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Make it truly Port’s lighthouse PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 08 October 2014 20:12

The federal government’s failure to maintain its lighthouses is an opportunity for Port to ensure the future of its most recognizable symbol

The Port Washington lighthouse is both a beacon and a sign of the times.

    As a beacon, it guides mariners to the harbor. As a sign of the times, it reminds citizens that their federal government is going backwards in terms of providing essential services to the public.


    The city has learned that the U.S. Coast Guard plans to divest itself of the  lighthouse because it can’t afford to maintain it.


    You read that right—the government that has owned and maintained lighthouses at the port of Port Washington for more than a century and a half claims it doesn’t have the means to pay for the upkeep of the current pierhead lighthouse.


    You could call this a trend—a number of federal lighthouses have already been given away or sold, some of the latter to private owners—but it is also a failure. It has been a federal government responsibility to provide and maintain navigational aids since the earliest days of the republic. It is disconcerting if not embarrassing that the same nation, now grown up and owning the world’s largest economy, can no longer meet that responsibility.


    Nonetheless, that is the state of things, and it leaves the city with a decision to make: Should it acquire the lighthouse?


    The answer is yes—because the lighthouse means too much to the community, beyond its role as an essential aid to commercial and recreational navigation, to allow its future to become uncertain under new ownership.

    The lighthouse is Port Washington’s symbol, officially in its logo and wayfinding signs, and informally in its prominence in popular images, photographed, painted and imagined, of the city. The distinctive tower standing on a massive concrete base with arched portals for waves and walkers to pass through is a destination for the thousands of residents and tourists who transit the half-mile long north breakwater to visit it each year.

    The appeal of lighthouses is demonstrated by a much older Port Washington lighthouse, the one in the 1860 Light Station atop St. Mary’s Hill. Restored by its current owner, the Port Washington Historical Society, it is one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions.

    The pierhead lighthouse, though dating to a comparatively recent 1935, is an important historical icon in its own right, symbolizing both  the city’s nautical roots and the ongoing importance of seafaring in Port Washington’s story.


    It should not be overlooked that this is a working lighthouse that will have to serve that purpose far into the future. Even with the GPS navigation that guides most mariners, entering the harbor in bad weather and low visibility without a lighthouse beacon could be risky. The light and foghorn in the Port Washington pierhead lighthouse are necessary aids and potential lifesavers.


    The Coast Guard says it will maintain the light itself (not the building) after giving up ownership of the structure. It says the same thing about the foghorn, though that perhaps should be taken with a grain of salt. The horn currently seems to be out of operation.


    The audible function of the Port Washington lighthouse might be termed the incredible shrinking foghorn. Long-time Port residents will remember, perhaps vividly, when the foghorn was a deep, baritone blast, so loud it rattled windows in the downtown. A foggy stretch could mean two booming blasts every 30 seconds around the clock. The horn was eventually turned down in volume and up in pitch to something resembling a squeal. In recent years its automatic fog-sensing function was turned off and it sounded only when boaters signaled it on their VHF radios. Now even that is apparently not functioning.


    In any case, Port Washington should move on this opportunity. The lighthouse is expected to be made available by the General Services Administration at no cost if the new owner is a local government or a non-profit organization. If there are no takers, it could be sold at auction to a private buyer.


    The city is no better able (well, quite a bit less so, actually) than the federal government to pay for lighthouse maintenance, so help from organizations, corporations and individuals willing to sponsor the lighthouse adventure will be needed. Judging from the community support for such initiatives as the waterfront safety campaign, we are confident that help will be forthcoming.


    We’ve always called it Port Washington’s lighthouse. Now let’s make that true in every way.


 
Insult on top of the injury of job loss PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 01 October 2014 16:13

If people seeking jobless benefits are forced to take drug tests, then the same should apply to corporate leaders who get cash and tax credits as Wisconsin taxpayer-funded benefits

Do workers who lose their jobs forfeit their dignity along with their paychecks?

    The answer could well be yes in Wisconsin if Gov. Scott Walker is able to carry out a promise made in the current gubernatorial election campaign to require people who lose their jobs to take a drug test before they can receive unemployment benefits.


    For many of the unemployed, being laid off—downsized, furloughed, let go, fired, call it what you will—is already a psychological blow as well as a financial blow. There is dignity in work; some of that is surely stripped away when the ability to work is lost when employment ends, usually through no fault of the worker. Forcing people in these straits to submit to a drug test in order to claim a benefit meant to provide a modicum of support while they seek new jobs would impose a further indignity.


    Beyond that, it would be manifestly unfair. If the unemployed must pass a drug test, then everyone who gets government benefits should be tested, including CEOs and directors of the companies that receive taxpayer-paid-for perks, including the cash distributed to corporations by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. and the tax breaks awarded as business incentives.


    There is no reason to believe people who lose their jobs are any more likely to be drug users than corporate executives or any other group.

    When Florida made the mistake of passing a law requiring drug tests as a condition for receiving unemployment compensation and benefits for the poor, 108 of 4,086 people seeking benefits failed drug tests—less than 3%, a far smaller percentage than the estimated 9% of Florida residents overall who use drugs.

    Florida’s drug-test-for-benefits program lasted only four months before it was shut down by a federal-court injunction, but in that short time it cost state taxpayers nearly $200,000 for drug testing to deprive benefits to the few applicants who failed the tests.


    The Florida law was struck down in part because it required drug tests for food stamps recipients as well as those applying for unemployment and other benefits. Federal law specifically forbids tests for food stamps.


    Walker is proposing drug tests as a condition for getting food stamps as well as unempolyment benefits in Wisconsin, ensuring that there would be expensive litigation for taxpayers to pay for as well as the cost of the drug testing itself.


    There are better reasons than the cost, however, to hope nothing comes of the governor’s campaign promise. It should be rejected in Wisconsin because of the demeaning way it would treat citizens in need of some assistance from their state government.


    Rhetoric supporting such measures sometimes refers to recipients of government aid as “takers” and members of a “dependency class.” People who buy into those cruel characterizations may have no qualms about invading the privacy of a jobless person by requiring a drug test, but the rest of us should. The dignity of the working man and working woman is ingrained in civilized societies. Being out of a job should not mean it has to be forfeited.

 
A coal dock railing? Can do! PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 24 September 2014 14:20

A city that against all odds found ways to rebuild its breakwater can surely use the same spirit to install a life-saving railing in its new waterfront park

The City of Port Washington put on an amazing demonstration of the power of a can-do, make-it-happen, get-it-done spirit with its triumphant campaign to save the breakwater.

    A year ago the breakwater was in danger of falling apart and any hope for repairs by the Army Corps of Engineers was deemed years away. Today the breakwater is sound following a million-dollar reinforcement project and the city has at least $750,000 to spend on further improvements to make the structure not just an essential component of the harbor but a safe and easy-to-use recreation facility.


    This good fortune did not just fall on Port Washington like so much manna from the sky. City officials, led by Mayor Tom Mlada, aggressively sought the expedited Corps of Engineers work that armored the breakwater with hundreds of tons of stone and the grants that will allow the city to complete the breakwater makeover. These remarkable results can be credited in large part to the sense of urgency that propelled officials.


    Across the harbor from the breakwater at Coal Dock Park, however, no such urgency is evident, and the results speak for themselves: The city is no further along than it was a year ago in installing the railing on the dock and promenade that is essential for the safety of park users.


    The absence of a railing is an urgent concern. People come to Coal Dock Park to be near the water. The concrete promenade built on the former coal dock, with its marvelous views of the harbor and the lake, is a particularly appealing feature for visitors. But the edge of the promenade is just the sheer edge of the dock—there is no guardrail, nothing to prevent a careless or unsteady walker, a heedless child chasing a frisbee, a person too absorbed in the views to avoid a misstep or others who could be random victims of misfortune from falling into the water some 10 feet below.

    When the park was made, planners elected not to put in a railing, citing the need to keep the dock free of impediments for ships that might moor there. That dubious rationale has been discarded and there is now a sensible plan for a four-foot railing that will protect the public and not interfere with vessels.

    But it’s only a plan. Nothing has been done to implement it. There have been no assurances that the railing will be in the next city budget.


    Paying for the railing will be a problem. The cost is said to be around $200,000. An application for a DNR grant to partially fund it has been denied. Yet the railing should be viewed as essential infrastructure that simply has to be paid for one way or another. Delay beyond the 2015 budget cycle should not be an option.

    The Common Council should be moved to act by more than the obvious void in park safety. The aldermen should listen to the people. The people want the railing.

    Consider: The Port Washington-Saukville Jaycees attracted more than 200 people to their Land Regatta run-walk fundraiser for the railing and raised $6,265, which included donations, among them $70 from a boy who earned the money with a lemonade stand. The Port Washington Woman’s Club pledged $1,000 for the railing. Letters to the editor published in this newspaper have urged the city to install a guardrail without delay, as have members of the city Parks and Recreation Board, which have been strong advocates of the railing from the beginning.        


    Private fundraising, while admirable and symbolically significant, is not going to get the coal dock railing built. What will do it is a return by city officials to the can-do, make-it-happen, get-it-done spirit that saved the breakwater.


 
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