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Put the brakes on rush to sell public’s harbor land PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Tuesday, 25 November 2014 18:45

Land at the edge of the marina is too valuable as a public asset to sell for commercial development without a thorough study
of the consequences

When cities designate publicly owned land as surplus property to be sold to private bidders, the expectation might be that the land is a useless lot by the railroad tracks or an industrial brownfield that officials would like to get off the municipal books.

    But the public property the City of Port Washington is in the process of declaring surplus to be put on the market is one of the most valuable pieces of land in the city. Its value to its current owners, the citizens of Port Washington, is its location at the edge of the water in the downtown marina-park complex.


    Whether selling the land, which is currently a parking lot at the end of the north harbor slip, is the right thing to do is at best an open question that needs further research and discussion, but the way the city is going at it there is no time for that. Transferring the land from public to private ownership is on a lightning-fast track.        


    Three days after the Community Development Authority approved selling the land as a site for a restaurant or brew pub, the Plan Commission voted to declare the land surplus property. The proposal was immediately put on the Common Council agenda for its next meeting on Dec. 2.


    Rather than ratifying the Plan Commission’s hasty action next week, the council should put the brakes on this extraordinarily fast-moving measure and table it for further study. There are many good reasons to do that, not the least of which is that it would counter the perception that the city government is trying to ram through an important change in lakefront access before the public has the opportunity to fully weigh its ramifications.


     With time for due diligence, Common Council members should consider the following reasons to be skeptical of the push to sell a valuable public asset:


    The move to sell the land grew out of the drafting of a new downtown development plan. The updated plan is needed and has some sound recommendations, but it focuses on commercial development and lacks a comprehensive vision for further development of public recreational uses of land in the marina complex. The land earmarked for sale could be a key part of that development.

    By encouraging private commercial development of a public waterfront space, the city is taking a route that has been rejected by many thriving waterside communities that have retained public ownership of such land and creatively developed it for public enjoyment, with the result that the value of adjacent commercial property has increased.

    The city now controls the future of the north slip parking lot. If it sells the land, it will lose some of that control. Even with zoning authority, it would have limited say in the design of the structure insinuated into what are now open views of the water.


    The expectations of officials for the commercial use of the land seem overly optimistic. There has been talk of a brew pub-restaurant on the parking lot being so wildly successful that it would be a year-round visitor destination. The reality is that restaurants are risky business. Port ought to know. The closing of Smith Bros. restaurant, which failed in spite of regional notoriety, a spectacular second-floor harbor view and the presence on its first floor of, yes, a brew pub, is a cautionary tale best not forgotten. The landmark building, vacant for years, was a civic embarrassment before it was rescued to become the home of the Duluth Trading Co. store. A restaurant-brew pub on the north slip site could be an attraction or another  embarrassment—a failing business slipping into decline and, finally, a vacant building on one of the city’s most prominent waterfront sites.


    It is obvious that parking cars is not a good use of the north slip site. With its proximity to the water and its expansive harbor and lake views, it should have been redesigned long ago as a landscaped space for public enjoyment of the beautiful heart-of-the-city marina complex. The attention focused on it now should be the impetus to make that happen.


    What is at stake is nothing less than the permanent loss to the public of an asset of incalculable intrinsic value. At the very least, the people of Port Washington deserve a careful, unhurried consideration of that possibility by their elected representatives.


 
Saukville and Port should connect on water PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 19 November 2014 18:20

The fact that Saukville needs more water and Port Washington has an excess of it should lead to sharing a resource and a service

Why would the Village of Saukville drill a new municipal well at a cost of $2 million when a limitless supply of treated drinking water can be tapped less than 500 yards away?

    The question is not being answered in Saukville. It’s not even being asked. It should be.

    The fact that Saukville needs a new well as soon as one can be drilled and put on line should be the catalyst for giving serious consideration to connecting the village to the Port Washington municipal water system.

    The Port Washington water utility has more than enough capacity to serve the entire Village of Saukville. By connecting with a pipeline along Highway 33 only a little more than a quarter-mile long, the village could immediately augment its water supply, and as its wells inevitably degrade in the future could increase its use of Lake Michigan water from Port Washington as needed.

    A cost analysis would be a key part of any consideration of Saukville using Port Washington water, and there is reason to expect it would show such an arrangement to be a good financial deal for both communities.

    Wells are expensive. The $2 million price tag on the proposed new Saukville well includes $300,000 just for a test well. It is estimated that the total outlay for the new well will increase rates for village water users by 12%.

    The Port Washington water system has significant excess capacity. Serving additional water users with the existing water treatment plant and infrastructure could lower costs for all users. Every indication is that the city would be a willing water seller or even a partner in a future joint water utility.

     A Port-Saukville water connection is so logical that it was foreseen in the 1970s when Port Washington installed a new water tower to serve the city’s west side. The tower’s capacity and elevation were planned with the possibility in mind of sending city water to Saukville.

    Saukville has an efficiently-run water utility and its four wells have been adequate to serve residential and industrial customers. Still, wells are prone to problems. The village’s No. 4 well, dating to 1941, has been failing for more than a decade and now has to be replaced. In general, the aquifers from which wells pump water become depleted over time. As deeper sources are accessed, water quality declines.

      The City of Waukesha offers a telling example. Rampant development so overtaxed the  city’s well system that it can no longer provide safe drinking water. Waukesha is desperate to get Lake Michigan water, but has been thwarted by international regulations preventing the use of lake water by municipalities from which wastewater does not drain back to the lake.

    That’s the case with Waukesha, but certainly not with Saukville. The latter’s wastewater flows directly to the lake via the Milwaukee River. And thus abundant lake water is there for the taking.    

    It is hard to imagine any two municipalities that are better candidates for shared services than Port Washington and Saukville. The city and the village, which share a school district, have literally grown together. It is probably safe to say that at various points along Highway 33 many people aren’t sure if they’re in Port or Saukville, so seamless is the connection between the two communities.

    Yet a shared services task force made up of representatives from both communities has been meeting for years with little to show for its efforts.

    The place to start meaningful sharing of services that will benefit taxpayers of both communities is as basic as it can be—with the water people need to live.

    The Saukville well project cannot go forward without approval by the Wisconsin Public Commission, and the PSC could direct the village to look into getting water from other municipalities.

    Before it comes to that, village officials should act on their own initiative and move to take advantage of a safe, dependable water source that will never (in any foreseeable future) run dry. It’s only a few hundred yards away.


 
Too much noise, too little action PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 12 November 2014 17:10

It’s time for the Town of Port to stand up for its citizens who have had to endure unacceptable noise from Briggs & Stratton for years

The term “good corporate citizen” is used so much around here these days that it’s ready to become a cliche. And that’s a good thing. It means that the boards of directors and executives of increasing numbers of industries doing business in the small cities, villages and towns of Ozaukee County understand their responsibility to support their communities in more ways than paying taxes and providing jobs and to be sensitive to the impact of their operations on their neighbors.

    Here’s a safe prediction: Briggs & Stratton will not be getting a Good Corporate Citizen of the Year award from the Town of Port Washington.

    Briggs & Stratton is the company that took away hundreds of jobs in Port Washington but left a nuisance.

    Briggs bought Simplicity Manufacturing Co., Port Washington’s biggest employer, in 2004, then three years later shut down the operation that employed 325 people. It sent the plant’s lawn equipment and snow thrower production and the jobs to Georgia. But it did not send along its testing operation. That remains in a developed area of the Town of Port Washington, where it has been annoying nearby residents with its noise for years.

    The testing involves running many engines for long hours. Neighboring homeowners say the engines run 15 hours a day on pavement from which their sound reverberates. With no noise-reduction measures in place, the sound of the droning engines is loud, travels far, is inescapable in homeowners’ yards and even penetrates the walls and windows of homes.

    
    There ought to be a law against this sort of nuisance, and it turns out there is. The Town of Port Washington has an ordinance requiring excessive noise to be controlled. More than a dozen neighbors came to a Town Board meeting last week to ask why the ordinance is not being enforced.

    Good question.

    The ordinance exists for just such circumstances as these. The neighbors and town officials have repeatedly asked Briggs & Stratton to do something about noise, with no results except a nose-thumbing from the company. The next step should be enforcement of the noise ordinance.

    Town officials answered the question by saying it is difficult to make citations against corporations for noise violations stick and that they were told by workers at the testing facility that suggestions that acoustic fencing be installed are “working their way through corporate.” There has to be a better answer.

     When the complaining residents persisted at the meeting, Town Chairman Jim Melichar reportedly got a bit testy. Elected officials have a right to display some irritation, of course, but citizens exercising their right to petition their local government for relief from a well documented nuisance should not be the target of it. The chairman’s testiness would serve the town better if it were aimed at the company that has defied the town’s reasonable efforts to effect a mitigation of the nuisance.

    It’s evident that everyone is frustrated. The neighbors keep asking for help and don’t get it. Town officials have tried to reason with the company and have gotten nowhere. Yet Briggs & Stratton has given no sign whatsoever that it is interested in doing even the minimum required to qualify as a good corporate citizen.

    That leaves one option: Put the town attorney on the case, get the sheriff’s department to serve a paper, enforce the ordinance.



 
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