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Beacons lighting a seaport’s bond with the water PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 31 May 2017 19:08

Get one, give one.
    That may sound like a discount-store promotion, but it’s also a succinct description of important moves being made by the City of Port Washington to strengthen its commitment to the maritime culture that is the core of its identity, prosperity and appealing lifestyle.
    The city is in the process of acquiring the pierhead lighthouse on the north breakwater. The federal government wants the structure off its books, and the city did the right thing in making a determined, and ultimately successful, effort to become its owner. The lighthouse could have gone to an out-of-town organization or even a private buyer, which would have been an unacceptable fate for an icon that is essentially Port Washington’s trademark.
    Almost simultaneously, the city is giving away another Port Washington lighthouse, the 1860 Light Station. Again, it’s the right decision. The city has been the owner of the building in name only. The Port Washington Historical Society has been the steward of the property for more than 20 years, leasing it for a token payment and restoring it in a manner befitting what is surely Port Washington’s most important historic building, and now will become its official owner.
    The transfer of the Light Station makes practical sense and helps ensure its secure future, but it is also a deserved tribute to the grass-roots community organization that saved a priceless piece of Port Washington’s history.
    The Fresnel lens beacon in the tower rising above the roof of the two-story building guided ships during the great age of sail on Lake Michigan, a time when a forest of schooner masts filled the Port Washington harbor, over which the Light Station looked from its perch atop St. Mary’s Hill.            
    The building, forsaken by the Coast Guard, was slipping toward ruin when the Historical Society leased it and undertook what is widely regarded as one of the most remarkable restorations in the annals of Great Lakes lighthouses.
    With the hands-on work of volunteers and financial contributions totalling well over $350,000 from Society members and others in the community, the organization not only rescued a precious feature of Port Washington’s seafaring story, but also gave the city an attraction that is toured by thousands of visitors every year. With the Light station and the Society’s innovative downtown museum, the Port Exploreum, the nonprofit organization has become a major driver of the tourism that buoys the Port Washington economy.
    No organization has stepped forward to undertake the support that will be needed to maintain and restore the 82-year-old pierhead lighthouse when the city takes ownership. Mayor Tom Mlada, in a recent speech about pressing budget issues, called on Port residents to rise to the challenge of funding the repair and maintenance of the structure.
    We are confident that just as members of the community invested their hard work and hard-earned money in restoring the Light Station, citizens will respond to take care of yet another property the federal government has allowed to deteriorate to a rusty and battered state. Our confidence is grounded on the evidence that so many residents of Port Washington understand the fundamental relationship between the community and the inland sea at its doorstep.
    The mayor and members of the Common Council have asked their constituents to support the rebuilding of the harbor breakwaters, the partnership with Wisconsin’s flagship, the tall ship Denis Sullivan, and now the lighthouse acquisition, and many have and will step up for those causes.
    But these elected officials need to understand that citizens are backing these efforts because they believe the community’s bond with the magnificence of Lake Michigan is its greatest asset, which is the same reason so many of them are appalled at the plan pushed relentlessly by the mayor and several aldermen to sell public land at the edge of the inner harbor for a view-blocking building to house an entertainment attraction called the Blues Factory.
    City officials can’t have it both ways. If they want the people of Port Washington to support harbor improvements and the care of the lighthouse because they are important elements of the city’s character, they can’t expect them to support the usurpation of public waterfront access to accommodate a commercial enterprise.

The cost of growing food for fuel PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 24 May 2017 21:10

The list of ethanol irritants just got longer for residents of southeastern Wisconsin. A company called U.S. Oil plans to build a pipeline from its terminal on Jones Island in the Milwaukee harbor to a nearby liquid cargo dock to load ships with ethanol for transport on Lake Michigan.
    Ethanol is classified by the federal government as highly flammable and hazardous.
    This potential threat to public safety and the environment can be added to the toll ethanol takes in the cost of living and damage to the environment.
    Ozaukee Press archives offer a reminder of the risks of fuel pipelines and waterborne transport of fuel. In the 1970s, Port Washington’s downtown and adjacent residential areas were evacuated under the threat of an explosion caused by leaks from a gasoline pipeline that ran between the harbor, where tankers unloaded, and storage tanks eight blocks inland.
    That catastrophe was averted, but there were times during the city’s petroleum shipping era when the harbor itself might have caught fire, owing to the sheen of gasoline floating on its surface.
    Ethanol acts like gasoline in a spill onto water, floating at first, then dissolving and extinguishing life in the area of the spill by depriving the water of oxygen.
    There would be no ethanol to pump through pipes to ships were it not for the Renewable Fuel Standard mandate that billions of gallons of the biofuel be added to gasoline each year. There is no other reason for large-scale ethanol production to exist.
    The fuel is not needed to serve the purpose stated for the mandate when it was made law by Congress in 2005—to reduce America’s dependence on imported oil. The U.S., with its oil and natural gas production having surged to the point where this country is now the world’s largest petroleum producer, imports very little oil.
    Almost all of the ethanol produced in the U.S. is made from corn. The demand for the raw material needed to meet the ethanol mandate has driven up the market value of corn and caused a reduction in the use of land for growing other crops, resulting in higher prices for many food products.
    A sense of the effect on consumer food prices can be gained from a restaurant industry study finding that ethanol production has increased food costs for chain restaurants by $3.2 billion a year.
    Augmenting fossil fuels used for energy with fuel made from plants sounds like something that would be beneficial to the environment, but the opposite has been true in the environmental impact of the mandate. Ethanol, because of the greenhouse gases generated in its farming and processing operations, has been found to result in no reduction of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
    Worse for the environment, the demand for corn needed to meet the ethanol mandate has motivated farmers to convert millions of acres of grassland to corn fields, accelerating soil erosion and runoff of chemical fertilizers and pesticides and endangering wildlife. A study by the National Wildlife Federation found that 7.3 million acres of natural habitat have been destroyed to produce corn ethanol.
    The ethanol mandate survives in spite of the accumulating evidence of its harmful consequences because it has become a veritable entitlement for the ethanol producing industry, which is now a powerful, politically protected special interest.
    During the presidential campaign, both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton pledged support for the ethanol mandate, as did every other presidential candidate except Ted Cruz. President Obama did nothing to end or constrain the ethanol mandate.
    No one has been willing to take on the ethanol lobby. Could President Trump turn against ethanol? It wouldn’t be the first campaign promise he’s broken.
    Trump rails regularly against government regulations and has threatened to “get rid of” the Environmental Protection Agency. He could strike a blow against regulation and get rid of a little piece of the EPA by taking the lead in eliminating the harmful EPA regulation requiring that 18 million gallons of ethanol be added to our gas supply this year.        
    That would be an accomplishment worth tweeting about.

The bright side of ineptitude PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 17 May 2017 20:20

The incompetence that is on such vivid display in the White House is worrisome—the people in charge of an entire branch of the government of the most powerful nation in the world are supposed to know what they’re doing. There is a bright side, however: The bumbling of the Trump presidency has in a number of instances saved the country from policy and budget proposals that would be harmful if adopted.

Good examples are the Trump administration’s fizzled-out threats to the Great Lakes.

Trump and his budget team called on Congress to kill the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) and the NOAA Sea Grant program by denying them funding in the federal budget. The funding cuts were among many pushed in a strategy to free up federal money for building the wall on the Mexican border and other Trump priorities.

But the Republican-controlled Congress had no problem rejecting the deal offered by the self-proclaimed king of negotiators and author of the self-aggrandizing book “The Art of the Deal.”

Funding for the Environmental Protection Agency, which administers the Great Lakes program, and Sea Grant was approved at about the same level as 2016. No money was included in the budget passed by Congress for construction of the border wall. Few of the Trump significant budget proposals of any kind made it through Congress.

It is possible that the administration functionaries who drafted the cuts that threatened the lakes had no idea what the targeted programs mean to the Great Lakes. Maybe it was enough for them just to know that they involve science, a subject of scorn in the Trump campaign. 

The GLRI has worked with documented success to restore Great Lakes damaged by industrial pollution and prevent catastrophic degradation of water quality by explosive algae growth and invasive species. 

Did the staffers who put together what the Trump administration named “The America First Budget” even know that the Great Lakes provide drinking water for 35 million Americans, support 1.5 million American jobs in tourism, boating and fishing and contribute $5 trillion a year to America’s economy?

Sea Grant is but a small piece of NOAA, so the administration budget drafters might not have taken the trouble to find out what it does before they decided to stop funding it. With a national network of 33 colleges and universities, Sea Grant fosters research, training and projects aimed at the conservation and practical use of ocean coastal waters and the Great Lakes. Its research has been particularly important to commercial and sport fishing, but its benefits extend well beyond that.

The Wisconsin Sea Grant program, managed by the University of Wisconsin-Madison, was the first in the Great Lakes. Its work has touched Ozaukee County and its Lake Michigan port, Port Washington, in a number of ways, including identification of shipwrecks lying off the county coast for the proposed NOAA sanctuary.

Sea Grant provides training and technical support for the Clean Marina initiative. The Port Washington Marina was one of the first to qualify for the program, which protects the local aquatic environment and adds appeal to the marina in attracting slip renters.

Sea Grant’s impact on Port Washington is evident also in the beach safety measures recommended by Sea Grant’s Great Lakes Water Safety Consortium, which have been adopted in the rescue devices and explanatory signs provided here. 

Also thanks to Sea Grant, rip current detectors are in place in Port Washington to address the rough-water phenomenon that claims more lives in the Great Lakes region than tornados, lightning and floods and was a factor in the drowning of a local teenager five years ago.

Sea Grant and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative have dodged fatal bullets, but will surely be vulnerable in the future. While the country certainly needs a better functioning executive branch, it would be best for the Great Lakes if Trump and company don’t get any more competent at getting misguided budget cuts through Congress in time for the next budget cycle.

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