is going to want to go out on the lake - - commercial fishing operator, recreational angler, Sunday boater or paddler - - if a 75-pound flying fish is going to smack them in the face.
Michigan officials acted first.
Then Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said some legal action might be on the way.
But the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has been nowhere. Maybe a peep here and there, but nothing with muscle behind it.
You can't tell me that Wisconsin doesn't have a bigger bully pulpit or emergency cookie jar to use in the face of the pending carp invasion.
Or Wisconsin could have convened leaders from the other states, the lakefront cities, the private sector, and the environmental community months ago to demand that the US Corps of Engineers and Illinois officials (the carp could get into the Great Lakes through an artificial, Chicago canal) get better prepared than they were at the recent, 11th hour with a mass poisoning in the canal.
Wisconsin used to be an environmental leader.
Gov. Tony Earl was largely responsible for getting the first Great Lakes Charter approved.
Gov. Gaylord Nelson went on to be come the prime mover in Congress on the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and, of course, Earth Day.
And Gov. Knowles shares credit with Nelson in creating the state Stewardship land purchase program.
Today, Wisconsin is always ready and willing to lay down concrete - - whether wetlands or ag land is in the way - - and to make sure the highway lobby is fed and cared for 24/7.
But Lake Michigan? Or the environment, generally-speaking.
Very little urgency and initiative from the executive branch.
Posted by James Rowen at 11:01 AM
Friday, December 18, 2009
China doesn't like a comprehensive climate change approach.
Neither does the GOP and the far right.
Posted by James Rowen at 2:48 PM
Milwaukee Public Schools, with the unanimous vote of an elected board, is doing the right thing by creating a program of limited condom distribution, under controlled circumstances. It will help combat teen pregnancy and prevent STD transmission.
Talk radio has been blasting the idea for days, and callers were weighing in with tales from earlier eras when, allegedly, teens didn't get pregnant.
I know people from earlier generations who had to get married as teens, or others whose parents had to get married because of unwanted pregnancies.
And, yes, the rates of out-of-wedlock births have skyrocketed in recent years, so why not have school nurses distribute condoms?
Posted by James Rowen at 5:53 AM
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Madison's former Mayor (yes, in another life in an earlier century I worked in his office) raises excellent points in this posting about the excess power that unelected bodies can wield.
Or the bigger picture issues they can ignore.
As I said in my comment on the posting, I am an outsider to Madison now, but think he's raising issues that are important about other unelected bodies and broader issues, too.
Posted by James Rowen at 5:32 AM
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Oh, right. Another "scientist" makes a "discovery" about another planet with "water."
A planet somewhat like ours that is not specifically mentioned in any Holy Book on this here earth.
Haven't we had enough of this "science" lately in the drive-by media?
I mean...it's cold outside this winter: doesn't that prove the planet isn't getting warm?
This new "planet" discovery is obviously faked to get grant money, publicity, Al Gore's support and an invite to conferences sponsored by blue-helmeted egg heads running the UN - - a known communist front group.
And is as plainly trumped up as are those phony photos and video shown by President Hussein Obama's state-run media showing "melting" glaciers and arctic ice and water "shortages" in South America (that one was aired by NBC "News," better known as News By Communists).
So is it a surprise that this water-heavy planet is already a big "story" in the liberal New York Times?
Posted by James Rowen at 11:26 PM
If the modest changes in state laws approved today significantly reduce OWI accidents and deaths, I will give legislators their props.
But they caved into liquor lobbies and to Wisconsin's drinking culture by doing the bare minimum with regard to reform while avoiding any major changes.
Most first-time OWI offenders will still get a ticket - - a practice unique to Wisconsin among the 50 states.
Repeat offenders can have been convicted three times before being charged with a felony for a 4th arrest - - but here is where the Legislature parsed and spun to give repeat offenders a break: the 4th offense is charged as a felony only if the four had taken place within five years.
If the 4th takes place later - - say 30 days after the five-year deadline - - it remains yet a misdemeanor again, and offense arrest number five becomes the felony threshold.
Is there another form of proven reckless and potentially homicidal conduct we enable and allow in public, and to threaten the public, with so many second and third chances granted - - in advance - - before we bring down the hammer?
Given the state's horrible record of abuse of alcohol by motorists, and widespread news coverage of high-profile crashes that have killed families, children, pregnant mothers, innocent Christmas celebrants and thousands of just plain unlucky people - - the Legislature's wimpy, self-congratulating posturing today is nauseating.
And a missed opportunity, for sure.
That is likely to become clearer and sadder as people continue to die needlessly on the state's highways at the hands of drunken drivers who were not the least bit deterred by what the Legislature approved Wednesday.
Posted by James Rowen at 10:46 PM
Great use of the blogosphere: So far, we learn that there will be no consideration of the MPS reform bill - - no surprise (predicted on this blog yesterday) - - and the so-called reform of drunken-driving statues has passed the Assembly with only Rep. Marlin Schneider (D - - Wisconsin Rapids) being brave enough to vote "no" over the bill's overt timidity.
Posted by James Rowen at 3:08 PM
Nice to read that Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen may join Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox in actions against the Asian carp peril to Lake Michigan.
Interestingly, both officials are Republicans, finding a reason for guvmint to be in existence.
Posted by James Rowen at 2:04 PM
A long-term study shows that human activity - - dredging to assist shipping in a Great Lakes tributary river - - has led to erosion and massive loss of freshwater daily.
So add fixing this to a growing list of urgent Great Lakes repairs, including stopping the Asian carp from breaking through into Lake Michigan from Chicago's sewerage canal and assisting more lakefront communities with sewer system overflows.
You can't recruit industry and tourists to a freshwater system that is leaking to the ocean and being fouled by predatory fish or pollution.
Posted by James Rowen at 10:05 AM
Birthers and flat-earthers out on the fringes of American politics get exposed in this good analysis.
Posted by James Rowen at 5:47 AM
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
The Chicago Tribune editorial board thinks people are worrying too much about Asian carp decimating the Great Lakes.
The evidence: that so far, only one carp has been found - - dead through a mass poisoning effort - - close to the electric barriers designed to keep these great predators out of the Great Lakes.
I'd say it's a little too soon to declare victory, but let's be honest. The Trib was just speaking up on behalf of its city's sewerage and shipping canal - - an engineering feat about a century old that carries Chicago's waste away from the Great Lakes and down the Mississippi River system.
Barges and recreational boaters navigate the canal, too, using it as a direct, but artificial route to the Mississippi.
Problem is that the carp have successfully moved up river from the Deep South, swimming against the flow: the canal could be the entry point for the carp, perhaps the ultimate invasive specie, to the Great Lakes.
Closing the canal, or shutting the locks when the electric barriers go down for their regular maintenance would help keep the carp and their environmental disaster out of Lake Michigan, but the Trib says messing with the canal or the locks is going to far.
And another Chicago writer urges caution, too.
The canal certainly helped remove hazardous pollution from Lake Michigan, but major, unprecedented protective measures against invasives are needed it the canal is their conduit.
Cheerleading for the canal as if it were a one-way benefit for the Great Lakes region is counter-productive and parochial.
Or is "Don't Mess With Our Toilet" the Chicago's new slogan?
Posted by James Rowen at 10:32 PM
Wednesday shapes up as a big day at the Capitol because a special legislative session will deal with major public policy issues.
Legislators will pass, with holy pictures and overheated rhetoric all 'round, a bill that makes modest changes to the state's embarrassingly soft drunken driving statutes.
Some first-time offenders will actually be charged with a misdemeanor, but most will still get a ticket, leaving Wisconsin as the only state in the country to be so lax.
And some repeat offenders will be hit with a felony charge upon a fourth conviction.
And there will be wider use of mandatory, breath-activated ignition locks for some repeat offenders.
But legislators caved to the liquor lobbies and settled for these modest reforms even though Wisconsin has very high rates of OWI arrests and fatalities, leaving the roadways here far too dangerous.
Then there is the matter of turning the Milwaukee Public Schools over to the Mayor in what would be a major shift in local political, social and taxing power.
It is unclear if there are the votes to get the measure to the floor for consideration because there have been no hearings yet, and because the issue has been so divisive in Milwaukee.
I'd be surprised if the measure makes it to the floor: legislators are deeply risk-averse, and doing little or nothing is easier than moving boldly.
The small changes in the state's drunken driving statutes to be enacted Wednesday prove that.
Posted by James Rowen at 12:29 PM
That's what allowed the management at the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission's to wrap up their quarterly meeting two weeks ago and head over to The University Club and dine, at taxpayers' expense, on tenderloin, cordon bleu and truffle cake to the tune of $995.
In the middle of a severe recession.
In a community with harsh unemployment.
But routine for the agency, which said in the last five years these dinners had cost $5,299.
That's what permitted the sole planning agency in a region with a shortage of affordable housing, with media overwhelmed by stories about housing crises, to wait 34 years before beginning just this year to write a housing study and plan - - but to hold only three housing advisory committee meetings in 2009, and cancel its most recent, scheduled session.
Indifference is what allows management at SEWRPC to have routinely hired so few minority staffers in the agency's half-century of existence that civil rights advocates have had to file a formal federal complaint to try and bring the agency's workforce and vital committee structure into the 21st century.
Indifference is what permitted managers at the headquarters in Pewaukee to give away through an in-house raffle perfectly good computers to staffers when new machines with flat screens were delivered.
Or to give away used cars.
Or to hire outgoing senior managers as consultants through no-bid contracts.
Or to buy a $3+ million headquarters from a consulting company the agency often hires - - but without competing offers, or a search of other potential sites, or any public notice that SEWRPC wanted to buy a building.
Indifference allowed the agency to promote Ken Yunker, the Deputy Director last year to current Executive Director without a job search - - because that was how Phil Evenson, the outgoing Executive Director (post-retirement consulting agreement for 2009 secured) had been moved into the top spot years earlier.
Where he replaced Kurt Bauer, the agency's first Executive Director - - who has been working for years at SEWRPC as Emeritus Director, surveyor and consultant.
With a Ford Crown Victoria automobile.
And an invite to the 2009, end-of-year soiree at at The University Club.
There have only been three SEWRPC Executive Directors - - Bauer, Evenson and Yunker, selected, promoted, retained, recycled in a tight circle - - indifferent to how that might look, or to public agency common behaviors, but not indifferent to their own, and each other's wants and needs.
Indifference by SEWRPC senior management, and by the 21 appointed commissioners to the agency's essential reality - - that the entire annual $8 million agency budget comes from local, state or taxpayers - - drains confidence in agency performance, dilutes its credibility, and damages its message.
As a corporate culture, indifference is poison.
As a mission statement, in practice - - self-parody.
As an identity - - unacceptable.
Posted by James Rowen at 12:03 AM
Monday, December 14, 2009
Even if we're talking about stocks in medical equipment companies, and the congressman votes against a tax on the companies.
The Congressman says there's no conflict, and the story says another reason it's not a big deal is that the holdings represent only a small piece of the Congressman's financial profile.
What do you think?
The story is here
Posted by James Rowen at 2:52 PM
It was late Friday afternoon - - always a curious time slot for the release of troublesome news - - when the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission emailed information about who ate what at the agency's $1,000-taxpayer-paid University Club dinner that I disclosed last week on this blog.
Additional information was released to blogger Gretchen Schuldt.
So in case you missed these postings, and the comments, I'll direct you to one summary posting here that addresses and expands on the salient details, including:
The menu (beef tenderloin/cordon bleu/truffle cake);
The costs (information from SEWRPC that in the last five years these dinners cost taxpayers $5,299;
The open meeting issue: (a quorum of commissioners - - 13 of 21 attended the dinner - - along with quorums of all four SEWRPC standing committees - - but no public notice of the event was posted.
So this week, let's focus on some of the major issues still to be addressed:
1. Should there have been a public notice?
2. Was the use of taxpayer funds appropriate?
3. Will any commissioner, staffer or consultant be moved to return to SEWRPC's 100%-taxpayer provided budget an average dinner share of $60?
Stay tuned for answers.
Posted by James Rowen at 4:26 AM
Sunday, December 13, 2009
Seems that 13 current commissioners out of 21, along with majorities of all four standing committees at the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Committee were in attendance at the agency's $1,000 annual dinner at The University Club.
But no public meeting notices for the dinner were filed - - according to blogger Gretchen Schuldt.
The committees are the Executive, Administrative, Planning and Research and Intergovernmental and Public Relations committees.
Their rosters are here.
I matched those rosters with the names of the dinner attendees supplied to Schuldt by SEWRPC, including:
Brian Dranzik and Supervisor John Weishan Milwaukee County; Thomas H. Buestrin, William E. Johnson and Gustav W. Wirth, of Ozaukee County; James T. Dwyer and Paul G. Vrakas, of Waukesha County; Adelene Greene and Robert W. Pitts of Kenosha County; Susan Greenfield of Racine County; Richard Hansen of Walworth County; Daniel S. Schmidt and David L. Stroik, SEWRPC Board chairman, from Washington County.
Unless I don't understand the Open Meetings law, gatherings of a majority membership of a public agency's governing board or committee have to be publicized in advance with a formal public notice so the general public or media can choose to attend and observe.
Even if they adjourn a meeting that was properly noticed - - as was the quarterly session at the War Memorial - - with a majority re-gathering a few blocks away, in this case to The University Club for the taxpayer-paid high-end dinner of tenderloin, cordon bleu and truffle cake, as Schuldt reported on her blog.
The dinner roster, according to SEWRPC, had plenty of experienced local and county officials, including Milwaukee County Board chairman Lee Holloway and Milwaukee County Board chairman James Dwyer.
Also attending, according to SEWRPC: Ken Yunker, the SEWRPC executive director, Kurt Bauer, SEWRPC's emeritus executive director, and now a consultant, plus current SEWRPC chairman Stroik and former chairman Buestrin.
That's a lot of public meeting management expertise experience to have committed such a PR stumble.
Posted by James Rowen at 5:47 AM
Saturday, December 12, 2009
It's like your rich uncle came to town and took the whole family to a fancy holiday dinner and the kids found out they could even order dessert.
That's what the billing records looked like after taxpayers played the rich uncle and picked up the tab for 14 Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commissioners and three staffers or consultants, according to SEWRPC records provided to blogger Gretchen Schuldt.
She asked smart follow questions about the agency's taxpayer-paid annual soiree ten days ago at The University Club that I disclosed last week on my blog, also with information provided by SEWRPC.
What was on the menu?
Cordon bleu and beef tenderloin for main courses, 17 servings of truffle cake, too.
The issue of who paid for the booze is a good news, bad news situation.
Attendees bought their own alcoholic drinks - - but knocked back twenty-four of them, which suggests some people at the dinner had more than one, and given their age, weight and body chemistries may have gotten behind the wheel with measurable BAC's.
Not what any organization wants after its Christmas party or annual dinner, regardless of who paid for what.
Plus: ff the dinner turns out to have been an official commission or committee (s) meeting, given that the commission has 21 members, and the standing committees even fewer, the alcohol consumption is going to make a bad, not-properly noticed public meeting even worse.
The bill was $995.47 - - and in a separate posting on my blog summing up the disclosures - - $5,300 at similar dinners the past five years, topping out in one year at more than $1,300..
Schuldt's posting has more interesting tidbits:
Among those attending the dinner were former, long-time SEWRPC Executive Director Kurt Bauer - - now the Milwaukee County surveyor and a SEWRPC consultant - - and Milwaukee County Board Chairman Lee Holloway.
He is a former SEWRPC commissioner who ended his active relationship with SEWRPC in June, 2008, according to Schuldt.
Supervisor John Weishan, Holloway's replacement formally named this year, also attended, as did Brian Dranzik, a county public works bureaucrat.
Weishan is an appointee of Gov. Jim Doyle; Dranzik represents County Executive Scott Walker: the commissioner-appointing authority is shared by the agency's seven-member counties and the Governor's office.
So it seems that regardless of affiliation, political party or appointing authority or tenure, everyone helped her or himself to a healthy portion at the public trought.
Posted by James Rowen at 10:17 AM
Those people do a fantastic job in the worst conditions. Make sure you thank them.
One simple thing you can do is to continue to move your own cart (s) out to the street even though the winter schedule has the drivers getting them.
Save them the walk down your driveway.
Posted by James Rowen at 5:05 AM
Friday, December 11, 2009
Kudos to the UW Board of Regents for approving a site where E. Greenfield Ave. meets the Harbor for the construction of a new UWM School of Freshwater Science.
Some details here.
This blog was among active voices in support of the site.
Posted by James Rowen at 8:52 PM
There are a few words from me at OnMilwaukee.com, where I deal with both the County Board and SEWRPC in my weekly commentary.
Spoiler alert: The topics are SEWRPC's regular dining on our tax money to the tune of $1,000 at the end of the year (recession be damned!), and the County Board's much-needed slowdown - - a delay at least until January would be a good idea - - approving a land deal for UWM at the County Grounds so sensitive habitat can be protected.
Posted by James Rowen at 8:31 PM
Earlier this week I disclosed that the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission spent $995.47 on a dinner at The University Club for 14 commission board members and three staffers, according to the commission.
So I asked Ken Yunker, SEWRPC's Executive Director, for some dinner details going back four years so I could see a five-year picture.
Late Friday afternoon, by email, he supplied the details.
Though Yunker reported that SEWRPC does not have a membership at the University Club:
"Annual dinners in the previous four years were held at the University Club at costs of $914, $1048, $1332, and $1010," he wrote.
So the five-year total cost of these annual taxpayer-paid freebies is $5,299, averaging annually $1,060.
I'll more to say about this in future posts.
Posted by James Rowen at 4:18 PM
Adding nuclear power plants to a green energy policy bill is a political mistake.
There are too many unforgiving risks involved with nuclear generation and the waste it generates.
And there are prohibitive costs connected to these plants' construction and insurance, not to mention security, making adding more nuclear plants to the Wisconsin power plant scene a bad goal.
Maybe that was the deal that some environmentalists thought they needed to make with industry reps on the Governors Task Force on Global Warming to get agreement to on wind, solar and other renewables and targets.
But in the real world, there aren't going to be more nuclear power plants in Wisconsin.
Posted by James Rowen at 12:38 AM
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Consider the subdividing of much of Waukesha, Ozaukee, Racine, Kenosha and Washington Counties, and the continued absence of local or regional rail transit, the failing Milwaukee County bus system, the multi-billion dollar widening of the freeway system, continuing air pollution from expanding traffic, and other land-use problems in Southeastern Wisconsin...and then read a report's first paragraph along with me:
"An alarming trend is occurring in Southeastern Wisconsin, where we are using more and more land per person and household than ever before. Called sprawl, this trend threatens a quality of life we hold dear, while posing serious ripple effects throughout the state and region. Consider this basic fact; between 1970 and 1990 our population increased by 3% while land use increased 26%. Living this way costs everyone more tax dollars and natural resources. The congestion caused by sprawl costs us precious time."
The remaining 44 pages offers documentation and solutions.
The report is "2040, Getting There: Alternatives to Sprawl in Southeastern Wisconsin," published in February, 1999, by Citizens for a Better Environment.
Lessons and opportunities in old files not learned or grasped.
Posted by James Rowen at 2:52 PM
Plowed my way through the impenetrable, dial-up era website maintained by the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC), and find that the Dec. 9th meeting of the advisory committee on housing was cancelled.
Given the depth and breadth of the housing crisis, and all its ramifications, why would this meeting be called off?
No explanation, of course, on the website, though the housing committee meeting link you can eventually discover does say there are no further meetings scheduled. Maybe that housing crisis is over, and the rest of us missed that wonderful news.
Or perhaps having met three times in 2009 is deemed sufficient progress towards writing the first housing study for the SEWRPC seven-county region...since 1975.
Or perhaps assigning only one planner with some hours contributed here and there by a few others to produce draft study chapters - - there's no consulting budget, a la the hundreds of thousands thrown at outside contractors for the water supply study, something the agency really wanted to work on - - helps explain the stalled pace on the housing front.
Bottom line: SEWRPC is a 100%-publicly financed, $8-million-a-year operation, and has a lot to say about transportation, housing, water and a host of other basic planning and development issues in a seven-county region that is battered by poverty and some of the worst economic and racial segregation in America - - but there is a complete absence of urgency at SEWRPC in the face of these issues.
Its work drones on without spark because the agency lacks leadership accountable through elections.
It often meets in inaccessible locations (the agency headquarters in Pewaukee is not on a transit line) and communicates in even more inaccessible plannerspeak and engineerjargon.
Some years ago, a former veteran Wisconsin politician came through Milwaukee for a conference, and we chatted afterwards.
I will not mention his name because that wouldn't be fair, but trust me, he is well-known to governments, media and voters.
Anyway, we were talking about the inability of the region to solve many of its basic problems, or to change its ways and embrace new thinking, and he asked "why is it so constipated around here?"
It was a funny and unexpected turn of a phrase, and I tell this story because it sums up SEWRPC's style, for lack of a better word.
Why do we put up with it?
Why does the always-broke Milwaukee County Board every year throw more than $800,000 into the agency's operating budget without a word of debate, or a request for a set of goals and outcomes that would be routine for any other contractor?
Posted by James Rowen at 12:52 PM
A clear-headed op-ed from a leading US scientist and scientific journal editor.
Posted by James Rowen at 1:06 AM
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
My son Sam is Business Development Director at the Northwest Side Community Development Corporation where he works on behalf of low-income neighborhoods and people.
When I posted the item on my blog about $995.47 that the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission spent on a dinner last week for itself - - at taxpayer expense - - Sam put it into great perspective with this comment on Facebook:
"A one-time donation of $54.60 to the Milwaukee Rescue Mission supports 30 people. That dinner tab equals 18 donations or support for 540 people. Merry Christmas!"
Exceedingly well said. All I can say is that I wish I had put that kind of analysis in the original posting. Thank goodness for readers and sharp-minded family.
I wonder who the first SEWRPC board or staff member will be to either return their share of the check to SEWRPC, or to make an identical donation to the Rescue Mission.
And also: Gretchen Schuldt labeling it a "$1,000 dinner" was good old-fashioned headline writing.
It takes a village sometimes...
Posted by James Rowen at 10:47 PM
In a post earlier this week, I erred when I said the Monarch Butterfly was an endangered species.
It is an endangered biological phenomenon because its migratory lands are threatened, according to the World Wildlife Fund - - a point directly relevant to planning underway to allow construction on the County Grounds that could effect some known Monarch Butterfly habitat.
The designations and terminologies are obviously related, but I need to be as accurate as possible, so I am setting the record straight.
As to the issue:
The Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors, having already agreed to sell 89 acres on the County Grounds to UWM, could decide next week on a development plan designed to allow both UWM's construction on the grounds to go forward and preserve the Monarch habitat.
But there are doubts that both can be achieved, given the size of the UWM project - - a new engineering school and innovation center - - along with roads and ancillary development in support of the school and center by businesses to follow.
Until the County can get a true preservation plan in place, there should be no rush to formalize the plan. Too much is at stake.
Posted by James Rowen at 9:45 PM
When it comes to Lake Michigan water and whether it can be shipped to Waukesha, and by whom, it's a matter of dollars and sense, not just dollars and cents.
Waukesha's concern about buying Lake Michigan water from Milwaukee is all about costs.
Milwaukee, in the form of a Common Council committee meeting Wednesday morning, says its about money and common sense:
Milwaukee cannot and should not make a deal for water to enhance development in Waukesha unless Waukesha includes in the deal a real commitment to affordable housing and transit for the region.
Since Waukesha has yet to finish and file its application, the entire discussion is premature.
But down the road - - and I'd predict in 18-24 months - - serious negotiations with outcomes might be underway.
That would allow for Waukesha to file its application, have the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources apply its rubber stamp approval, and have the seven other Great Lakes states review and force some inevitable changes.
And some of those changes could be consequential if one or more states believe that Waukesha has other options, or had not solved the return flow question (is dumping treated wastewater into Underwood Creek a real or sustainable solution?), or is otherwise ineligible for the diversion.
But should Waukesha get all these approvals, it can then decide if it wants a water sales deal with Racine or Oak Creek that requires greater infrastructure payments in exchange for water treated and purified without Milwaukee's top-shelf, cryptosporidium-busting ozonation system, or if it wants Milwaukee's better water that comes with the mandatory commitment in exchange for regional development of meaningrful housing and transit.
Either way, Waukesha is going to pay a premium for Lake Michigan water because the city is not in the Lake Michigan basin, so rules and geography will dictate high costs for the new supply.
A final option: let go of the diversion alternative, and bring online new, shallow wells to the south and west of Waukesha that have high-quality water - - and also then take on developers in those areas that want to manage land development there without Waukesha's eminent domain power coming into play.
So we'll see where Waukesha elects to go.
But fair warning to tax and water-rate payers there.
There's no cheap or free ride away from the supply and usage conundrum.
It comes literally with your territory - - which means also that "wet" industries and others may want to leave all the dilemmas behind and move into the Lake Michigan basin, which includes shoreline communities from the state line all the way to Green Bay.
Posted by James Rowen at 3:29 PM
I'm glad that Milwaukee County is slowing down before approving a plan to preserve crucial open space and Monarch butterfly migration areas at the Milwaukee County Grounds, but there is no escaping the major, head-shaking reality:
The County Board is wrestling with the site plan along with UWM after agreeing to sell UWM so much land on the County Grounds for a new engineering and innovation center that the open space and migration area was jeopardized.
And, frankly, this last-minute preservation effort would not have progressed to this point - - Board committee meetings Monday and Tuesday for consideration were called off - - had there not been public pressure from UWM faculty, environmental groups, concerned citizens and bloggers.
That the future of some disappearing and almost rural land in the County is at stake brings the phrase "cart before the horse" to mind.
Posted by James Rowen at 2:59 PM
Yesterday I disclosed on my blog that the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission spent $995 taxpayer-provided dollars - - the agency's entire budget comes from local, state and federal funds - - to treat some staffers and commissioners to an annual dinner at The University Club.
I have since asked SEWRPC a series of additional questions about dinners and spending and will post that information when I get it.
Blogger and highway activist Gretchen Schuldt has follow-up question for SEWRPC s about attendance at the dinner and whether it presented Commission or Commission standing committee Open Meeting legal notice problems.
With 14 current or former members of a 21-member commission attending - - excellent questions.
Her posting is here.
And by the way: what ever happened to last year's Milwaukee County Board directive to its lobbyists to obtain a State Legislative audit of SEWRPC?
Wouldn't now be a good time to get that started, or should we wait for the 2010 Easter dinner, Octoberfest bash or Thanksgiving soiree bills to come in first?
And what ever happened to the city's separate request for legislative changes in SEWRPC's state-mandated structure to provide real city representation at SEWRPC, or a new, more urban-focuses agency?
How much more evidence do we need to establish that SEWRPC's lack of accountability - - no elected leadership, no Milwaukee representation, continuing outreach deficits and dubious fiscal oversight of $8 million public dollars annually - - hurts Milwaukee and its low-income populations?
Posted by James Rowen at 9:59 AM
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
At last week's quarterly meeting of the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission - - the one where federal reviewers re-upped the agency for another four years of federal spending powers, but urged SEWRPC to do a better job in connecting with the region's low-income and minority citizens - - there was a little chit-chat at the end about who was planning on attending the annual dinner later that day.
So I asked Executive Director Ken Yunker by email how many people attended, and where, what the cost was and if SEWRPC picked up the tab.
He answered today: Fourteen commissioners, three staff; the University Club; $995.47, at the Commission's expense - - and let's not forget that the Commission's entire budget comes from local, state and federal taxpayers.
I have asked Yunker whether SEWRPC has a membership at the University Club, and for an accounting for the meals back another four years. I will post that information when I get it.
Yunker said the dinner is a way to welcome new members to the 21-person board, and to thank those that are departing.
But a thousand dollars of public funds?
In a recession?
And is a $60-per-person meal at a private club for senior staff and commissioners a good message about fiscal stewardship to send to taxpayers, and to low-income residents of the SEWRPC seven-region?
Some months ago, when I disclosed that SEWRPC gave away old cars and computers to staff members, rather I observed that in many ways, the agency is run like a private consulting firm and not a public, more accountable agency.
A plugged-in planner mentioned to me that SEWRPC was also like a family business - - perhaps a better analogy.
Whether it is hiring back departing senior staffers as consultants, or buying a headquarters building, without bids, from a frequently-hired consulting firm, SEWRPC pretty much does what it wants without any elected official being responsible to voters for what goes on there.
But taking yourself out to dinner at a private club with other people's money really takes the cake.
Posted by James Rowen at 3:43 PM
Earth Day 2010 - - on its 40th birthday - - will get a major celebration in Madison, as will the event's founder Gaylord Nelson, Wisconsin's greatest modern-era environmentalist,
The UW System, through the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies and the Wisconsin Historical Society, has begun the publicity with a superb new website, here.
Nelson served as Wisconsin's Governor, and in the US Senate where his leadership on the Clean Water and Clean Acts was pivotal, but his prescient call for action to protect the environment - - now a worldwide movement - - is his greatest legacy.
Posted by James Rowen at 10:45 AM
After years of benign neglect and outright opposition from the Bush administration, the Federal government, taking its cues from a conservative Supreme Court, is finally stepping up to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse emissions.
Because they are human health hazards - - and the role of the US Environmental Protection
Agency is to help ensure that clean water and air continue as American birthrights.
If you set aside the ideological whining by some business organizations, and the goofy uninformed righty commentary - - callers remembering their high school science were put on the air on Mark Belling's show Monday to say carbon should not be regulated because human beings are carbon-based (!) - - there could be significant declines in asthma, lung and heart disease and other common benefits for we carbon-based life forms if EPA rules can be written.
Posted by James Rowen at 5:56 AM
Monday, December 7, 2009
The Daily Reporter has published a map indicating where on the County Grounds UWM wants to build its new engineering and innovation campus, and where some land might be preserved for open space and Monarch butterfly migration.
None of these contortions would have been necessary if UWM and Chancellor Carlos Santiago not decided to sprawl out to Western Wauwatosa from Milwaukee's east side, leap-frogging much of the city and county, and certainly far from Marquette's new Engineering school downtown.
Collaboration with Marquette, and the Milwaukee School of Engineering on the lower East side?
If things go as they seem to always go, the compromise will be swallowed by the advocates for conservation, and the developers - - in this case UWM and the County - - will pour their concrete, add roads, contribute to dirty air and traffic congestion, all while claiming victory on common space for "progress."
Posted by James Rowen at 7:13 PM
A bow to public pressure, or to common sense, or both?
Either way, good news: the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors committee on economic development - - the first of two committees to meet this week on the matter - - voted unanimously this morning to postpone action on a plan to help preserve environmentally-critical habitat acreage on the County Grounds effected by a large land sale to UWM.
The plan had been evolving as late as last week; some people felt the public notice and distribution of details were insufficient. In addition to trails and open space, UWM's plan to locate an engineering and innovation center on the County Grounds could effect a migration site used by an endangered species - - the Monarch butterfly.
I had posted several items about these meetings on my blog and at OnMilwaukee.com - - links to both here: let's hope for a big turnout when special meetings are scheduled in the coming days - - and let's urge Supervisors to hold these meetings in the evening and not at 9 a.m. on working days.
Posted by James Rowen at 1:18 PM
Sean Ryan at the Daily Reporter duly noted last week that the federal official in charge of releasing a review of the performance of the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission urged the agency to better connect with the public.
I was at said meeting, and I can only shake my head at the dance going on between the agency and its federal reviewers.
If they had all wanted a better connection with the public, then why schedule the meeting - - like all full SEWRPC board meetings - - with only the most obscure notices, and during the working day rather than in the evening?
And why delay the release of the report at least eight months after a well-attended public session produced much of the feedback that both the commission and the feds brushed aside in the review?
SEWRPC has been spending in the neighborhood of $5-$8 million annually in taxpayer dollars for years, decades, but intentionally flies under the radar by deliberately doing outreach and communications with the general public at the bare minimum.
SEWRPC likes to think of itself as a think tank that works for other planners or county governments as institutions, which is why if you read the agency's written responses from the public at the end of a long-forgotten planning process you find what local planners refer to as "review and dismiss."
In other words, the public is not sought and respected as a true partner, or what planners would call "stakeholders" in the scheme of things.
So after 50 years, SEWRPC has an outreach manager? One guy? And still has to be told by the feds to better communicate with disregarded low-income and minority communities, and to write communications in plain English?
These same issues were addressed by the feds after the 2004 report, so you can't tell me that either SEWRPC or the feds take the entire issue seriously.
The only time you get SEWRPC's attention is when you threaten their easy revenue stream through automatic distribution of funding from the county boards, which is why both then-Executive Director Phil Evenson and current Executive Director Ken Yunker sprinted down to City Hall in 2008 to chat up aldermen who adopted a resolution calling on the state legislature to clean up the agency's no-Milwaukee-representative/taxation-without representation structure.
The feds know that Milwaukee is unhappy with SEWRPC's structure, but in the review said that was outside of the review's scope.
So much for a real connection with the general public - - that is, with the largest municipality in the agency's seven-county region, and with most of the region's minorities.
Posted by James Rowen at 12:56 PM
A City of Milwaukee Council Committee is set Wednesday to react to the City of Waukesha's request for a letter of support for its Lake Michigan diversion application.
The application was supposed to be released last week, but Waukesha has announced a delay because it has, at the 11th hour, replaced its lead consultant.
With only Waukesha's intentions on the table, Milwaukee's Committee on Public Works should table (postpone) its consideration until it has something in writing to consider.
This will not influence Waukesha's interest in buying water from Milwaukee, and might spur Waukesha to get its consulting house and application in order - - something that the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources could have been steering in a positive way if it had embarked on rule-making more than a year ago.
The whole process looks more and more rudderless; Milwaukee should be cautious in supporting a process that, so far, is disappointingly squishy.
Posted by James Rowen at 9:56 AM
I went out to a dealership yesterday ready to buy a new car, or a low-mileage used car, but either way, I was primed to do my small bit to help save the economy and part ways with a ten-year-old Honda with a mere 106,000 miles.
The dealership was closed: it's still illegal to sell a car on a Sunday in Wisconsin, even in the recession.
I decided that they call them Blue Laws because they leave the consumer feeling blue. There were four other people walking and driving around the lot in the 20 minutes I was there. I wonder how many sales these dealers lose on Closed Sundays?
OK, the dealership is open on Monday, but Monday I'm too busy. And besides, who wants to traipse around in the snow?
So for now, I've lost interest.
Posted by James Rowen at 12:54 AM
Except that the conspiratorial and negative Right will hate it.
Posted by James Rowen at 12:48 AM
Sunday, December 6, 2009
Milwaukee County will take up a plan to preserve some environmentally-sensitive land on the County Grounds though it has already agreed to sell a big chunk of close-by acreage to UWM for buildings and parking lots.
Reminds me of destroying the village to save it.
Pre-Vietnam War readers will have to look it up.
Or the plan, and the notion of this approach being called a "Plan," can be filed under "Catch-22/municipalities."
Commentary at OnMilwaukee.com.
Posted by James Rowen at 5:42 PM
The Journal Sentinel's in-house conservative columnist, Patrick McIlheran, says people supporting the adoption of climate change legislation now, including Gov. Jim Doyle and Pres. Barack Obama, are driving an "equation of panic."
He says this after alleging that the legislation would cause power prices "to leap," cost every Wisconsinite $1,000 in disposable annual income and bring about "harsher privations," while running up the cost of a car $1,000, and...and...would lead to "the undoing of the industrial revolution."
Jeepers: That sounds pretty panicky to me.
I only had ten credits of psychology as an undergrad, but if all that isn't a classic case of projection, will someone please weigh in on the comment section and set me straight?
Posted by James Rowen at 5:13 AM
Saturday, December 5, 2009
No urban underpinning.
Posted by James Rowen at 10:00 PM
The Journal Sentinel does not distinguish itself with a thin piece about Pabst Farms for the Sunday paper.
Posted by James Rowen at 7:52 PM
Advocates for the Milwaukee County Transit system and for smart transit policy and planning are rallying today from 1-1:30 p.m. at 70th and National Ave., in Veterans Memorial Park.
The sun is out, the snow is over so stop by.
Posted by James Rowen at 9:41 AM
Posted by James Rowen at 5:40 AM
Friday, December 4, 2009
One hundred and thirteen Wisconsin scientists will urge the state’s US senators to enact strong federal policies to combat climate change.
A letter signed by the scientists will be delivered to Senators Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold on Tuesday, December 8.
Leading scientists from the University of Wisconsin will hold a press teleconference to explain the specific ways that climate change threatens Wisconsin ’s economy and public health and how Wisconsin stands to benefit from climate change solutions.
Speakers will include:
Professor Jonathan Patz: Director of Global Environmental Health at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, lead author for the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), past Co-Chair of the health expert panel of the US National Assessment on Climate Change.
Professor John Magnuson: Professor Emeritus of Zoology, and Director Emeritus of the Center for Limnology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison . Convening lead author for the UN IPCC.
Professor Don Waller: Professor Botany and Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.
The teleconference will take place at 10:00 AM CST on Tuesday December 8, 2009: details are available from Peter Gray, at the Environmental Law Policy Center, 312-795-3715.
The 113 Wisconsin scientists who have joined together to write this letter, along with the scientific community around the world, are urging their leaders to act swiftly to reduce greenhouse gas pollution and avoid the worst effects of climate change.
The Environmental Law Policy Center, for years, has done outstanding work on environmental, energy and transportation issues, including Midwest High-Speed Rail.
Posted by James Rowen at 7:32 PM
Thursday, December 3, 2009
Newspapers are dying because electronic media and the Internet blew up the old model.
But the death of local TV news is entirely self-inflicted, and is on full display every year when the snowflakes fall - - in the winter.
TMJ4 used the word "severe" to describe the weather event that showed up here in the late afternoon when there was a little snow on the grass and very little accumulation in the viewing area.
Even the worst of the projections didn't rate a severe labeling.
Posted by James Rowen at 10:48 PM
The winner of a fabulous prize: Jim Bouman, Waukesha activist and blogger.
Let me explain:
A few months ago, as we were approaching the one-year anniversary of an inexplicably stalled federal review of SEWRPC's authority to approve federally-funded transportation projects, I announced on my blog a contest: guess the date of the review's release.
The person predicting the report's release closest to the actual date would win a fabulous prize: my near-pristine and hard-to-find copy of Trees, the 1949 US Department of Agriculture Yearbook.
It's a cool volume, illustrated, almost 1,000 pages with plenty of informaion about Wisconsin.
Bouman's guess was Oct. 21st: the report surfaced yesterday, and his guess came the closest.
The book is on its way, Jim.
Posted by James Rowen at 11:39 AM
Without a genuine effort to widely explain it, two Milwaukee County Board committees are about to approve a plan to provide habitat protections on the County Grounds in the wake of the recent Board decision to sell significant acreage there to UWM.
A bit like adding air bags to a vehicle after it has crashed, but here is the committee schedule anyway:
Economic Development Committee, Monday, 9 a.m. Courthouse Room #201 and then the Parks Committee the following day, Tuesday, also at 9 a.m. in the same room.
I am hearing that the 'plan' keeps changing, and that means even less time in the murky County process for a meaningful public review before the committees vote and move the plan to the full Board for a final vote.
Allowing UWM to build its new school of engineering and a research and innovation innovation in Western Wauwatosa - - far from the rest of the UWM campus - - will have profound consequences on local and regional land use, development, traffic patterns and air quality.
Trying to provide habitat protections on the remaining land after the sale was approved is last-ditch, and backwards, at best.
The last thing this looming planning disaster needs is a quickie habitat protection scheme fumbled to adoption by the County Board.
Posted by James Rowen at 10:54 AM