Sunday, June 14, 2009

A Few Acres Here, A Few Acres There - - Wisconsin's Environmental Indifference

"What's the big deal? It's only an acre-and-a-half."

That's one way to look at the debate in Milwaukee over whether UW-M should be allowed to build on a narrow strip of land on the lakefront - - actually it's 1.67 acres - - between the Calatrava addition to the Art Museum and Discovery World, the lakefront and Lincoln Memorial Drive.

Environmentalists hear that argument all the time.

Development proponents will say, "there's plenty of land," and will point to some maps, or to data, or to a wide open vista somewhere and say, "hey, look at all that empty land."

Well, yes and no. Step back a bit, and look again.

We think of neighboring Kenosha and Racine Counties as less-developed than Milwaukee County because they have fewer people, but the Kenosha/Racine Land Trust in a report cited these jaw-dropping land losses over the last 150 years in Racine County alone:

100% of the savannahs;

99% of the prairie;

78% of the woodlands;

60% of the wetlands:

Kenosha County "has not fared much better," the report continues, citing published data showing that the triangle between Madison, Milwaukee and Chicago has suffered the third-fastest loss of agricultural land in the country.

And speaking of wetlands in Racine and Kenosha Counties, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation will fill in another 54 wetland acres in those counties as it widens I-94 between the Mitchell Interchange near Milwaukee and the Illinois state line.

Unable to find impaired wetlands near the project to restore as compensation for the losses, as required, WisDOT will probably go outside the construction zone - - perhaps to Walworth County.

Giving back no restored wetlands to Racine and Kenosha Counties.

So where do we draw the line?

When and where does an acre become one too many to build on, or pave over, or fill in?

Did Milwaukee County care enough to save the Monarch butterfly trail land on its County Grounds?

Apparently not, as it appears in the way of UW-M's engineering school expansion.



To the west, in Waukesha County, the line has been virtually erased.

Drive out to Retzer Nature Center and see how close the subdivisions have been allowed to build to the Center's property.

Or take a look farther west, at Pabst Farms' subdivisions, hospital, school and retail center, and multiple parking lots, and remember the Pabst Farms property totalled 1,500 acres recommended by the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission as off-limits to development.

Public tax increment financing got the utilities and streets and other amenities built there, and WisDOT wants to construct a $25 million interchange off I-94 into the site, though the shopping mall in the project the interchange was to serve has been postponed by two potential developers, and the mall's "upscale" definition definitely down-scaled.

And note that the City of Waukesha intends to add more acreage recommended by SEWRPC as environmental corridors to the Waukesha Water Utility's service territory if it is allowed to pump in Lake Michigan water.

As a region, we're suffering from environmental indifference.

And it's not an accident: it's policy.

And if a line in favor of preserving premier land in Wisconsin cannot be drawn on Milwaukee's lakefront - - even on a site where a now-closed restaurant was permitted to build on filled lake bed land in violation of the state's Public Trust Doctrine - - preservation will have suffered a fatal wound.


Unknown said...

It is a shame that in a city whose founders had the foresite to preserve most of our lakefront as parkland we now have such indifference and i know that i am just as bad because I support UWM in this issue.

James Rowen said...

Well, Jaje, you win the award for the most baffling comment posted in this blog's 2.5 years.

As they say, change can begin with a single person...