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Editorials
A benefit veterans can count on PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 29 May 2013 14:02

While an overwhelmed federal agency is failing to provide timely help to veterans, Port Washington comes through year after year with a meaningful gesture of appreciation

Some of the men and women who retire from careers in the military have to wait years for the benefits they were promised when they enlisted. Some of the soldiers wounded in Afghanistan have to wait many months for the approval of disability claims needed for long-term treatment of their physical and mental injuries. Everyone claiming veterans benefits has to wait too long.

    This is wrong, but not unexplainable. The Department of Veterans Affairs is utterly overwhelmed. It has more employees (300,000-plus) than any federal agency except the Department of Defense, yet it still can’t get its job done.

    There is outrage about this in Washington, but not a lot of blame, because everyone understands the job is so enormous it defies efficient handling. American has more than 25 million living veterans, three-fourths of whom have served during a war. Counting veterans’ family members, more than one-fourth of the country’s population is eligible for veterans’ benefits.

    That explains the problem, but it’s not an excuse. A country that creates veterans at the rate the U.S. does by putting its citizens in harm’s way in a seemingly unending series of wars and armed conflicts has a moral obligation to see to the well being of those who served.

    The VA’s failings are out of character with the way the nation’s citizenry regards military veterans. America reveres its veterans. We name parks and buildings for them, honor them in our schools, applaud respectfully when aging color guards pass in parades and give to veterans’ causes as diverse as the spring poppy drives and the Stars and Stripes Honor Flights.

    Folks in Port Washington go beyond that and do something for veterans that may be unique in the nation and is certainly one of the most basically nice gestures you will find anywhere. They take veterans fishing.


    That may sound like a small and simple thing, but it is neither. It is a big thing for the veterans because they are disabled, being cared for at the VA Medical Center in Wood, Wis., and fishing is one of the pleasures of life their disabilities usually put out of their reach. Going fishing on Lake Michigan is complicated because many of the veterans are in wheelchairs and getting them on and off boats for the outing requires the efforts of many volunteers.

    This year’s Disabled Veterans Fishing Outing will be the 40th edition of the event started by a Port Washington charter fisherman in gratitude for the care he received at the VA Medical Center.

    The volunteers and the charter fishermen and other boat owners who make their boats available and the men and women who treat the veterans to a fish boil at the American Legion clubhouse work hard to make the day enjoyable and find joy themselves in knowing their efforts are successful.

    Here’s how Mary Schuknecht, who has coordinated the outing for 35 years, put it: “The  veterans love the atmosphere of the city and how they’re welcomed into the community. They have the greatest time.”

    Some 120 veterans are expected this year. When the late Tom McQuaid held the first outing in 1973, he took six disabled veterans fishing. It was an act of kindness he felt moved to offer after barely surviving an explosion aboard his boat.

    The explosion, traced to a gasoline leak, blew McQuaid out of the boat and into the west slip of the harbor, where he would likely have drowned had a passerby not saved him. Seriously burned, he was treated at the VA hospital, and he did not forget the care he received from the staff and the companionship he received from fellow injured veterans. McQuaid was an Army veteran.

     Over the years many in Port Washington have followed McQuaid’s lead in sharing the enjoyment of lake fishing with veterans, and more are needed to aid that cause this year. The outing needs boats, helpers of all kinds, donated fish and homemade desserts. Call Mary Schuknecht at 284-9144 to offer to lend a hand.

    By the time June 19 rolls around, we’re sure there will be plenty of help and this very nice day will go on as it has for four decades. Port Washington’s Disabled Veterans Fishing Outing is one benefit veterans can count on.



 
Breakwater safety first PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 22 May 2013 14:32

The City of Port Washington is right to pressure Congress to fix the breakwater, but its first priority should be to get safety devices in place—now

Comments by city officials last week about the Port Washington breakwater were as refreshing as a cool lake breeze on a steamy August day.

    The mayor and an alderman recognized that the breakwater is an important recreational resource that has become a menace to users.

    Call it an epiphany. Or maybe a eureka moment. The city has rediscovered the seawall that has marked the north side of its harbor for more than 80 years.

    It’s about time. The breakwater has been dangerous for years, not just because the concrete on its outer third is deteriorating, but because ladders essential to the survival of someone who falls off the breakwater are broken and there are no liferings.

    This has been brought to the city’s attention repeatedly, most dramatically several years ago when a fishermen fell into the water and, with no ladder available, was fortunate to be pulled to safety by fellow anglers.

    Yet the city government has not lifted a finger to provide basic, inexpensive safety features for a facility that its officials acknowledge is a popular means of enjoying Lake Michigan for residents and visitors.

    There still would be no plan to fill this obvious need if it weren’t for a citizens’ Water Safety Committee that is trying to raise $800 for new ladders and $4,000 for a series of liferings with throw ropes.

    Mayor Tom Mlada and Ald. Bill Driscoll, a member of a new city committee formed to lobby Congress to approve spending federal money to repair the breakwater, voiced worries about the breakwater’s crumbling concrete. “The danger is so imminent that we need to be out there asking for funding, asking for repairs,” Mlada said. Driscoll, referring to the eastern portion of the breakwater, warned, “It’s only a matter of time before this thing goes.”


    They’re right, of course. The structure is in terrible shape. Which is all the more reason the first priority should be to get safety devices in place. Large chunks of the concrete deck have broken off, increasing the chances of a walker falling. Repairs are not likely for years. The ladders and liferings are needed now.

    The Water Safety Committee, formed following a tragic drowning last summer, has an ambitious agenda of needed beach and harbor safety improvements, and will be hard-pressed to complete it through private fundraising. The city needs to help. It should start by picking up the modest cost of the breakwater safety devices and expediting their installation.

    It was a good move to create a city breakwater lobbying committee that is tasked to beg, cajole, hector, do whatever it takes to get Congress’ attention to the need for the federal government to take responsibility for the breakwater it owns and is supposed to maintain.

    But that is an uphill fight. In the eyes of the agency in charge of harbors, the Army Corps of Engineers, the breakwater is a low priority. The city is no longer a port used by commercial ships, and the Corps has no interest in recreational uses of breakwaters.

    At least it can be said that the city and its breakwater committee have right on their side. It’s the federal government’s responsibility to fix the breakwater—period. Rep. Tom Petri, whose district includes Port Washington and the harbor area, owes his constituents an effort to get someone in Washington to understand that.

     Meanwhile, the problem is only going to get worse. Once again, the Water Safety Committee has stepped up with a plan for action, this one to make interim repairs at a cost of $50,000. It’s another good idea, but a steep slope to climb for a private fundraising effort. Still, it might get done before the federal government moves on breakwater repair.

    Either way, progress on a breakwater fix is going to take a while. Ladders and liferings, on the other hand, can be ready for this season. The city should make that happen.


 
Nature park a fitting end to Port’s VK adventure PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 15 May 2013 15:34

Conservation groups have a better idea for lakeshore land that failed as a tax base windfall

Examined through the telescope of hindsight, the decision 18 years ago to annex to the City of Port Washington the hundreds of acres of land known as the VK property looks like a mistake.

    The land stretched far south of the city along the lake, past the Town of Port Washington and into the Town of Grafton. The development planned for the land seemed likely to become, as an editorial in this newspaper at the time worried, “an isolated Mequonesque enclave without ties to the Port Washington community.”

    But annexation nonetheless was alluring in 1995. There was the mega-developer Vincent Kuttemperoor distributing heaps of money to buy up lakeshore farmland and talking about investing tens of millions more in a spectacular development to include luxury homes, a resort hotel and commercial center and even a marina. For elected officials eager to boost the city tax base, accommodating Kuttemperoor’s proposal for annexation looked like a surefire way to win the lottery.

    It turned out that annexation did not buy a winning ticket. Instead of advancing the plans for the annexed Port Washington land, VK splurged on a similarly extravagant development in Naples, Fla., and went bust. The Port land, now owned by the bank that foreclosed on loans to the developer, has languished under agricultural zoning, yielding insignificant tax revenue. The oversized lift station built to serve the development (funded mostly by VK) is used at a fraction of its capacity, sitting at the south end of Milwaukee Street as a sort of monument to the failed VK extravaganza.

    One way of looking at this is to say things worked out pretty well, because the land is now available for a better use—a lakeshore nature preserve. The Ozaukee Washington Land Trust and the powerful national conservation organization The Nature Conservancy are seeking to buy 210 acres of the land with help from Ozaukee County in the form of a small part of the purchase price and a commitment to own the park.

    One reason this is a welcome initiative was expressed unintentionally in an ad in the Wall Street Journal offering the VK land for $18 million and touting it as one of the last large undeveloped tracts on Lake Michigan. That was meant as a pitch to developers, but the fact that the land is among the last of its kind is really a cry to save it for public access to the lake.

    The Land Trust/Nature Conservancy proposal goes beyond preservation. It’s designed not just to protect a natural area, but to make it available for the public to enjoy. The model for this is the Lion’s Den Gorge, the result of a partnership between the Land Trust and Ozaukee County that has proven to be an immensely popular recreational resource while protecting natural resources.

    City of Port Washington officials, however, are lobbying against the nature preserve plan. While it is not surprising that they are reluctant to write off the hope of salvaging some tax-base growth from the annexation, there are benefits to the city in the nature preserve plan that should be considered.

    Making a large portion of the annexed area parkland would help get the VK albatross off the city’s neck. Absent the euphoria of instant tax-base gratification that made annexation look so wonderful 18 years ago, purchase of the land by a developer now would be a recipe for the kind of urban sprawl enlightened municipalities are trying to avoid—widely-spaced oversized houses on oversized lots far from the utilities that would have to be extended to service them.

    And, clearly, a nature park with more than a mile of Lake Michigan beach close to Port Washington would be a city asset, an amenity for residents, an attraction for visitors to the city.

    The Ozaukee County Board will consider the city’s concerns in deciding whether to support the nature preserve plan, but those concerns should be weighed against the reality that this opportunity to do something of lasting value for the people of Ozaukee County is fleeting. When it’s gone, it’s gone forever. The county and city should work with the conservation organizations that are willing to put up more than 95% of the cost to see that it doesn’t get away.


 
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