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Amid cheers for a great catch, worries for lake’s future PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 17 August 2011 15:46

Lake Michigan and its sister lakes are in the throes of an environmental disaster, but where’s the outrage?

You could call it the good news-bad news fish.       

It was a 34-pound chinook salmon landed by a Port Washington sport fishing boat. It was big news (big enough to be reported on the front page of last week’s Ozaukee Press) because it was the biggest fish caught around here in years.

It was good news because the lunker is seen as an indication of the resurgence of the alewife, the little fish that big game fish and the Lake Michigan game-fishing industry depend on for survival.

And yet the fact that the catch was remarkable was a reminder of the lake’s perilous state. A little more than a decade ago salmon weighing more than 30 pounds were routine. (The record weight for a Lake Michigan chinook salmon is more than 43 pounds.) Until this year, they’d been getting steadily smaller, a sure sign of a diminishing food supply in the decline of the alewife.

While sport fishermen and charter fishing businesses are buoyed by the apparent surge in the prey fish population, no one knows if it will last, and many are haunted by the fear that if it doesn’t, Lake Michigan sport fishing will go the way of Lake Huron’s, which is to say down the drain.

The fear is justified. Lake Michigan has been so profoundly changed by invasive mussels and other creatures that no one knows what its future holds or whether it even has a future as an ecosystem that can support fish species fit to catch and eat. 

Mussels from distant seas introduced into the lake in ballast water released from foreign ships have already laid waste to commercial fishing. By sucking out of the lake the plankton needed to nurture the young of such commercially valuable fish as whitefish, lake trout and yellow perch, zebra mussels and quagga mussels have rendered the southern three-fourths  of the lake essentially sterile as far as those species are concerned.

If someone had caught a 12-inch perch off the Port Washington breakwater last week, it would have been bigger news than that monster chinook, so rare has this once superabundant panfish become.


The Lake Michigan population of quagga mussels, now said to infest every region of the lake except Green Bay and Grand Traverse Bay, is estimated at 900 trillion and growing by the minute.

The Great Lakes are victims of a crime, not a crime of nature, but one perpetrated by man. Which begs the question: Where is the outrage?

Some of it no doubt can be found in the Gulf of Mexico, where the BP oil spill has been treated as a national disaster, commanding presidential attention and a response by the federal government that has included a massive cleanup and restoration operation and an elaborate process to compensate fisherman and others economically damaged by the oil that gushed into the sea.

No question, it was a disaster—another heinous crime by man against nature—but awful as it was, the BP spill does not rise to the calaitous scale of what has been done to the lakes. The effects of the oil in the Gulf will dissipate and eventually disappear. No such forecast can be made about the lakes’ invasive species.

The damage to the lakes is truly incalculable—no knows where or when or if ever it will end—but it includes an entire fishing industry all but wiped out. The fish tug fleets of Port Washington, Milwaukee and dozens of other ports are history. The wholesome food they harvested—hundreds of tons every year of whitefish, trout, perch and chubs—is no more.

What is it about the plight of the Lake Michigan and the other Great Lakes that does not merit a national campaign to save the greatest freshwater resource on earth?

There is not even a unified, focused effort to stop infestation by new invasive species. Ballast water regulations are weak and poorly enforced and fought every step of the way by shipping companies. Monstrous Asian carp, another potential nail in the lakes’ coffin, are schooling near the very doorway to Lake Michigan in Chicago, yet the U.S. Corps of Engineers waffles and politics trumps action on other fronts.

That one big, beautiful chinook and a few more little alewife than usual are welcome, a nice distraction, if only for a moment, from Great Lakes gloom, but the question is still waiting for an answer:

Where is the outrage?

 
Compromise to save a public treasure PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press Editoral Board   
Wednesday, 10 August 2011 18:39

“All government, indeed every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue, and every prudent act, is founded on compromise and barter.”

So said Edmund Burke, the 18th century British politician, philosopher and staunch supporter of the American revolution, a founder of modern conservatism and a brilliant orator whose words (it was also he who said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”) remain sound advice for every one in government if not all of mankind.

The consequences of failing to heed his advice have been on vivid display in the capitol buildings in Madison and Washington where refusal to compromise led to dysfunction and paralysis and a bitterness that hangs over public affairs like an acrid cloud.

Now in Port Washington there is an opportunity to demonstrate how “human benefit” can be produced for citizens by following Burke’s counsel: The firehouse dilemma cries for compromise.

The magnificent old firehouse building at the corner of Pier and Wisconsin streets belongs under the stewardship of the Port Washington Historical Society. It will take compromise to make that happen.           

Many in the community want this; hundreds of citizens have said so by signing petitions. The Historical Society wants it, and surely a majority of the Common Council would want it if the revenue issues associated with the building were addressed.

The community wants it because people understand that the firehouse is a building of uncommon architectural and historical merit, attested to by its inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. It was built with the public’s money in 1929 and has been owned ever since by the people of Port Washington. If it is going to be removed from public ownership, it should be preserved in the public trust by a worthy non-profit organization—the Historical Society—rather than be sold to a private owner to house a commercial establishment of one sort or another.

Both the city and the Historical Society have to give a little to keep historically valuable firehouse accessible to the public

The city is on a course to do the latter. The council’s 5-2 vote last week (Aldermen Jim Vollmar and Burt Babcock dissented) to list the firehouse with a real estate agent threatens to close
the door to compromise by bringing in a third party representing self-interest rather than the public interest.

Compromise could start with the council rescinding its decision and holding off on contracting with an agent. Then it should signal flexibility on the price and terms.  The city wants
revenue from the building to help pay for the new quarters the Senior Center took over when it left the firehouse, but the $250,000 it’s asking looks unrealistic, considering that the building needs extensive and expensive repairs and upgrades. With $250,000 set as a minimum bid, the property attracted not a single bidder.

Further, officials should drop their insistence that the building be added to the tax roll (after 82 years as an untaxed public property). It could be of greater value to the city as a preserved historical icon and a museum that would educate residents and attract visitors than a tax-generating property.

Compromise is a two-way street, of course, and the Historical Society has some distance to travel on its side of the street. For openers, it should acknowledge that it’s not enough to say it will take the firehouse off the city’s hands, maintain it and make it into a museum. It needs to buy or lease the building or facilitate that outcome through its supporters. The society should show that it’s amenable to various creative possibilities, including a partnership with a private buyer.   

The group would be in a better position to do that with the city showing its support for entrusting the building to the Historical Society, instead of appearing to work against that outcome.

Questions abound and there is no road map for an agreement, but one thing is certain—there will be plenty of regret if the public loses access to this valuable piece of Port Washington history—valuable for its role in the ciy’s past and for what it can do for its future. All for the want of compromise.

 
If Americans have to sacrifice, why are some exempt? PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 03 August 2011 18:05

The anti-tax dogma that protects the wealthy and tax-avoiding corporations insults the intelligence of a citizenry that knows shared sacrifice is the way out of the nation’s debt problems

The burlesque in Washington over raising the national debt limit—a self-indulgent exercise in ideological posturing in the House of Representatives that damaged the stature of the United States and cost substantial losses in individuals’ retirement accounts when stock markets fell in response to the Congressional foolishness—may be ending, but the insult to the intelligence of the American public lingers.

The insult is the assertion by a Republican faction and the acceptance by moderate Republicans and Democrats of the notion that taxes on wealthy individuals and large corporations must not be raised as part of dealing with the nation’s rising debt.

The proposition is economically bogus and morally bankrupt, and the American people know it. Yet the preaching goes on unabated: It’s a sin to raise taxes. Numerous opinion polls make it clear that a large majority of the public believes this is wrong. There is a fundamental understanding that if Americans have to sacrifice to control the country’s debt, it must be a shared sacrifice.

The same members of Congress who oppose modest, targeted tax increases favor reducing Medicare and Social Security benefits as a debt reduction sacrifice extracted from citizens who depend on these government entitlements. 

A shared sacrifice? Hardly, especially considering that federal tax collections are at their lowest level since 1950—14.8% of the U.S. gross domestic product. Federal corporate taxes amount to only 1.8% of the GDP.

Refusing to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans and take measures to collect more of the taxes large corporations should be paying is based on premises as phony as the trickle-down theory once espoused by the anti-tax crowd (let the rich get richer and some of their wealth will trickle down to the not rich), which has long been exposed as nonsense.

According to one no-tax-hike rationale, the fragile economy will suffer if targeted tax increases are enacted. That was proven wrong by the robust economic gains that followed tax increases signed by Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.

According to another, collecting more taxes from large corporations will cost jobs. In fact, the multinational companies that have been able to minimize their tax payments through clever accounting are more responsible for job losses, by cutting back domestic work forces and outsourcing, than job gains.

Jobs are created by the start-up companies whose owners and investors are more concerned about the credit needed to nurture their dream of becoming profitable businesses—which would have become more expensive and difficult to obtain if the U.S. had defaulted on its debt—than paying taxes.

What the anti-tax zealots in Congress refuse to understand is that America’s skewed distribution of its wealth, the most unequal of any comparable industrialized country, is just as unsustainable as its debt.

Cutting the benefits that the middle class and poor depend on while preserving corporate tax loopholes and lowered tax rates on the wealthy cruelly exacerbates that imbalance.

The public knows it is wrong to make the wealthiest individuals and corporations exempt from the coming sacrifices facing an economically diminished America. In a Washington Post/ABC poll in July, 72% of respondents said people earning more than $250,000 a year should pay higher taxes.

Yet the tax deniers continue to insult the public’s intelligence. Will Americans tolerate it?

Shame on us if we do.

 
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