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Editorials
A place too beautiful to put children at risk PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 25 September 2013 16:27

The city has done good work making the park that will officially open this weekend a place to experience the glory of the lake—but the job won’t be done until a needed safety feature is added

Be prepared to be awed.

    That’s our advice to folks who have not yet visited Port Washington’s newest park but plan to be there for the official opening this weekend.

    The awe will be provided by seascapes crafted by the whims of wind and waves to range from the haunting beauty of a lake so calm it will appear to have been painted to the visual drama of an inland sea in the throes of a furious gale.

    The perspective from which to behold these awe-inspiring scenes is provided by the rectangle of land that juts into Lake Michigan on the south side of the Port Washington harbor and is now named Coal Dock Park.  

    In a radical repurposing, 13 acres of land that were contaminated by 70 years under the mountains of coal used to fuel the adjacent power plant have been cleansed and made into a place to enjoy the purity of nature.

     Guided by a committee of citizens and officials, the makeover, including the creation of green spaces, trails and boardwalks and the planting of 63 trees, was done with a commendable restraint that keeps the focus on the natural beauty of the place.

    That less-is-more approach fits the character of the new park, except in one of its most appealing features, where something is obviously lacking. The dock where coal freighters once moored, now a broad promenade along the entire north edge of the park, needs a guard rail.

    The dock is more than 1,000 feet long and 18 feet wide, surfaced in smooth concrete. It poses little risk to any alert adult. But the same certainly can’t be said about a child. It’s not hard to imagine a young boy or girl running heedlessly on the inviting paved expanse and tumbling off the edge into the harbor.

    That could be a tragic fall. The dock is nearly 10 feet above the water. Rescue would be difficult.

    The lack of a railing was not an oversight. The park planners properly understood that the deep water dock is an important asset to the city. They didn’t want to hinder access to the dock by ships by installing a guard rail at its edge.

    But maintaining access to the dock by vessels and providing park users with the security of a railing need not be mutually exclusive. A railing could be set well back from the edge, leaving ample space for vessels to handle mooring lines.

    The Parks and Recreation Board has recommended installation of a guard rail.

    A similar recommendation, but with a more emotional tone, came from the writer of a letter to the editor published in last week’s Ozaukee Press. Robert Mueller, a Port Washington resident who fishes frequently off the Coal Dock Park dock, wrote that he has observed several close calls involving children, including one in which an untended stroller carrying a small child started coasting toward the water.

    Mueller expressed fear of the loss of a child’s life in such circumstances, and he knows whereof he speaks. His 6-year-old sister Chris drowned in 1969 when she fell into Port Washington’s inner harbor at a place where there was no railing. The tragedy moved city officials to order a guard rail installed.

    The archives of Ozaukee Press fill in the tragic details of that accident. Chris Mueller’s distraught father dived repeatedly in the dark waters of the harbor, which were swirling with the current from the power plant discharge, to no avail, and nearly drowned himself.

    Coal Dock Park is a beautiful place that will attract families with children. Nothing more needs to be said to make the point that its signature dock needs a guard rail.


 
Shameful neglect at the Port harbor PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 18 September 2013 15:42

In an affront to taxpayers, the feds admit the breakwater is in such bad shape it could fail at any time, yet say fixing it is not a priority

The federal government’s Army Corps of Engineers, after having to be pressured into inspecting the obviously crumbling Port Washington breakwater, declared the structure to be in such weakened condition that it could fail as soon as this winter. It the next breath its spokesman said it will likely be years before it can be repaired.

    What kind of response is that from the government of the country boasting the most powerful economy in the world? A shameful one.

    Repairing the breakwater that protects a small Midwest town’s harbor may be insignificant as a federal project, yet the failure to maintain it casts a symbolic shadow on the integrity of the national government. If it can’t take care of an obvious and pressing need to keep a public facility effective and safe, it’s fair to ask, what can it do?

    Make no mistake, the federal government owns this problem. It owns the breakwater. It designed it, built it, controls its use and, until the recent years of neglect, maintained it.

    Its excuse for letting the breakwater deteriorate to the point where collapse may be imminent is based on a false priority. The Corps of Engineers says it cannot give timely attention to the breakwater because the Port Washington harbor is no longer a commercial harbor.

    The notion that Port Washington is not entitled to the same attention the harbor received when it benefitted We Energies and the coal-fired power plant it operated on the city waterfront is offensive.

    It is true that the freighters that once delivered coal to the power plant no longer use the harbor, but Port Washington depends on the harbor more than ever. The commerce generated by the harbor today—yes, it is a commercial harbor—is far more important to the city than anything it gained from the shipping that served the power plant.


    Millions of dollars that buoy the local economy each year come by way of the harbor, through the charter fishing fleet, marina users and visitors traveling by sea and land who are attracted to the city by its downtown harbor.

    Moreover, the City of Port Washington has underscored the commercial importance of the harbor by investing in the improvement of the deep-water dock, now part of Coal Dock Park, that once served the coal boats. The dock, which depends on the breakwater for protection, will be used for tall ships sailed here for festivals, excursion boats and other commercial uses in the future, perhaps even to accommodate the occasional cruise ship.    

    The port of Port Washington is the only harbor in Ozaukee County and, of course, it serves purely recreational needs too, as it should. The taxpayers who find enjoyment in what the breakwater helps provide should not be treated as second-class citizens unworthy of having federal facilities properly maintained just because they’re used for fun.    

    The neglect of the breakwater by its owner is of a piece with the skewed spending priorities inflicted on the nation by a Congress obsessed with deficit reduction even when it’s demonstrably harmful. The federal deficit, now at its lowest level in five years, is shrinking as revenues grow. Yet Congress has refused to appropriate funds for essential maintenance of the country’s infrastructure—the bridges, highways and, yes, harbors that are fundamental to the functioning of society but are deteriorating under lax federal stewardship.

     A chorus of respected economists has been advocating investment in the necessary upgrading of the nation’s infrastructure to give Americans safer facilities while adding jobs to improve the still sluggish economy. Let it start here: Fix the breakwater, help the economy, do what’s right for Port Washington.

    In a letter to the editor published in last week’s Ozaukee Press, signed by the Harbor Commission and the Charter Captains and Marina Tenants associations, Bill Driscoll, an alderman and Harbor Commission member, called on the public to contact federal legislators to demand action on the breakwater.

    Readers should heed that call. Tell the representatives we expect the federal government to take responsibility for its breakwater—the problem it owns—now.


 
A hunting promotion ploy that smells like road kill PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 11 September 2013 17:28

The governor was right to kill a grant to a sham conservation group, but does it ever make sense for the state to spend tax money to persuade people to hunt?

In the annuals of smelly gambits perpetrated in the Wisconsin Legislature, this one, the political equivalent of three-day-old road kill in a heat wave, rose to new heights on the stench-o-meter. The fumes were so pervasive they seeped under the door of the chief executive’s office, leaving Gov. Scott Walker no alternative but to clean up the odoriferous mess made by some of his fellow Republicans.

    The gambit and its ensuing mess were the awarding of a grant of $500,000 in Wisconsin taxpayer money to an organization for the ostensible purpose of promoting hunting and fishing in Wisconsin. The grant was slipped into the new state budget by former Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder (which means by stealth with no debate) with language that effectively made it impossible for any organization except the United Sportsmen of Wisconsin Foundation to qualify for the money. There were no other applicants for the grant, and it was dutifully awarded to United Sportsmen by the Department of Natural Resources.


     Meanwhile, it came to light, thanks in large part to the investigative reporting of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, that United Sportsmen is more a lobby for Republican causes than a conservation organization, that it has no experience in educating people about hunting and fishing, has not even qualified for nonprofit tax-exempt status, has failed to pay taxes as a for-profit organization and, for good measure, has a president who was fined in 2005 for killing a bear without the required hunting license.


    Confronted with unimpeachable evidence of a failed smell test, the governor rescinded the grant last week. That cleared the air, but a question about the grant persists: Why should the state be spending taxpayer money to encourage people to go hunting?
                                                   

    Hunting is a proud tradition in this state blessed with abundant wildlife habitat and it brings great enjoyment to hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin residents. There is no doubt that tradition will endure, as it should, but the fact is that participation in hunting has been steadily declining.


    This is neither a mystery nor a cause for alarm. Outdoor recreation is more popular than ever in Wisconsin and there are more opportunities than ever to enjoy it. Hunting today has to compete for time in people’s lives with camping (state parks are jam-packed), cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, kayaking, canoeing, hiking, biking and birdwatching among other great reasons to spend time in Wisconsin’s great outdoors.


    The further society evolves from the time when hunting was a necessity to feed a family the more likely it is that the numbers of hunters will decline. There is no reason to believe that any expenditure of state money promoting hunting will change that, or to believe it should be a concern of the state government.


    Controlling the deer population is sometimes mentioned as a reason to encourage hunting. That sounds logical, but hunting in more developed areas, such as Ozaukee County, though pushed aggressively by the DNR by opening state parks and other natural areas to hunting, has had no measurable effect on the exploding suburban deer population.


    In the north woods, nature, mainly by means of severe winters, can probably do more to control deer population than any army of hunters.


    Had the governor not nixed it, the $500,000 inserted in the budget in the name of promoting hunting and fishing would have accomplished nothing more than to reward an organization that raises money for Republican candidates. That was probably the intention all along.


 
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