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Making history to save history PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 19 February 2014 18:01

The Port Washington Historical Society is embarking on one of the biggest fundraising efforts ever seen in the community in a cause worthy of generous support

For an organization devoted to history, the Port Washington Historical Society is surprisingly young. It wasn’t until Port Washington was 156 years old that it was founded. It was a small group then, in 1991, and even today has only about 225 members, most of them Port Washington area residents or folks who have roots here but now live in other parts of the country. The society has no executive director or paid staff. It is a purely volunteer organization, grass-roots in every way.

    These humble characteristics make the Historical Society’s impact on the community all the more remarkable. In its comparatively short life as a non-profit organization, the society reclaimed from neglect the city’s most important historical icon, the 1860 Light Station on St. Mary’s Hill, and restored the historic Barnum Blake building, turning a storefront eyesore into a jewel of the downtown.     

    That impact is about to grow by an astonishing quantum leap. In a few days, the Historical Society will launch what is perhaps the biggest fundraising campaign ever seen in Port Washington.

    The goal is to raise $1.3 million to create a museum that will fascinate and educate the public with its innovative and imaginative presentation of the stories, images and objects that define the area’s history.

    The genesis of the museum was in the society’s persistence in advocating for the preservation of the old Businessmen’s Club building on Franklin Street. Joined to an abandoned former bank building, the structure was left in a ruinous state by would-be developers, so unsightly that the Common Council was at one point on the verge of ordering it demolished. Historical Society members steadfastly maintained that the building’s provenance made it worth saving.

    A Port Washington native living on the East Coast took note of the society’s dedication to this cause. When he and his wife decided to make a significant financial contribution to benefit the city, they gave the contribution—$1 million—to the Historical Society with the proviso that it be spent to buy the Businessmen’s Club building and establish a museum in it that would contribute to “the social and economic vibrancy of the downtown community.”

    The gift was as challenging as it was generous. Meeting the donors’ expectations would be a steep hill to climb, but the society took on the challenge. It now owns the building and has started on its transformation into a museum.    

    The institution that will result from this effort will be so distinct from museums that are merely repositories of artifacts that the society coined a word to name it. It will be the Port Exploreum—meaning a museum that explores the stories that are the fabric of this community’s history with diverse media and cutting-edge technology.

    While the museum is audacious in its challenges and conception, it is in keeping with the Historical Society’s ability to overachieve in preserving and celebrating that which is most meaningful in the community’s past. This has been demonstrated by the perfect restoration of the Light Station, once a beacon for ships, now a beacon for visitors who appreciate maritime heritage, and the Blake building, an historical artifact itself, now open to the public as the society’s Resource Center housing community archives and family histories.    

    To be successful, the drive to raise the $1.3 million (in addition to the $1 million gift) to complete the museum will need some sizable contributions, including those from corporations and foundations. But the society is also counting on—and deserves—the support of the people of the Port Washington area, contributions of any amount from families that want to be part of this bold initiative to elevate the appreciation of the community’s history to a new level.

    Another way to support the effort is to join the society. Among the privileges of membership is the satisfaction of being part of an organization that started small but is doing amazingly big things for Port Washington.


 
An unwarranted breakwater crackdown PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 12 February 2014 17:50

The Port Washington police chief has taken it on himself to shut down a facility its owner says should be open to the public

In an overreach of police authority rarely seen in Port Washington, Police Chief Kevin Hingiss is treating people innocently enjoying the public breakwater as lawbreakers to be prosecuted.

    The police chief, by ordering his officers to issue trespassing citations to breakwater walkers, is effectively closing a public facility that has long been a popular means of access to Lake Michigan.

    Hingiss offers a public-safety rationale for the crackdown, but the treatment of three visitors cited recently for walking on the breakwater looks more like harsh enforcement than an effort to keep the public safe.

    In January, a photographer from West Allis who posts images of Lake Michigan captured from the Port Washington breakwater on his website, was issued a citation for “trespassing” on the breakwater. On Feb. 2, two visitors from Illinois who were fishing from the breakwater were ordered off the structure by police, then given trespassing tickets.

    These were not slaps on the wrist, and they certainly were not the warnings or friendly advice that would be expected from police officers concerned about citizens using a facility that might put them at risk. They were municipal citations carrying whopping fines of $218.50 each.

    The visitors given this cold welcome to Port Washington would be well advised to contest the citations. Construing their presence on the breakwater as trespassing is a long legal stretch. The breakwater’s owner, the federal government, insists it is open to the public. The agency in charge of the breakwater, the Army Corps of Engineers, posted signs last fall warning that the breakwater is unsafe for walking. But a Corps spokesman told Ozaukee Press last week: “Our goal is not to have people get tickets, be thrown in jail or fined.” He added, “I’m not a lawyer; I’m an engineer, but I don’t think it’s illegal to go out there. I don’t really believe that’s our intent in Port Washington, to keep people off it.”

    Hingiss, nevertheless, averred that anyone caught on the breakwater will be ticketed for trespassing.


    What the police chief has taken upon himself to do—closing the breakwater—is what most people concerned about the deterioration of the facility have been trying to avoid.

    The hapless visitors now facing expensive trespassing fines were only three of the many people who, judging from the well-worn paths on the breakwater, have been walking out on it this winter. As the weather warms their numbers will increase rapidly and soon there will be scores of sightseers, fishermen, photographers and other lake lovers taking the stroll to the lighthouse.     

    Are they all to be treated as lawbreakers, ticketed and fined? The possibility is as impractical as it is harmful to the city’s image as a friendly lakeside community.

    The deteriorating condition of the breakwater has spurred an extraordinary effort to push for rebuilding the structure, including a trip by Mayor Tom Mlada to Washington, D.C., to solicit federal help and the formation of a citizens committee to raise local funds for the project. This response is a measure of the breakwater’s value as a community asset used by large numbers of residents and visitors.

    Another telling indication of community’s regard for the breakwater as a recreational facility was the installation last summer of liferings and ladders on the pier, paid for by contributions raised by the Waterfront Safety Advisory Committee. It goes without saying that these safety devices serve no purpose if people are not allowed on the breakwater.

    Well intentioned though it may be, the police chief’s heavy-handed attempt to enforce safety is an over-reaction. The breakwater has been in need of maintenance for a long time, during which it has been walked upon by a great number of people without incident related to the condition of the structure.     

    The laudable effort to get action on rebuilding the breakwater should go on with the hope that it will bear fruit sooner rather than later. In the meantime, use of the breakwater by people properly informed of its deteriorated state should be permitted in keeping with the Corps of Engineers’ stated intention to maintain public access to the structure.


 
Enjoy the lakes’ ice while you can PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 05 February 2014 16:38

Ice forming on the Great Lakes in an uncommonly cold winter may protect water levels for a while, but repeats aren’t likely in an overheated future

The report in January from Lake Superior’s Isle Royale by Michigan Technological University researchers was optimistic except for this foreboding sentence: “If climate projections are accurate, only one or two more ice bridges are likely before the lake is expected to be perpetually free of any significant ice formation by 2040.”

    The sentence summed up the future that awaits the Great Lakes: a climate too warm to form ice on the lakes, causing accelerated evaporation, resulting in falling water levels in the most important freshwater resource in the world.


    The comment followed the good news that solid ice, or an ice bridge, is forming between the island and the mainland for the first time in years, which may allow wolves from Canada to migrate to the island to refresh its famous but endangered timber wolf population, currently numbering only eight animals.


    Ice now covers more than 60% of the surface of the Great Lakes, which is good not just for wolves, but for the lakes themselves, raising hopes that the recent rapid fall in water levels will be interrupted by the ice’s shield against evaporation.


    Lake Michigan reached it lowest recorded level a year ago, then recovered a bit in a wetter than average year. The ice cover may help sustain that fleeting trend.


    But this uncommonly cold winter, apparently the ironic result of an excess of warm water in the northern Pacific realigning the polar jet stream, will likely provide at best a short respite from the shrinking of the lakes. The writing is on the water: The warming of the earth will take a toll on the Great Lakes.


    The state and national governments that are the stewards of the lakes can’t do much to solve the world’s carbon emissions problem, the root cause of climate change, but they can use every option available to protect the water of the five Great Lakes for as long as possible, and they must.

    That means no relent in the fundamental rule of the Great Lakes Compact: No water diverted from the lakes that is not returned to lakes. The City of Waukesha, in a test case for the compact signed in 2008 by eight states, has applied to take Lake Michigan water to augment groundwater supplies depleted by overdevelopment without satisfactory provisions for returning the water. Approval should be out of the question.

    It also means closing the loophole in the compact that allows water to be removed from the lakes with no requirement that it be returned as long as it is in containers no bigger than 5.7 gallons. It’s an urban myth that shiploads full of bottled water pumped from the lakes are going overseas now to be sold to people in parched regions of the earth, but as water becomes more dear in a drought-plagued world, you can bank on it that technology will be developed to exploit the loophole and sell lake water as a commodity.


    And it means the Army Corps of Engineers must be ordered to fix its dredging mistake and reduce the flow of Lake Michigan-Huron water through the St. Clair River and shut down Chicago’s canal and sewage operation that drains millions of gallons of water from Lake Michigan every year.


    The latter is necessary on two counts—it is also the only sure way to keep the Asian carp now multiplying in the Illinois River from entering the lake.


    Speaking of invasive species, consideration should be given to closing the St. Lawrence Seaway outlet to the ocean, which though declining in economic importance remains the gateway for the mussels and other aquatic creatures that travel in the ballast water of ships and damage the lakes’ ecosystems when released.


    If those steps sound radical, they won’t in a few years when the pressure on the quantity and quality of Great Lakes water will rise apace with the temperature of an overheated planet.


    In the meantime, lake lovers have a reason to tolerate an old-fashioned frigid winter.


 
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