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Let New York close the gate to invaders PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 28 September 2011 18:20

Wisconsin’s governor is not acting like a friend of Lake Michigan by seeking to weaken another state’s anti-invasive species efforts

With friends like these, the Great Lakes don’t need any enemies.

The “friends” we’re referring to are the governors of Indiana, Ohio and, sad to say, Wisconsin, who are asking the state of New York to lighten up on regulations aimed at stopping ocean-going ships from further contaminating the lakes with invasive species.

Yes, you read it right—lighten up. The governors of states that share the benefits of the world’s greatest freshwater resource and share the responsibility to protect it are pressuring another Great Lakes state to drop its tough new rules on ballast water.

The ballast water ocean ships release in the lakes is what brought the zebra and quagga mussels and hundreds of other harmful foreign organisms to Lake Michigan and its four sister lakes.

Wisconsin’s Scott Walker and the other two governors complain that New York’s regulation is stricter than the standards set by the International Maritime Organization. They’re right—it is, and it should be. The IMO rules for ballast water, a product of political negotiation, are not stringent enough to stem the flow of harmful animals, plants and diseases into the lakes, according to a number of environmental organizations and scientists.

The governors seeking to weaken protection for the lakes also claim technology is not advanced enough to meet the New York ballast water standard.  If that’s true, well, that’s too bad for the shippers delivering invaders to the lakes. They’ll just have to develop the technology to properly cleanse their ballast water before New York’s 2013 deadline.

And if they don’t? Then stay out of the Lakes. New York, the farthest east Great Lakes state, is in effect the gatekeeper. If ships can’t steam through New York waters, they can’t get to the rest of the states’ waters. Walker and the other governors see economic pain in this.


Allowing the assault on the Lakes by invasive species to continue for the sake of economic gain would be questionable under any circumstances, but in this case it is particularly shortsighted. Purely environmental issues aside, studies have shown the cost of the damage to the lakes by invasive species is far greater than the value of business generated by ocean ships.

The seaway accounts for about $55 million a year in transportation savings, according to a study commissioned by the Joyce Foundation.  The economic loss caused by exotic species in the Great Lakes amounts to $300 million a year, a study by the University of Notre Dame concludes.

A case can also be made that the seaway is unnecessary. Overseas cargoes bound for Great Lakes ports can be off loaded at East Coast ports and shipped to their destinations by railroad or Lakes carriers.

Moreover, the seaway is obsolete. It can’t accommodate the huge, deep-draft ships that today offer the most efficient means of ocean freight shipping.

Far from unthinkable, closing the St. Lawrence Seaway is an option that should be considered in fighting the battle to save the Great Lakes.

Supporting, rather than trying to weaken, New York’s tough ballast water regulations could have some of the same beneficial effect.

Unfortunately, the three governors who in the name of short-term economic gain won’t do that probably have a reasonable chance of success. Economics usually trumps the environment.

This is evident in the refusal to close the Illinois canal system to Lake Michigan to block the entrance of Asian carp into lake. It might hurt the economy. And it’s seen in the refusal of much of the world to do anything about global warming. Cutting the carbon emissions that the world’s scientific establishment concludes are causing dangerous climate change might hurt the economy.

One has to wonder what the prosperity this economic activity is expected to create will be worth when the Great Lakes are dead and the planet is in the grip of climactic turmoil.

 
A rough road for the towns PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 21 September 2011 22:46

The imminent end of road aid for Ozaukee’s six towns, pushed by fans of privatizing government services, could mean deteriorating rural roads

It costs the federal government more to outsource projects to private contractors than to have government employees do the work, according to a new study by the Project on Government Oversight.

The study contradicts a view so firmly established it is considered gospel in some quarters. Government work is routinely disparaged as wasteful, inefficient and expensive.

The study casts doubt on the ever more popular view that privatizing government services makes them cheaper.

The study involved federal projects and had nothing to do with outsourcing local government services, but the findings are worth keeping in mind as Ozaukee County makes a change that will be an inducement to the six towns in the county to privatize road work.

The county is poised to end the road aid to towns that for many years has made the Ozaukee County Highway Department the predominant source for road maintenance in rural areas.

Road aid has been under attack for several years and barely survived in last year’s budget. The County Board chairman and county administrator are determined to get rid of it and probably have the votes to do it. The County Board’s Public Works Committee has turned against it. Its defenders on the County Board seem ready to throw in the towel.

Town road aid is about to be history, perhaps more a victim of the faddish allure of privatization than of solid evidence that the system it supported was wasteful or burdensome to taxpayers.

Road aid in last year’s budget consisted of a total of $131,000 in credits (in a budget of $81.5 million) issued to the towns to be used for county highway department road repair and resurfacing services. The credits could only be used if the towns matched the amounts in cash payments to the county.    

The system was validated by elegant logic. Taxpayers in the towns, which unlike municipalities and counties receive no state aid for roads, got a bit of relief and the hundreds of miles of town roads in the county were maintained to a high standard. The work done for the towns helped support the overhead of the highway department, which represents a huge investment by taxpayers in equipment and manpower, and abetted efficiency by evening out its work flow.

The end of road aid will mean the county highway department will be doing less work for the towns.

Critics of the road aid subsidy say getting rid of it could save town taxpayers money by pushing towns to use private contractors. That remains to be seen. What is more certain is that the towns will have to defer some road maintenance—to the detriment of everyone who uses Ozaukee County’s rural roads.

This is not to say the private contractor option should not be pursued. Jim Melichar, Town of Port Washington chairman, is an advocate for having town road work done by private firms instead of the county. He points to the recent repaving of Willow Road by a company that charged the town much less than the county would have.

A county highway department spokesman attributed the cost difference to a disparity in specifications; the county would have used thicker asphalt, he said.

That suggests that the highway department, in the post-road-aid era, should be more flexible and aggressive in marketing its services. As a government agency, it can’t bid on projects, but it could give townships informed, comparable estimates on road projects. Cost aside, the department has demonstrated convincingly that it is the best source for road maintenance in the county—and an option towns would ignore at their peril.

There are a lot paving companies in the world—as anyone who has a blacktop driveway knows from the volume of telemarketing calls in spring—so towns may benefit from some low bids. Rural road drivers should hope this doesn’t put the towns so much in the thrall of privatization that they turn to private contractors for that most necessary of all road maintenance tasks—snowplowing. For that, the county highway department, with its array of snow removal equipment, knowledge of the county road system and expertise, should be the only choice.

The Town Board of Fredonia last week debated outsourcing plowing, then quickly—and wisely—rejected it.

As for that $131,000 road aid budget item,  well, it’s going to be spent whether the towns get it or not. There’s talk of putting it into a job stimulus fund. Perhaps a year from now the officials who killed road aid will give taxpayers an accounting of how that worked out.

 
Saying yes in the Age of No PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 14 September 2011 21:03

Even in a time of diminished tax revenue, communities must do more than go about the grim business of cutting what it takes to balance the budget

We’re living in the Age of No, as in—No, you can’t have all of the government services you expect or need.

The Age of No may be a satisfying time for those of the shrink-the-government persuasion, but they can’t take credit for it. That belongs to the chronically anemic economy and resulting shrunken tax revenues.

The effects of the Age of No are evident in the U.S. Congress, in Wisconsin’s state government and, increasingly, in the communities and school districts that are at the bottom of the tax revenue food chain.

It’s the one instance in which the trickle-down economic theory actually works: The misery trickles down.

In its response to the demands of the Age of No, the Port Washington Common Council is preparing to say no the city taxi service and to city-funded recycling.

The shared-ride taxi service, paid for by federal and state grants, a city subsidy and user fees, is much appreciated by users who do not have transportation means of their own, but as aldermen have pointed out, an alternative is available in Ozaukee County’s shared-ride taxi service.

Charging residents a $45 recycling fee, as has been proposed, may be prudent considering that the state has sharply reduced its financial aid to municipalities to offset some of the cost complying with Wisconsin’s mandatory recycling law.

It is also evidence of the false promise of tax freezes imposed on local governments by the state Legislature in the name of protecting the beleaguered taxpayer. The same Legislature that cut recycling aid to communities imposed limits on local tax levies. Now cities and villages can’t offset the recycling aid loss through taxes. Hence, a recycling fee.

Pardon us for repeating a euphemism. It’s not really a fee. It’s not optional. It has to be paid. Taxpayers cannot opt out of recycling services because the city is required by state law to provide them. So the recycling fee is in effect a tax, courtesy of state politicians who vowed no tax increases and no new taxes.

The Age of No raises the bar for the performance of elected officials in that it demands service beyond going about the grim business of cutting whatever it takes to balance the budget. Communities still have to grow. Budget constraints or not, the quality of living in communities must progress and improve. The alternative is a retreat to a dark age of withering possibilities.

That seems to be well understood in Fredonia, where Village President Chuck Lapicola has proposed a five-year park and recreation development plan that includes a trail system to link village parks and other features of the community and eventually connect with a Milwaukee River nature trail.

Fredonia has excellent parks, but the proposal notes that “the only safe way to traverse between parks for children is in a car.” Establishing walking and bicycling trails between parks is therefore one of the goals of the plan.

Lapicola told the village Parks Committee: “We have a pretty strong park system, but there are some missing pieces. The more amenities we can offer, the more appealing the village will be to someone who is looking for a place to make their new home.”

Right, and that matters, because the village must keep moving forward.

The village president recognized that enacting the plan will be challenging in a time of diminished government revenue and was wise to emphasize that outside sources of funding, including grants, will be needed.

Still, his vision is a reminder of the importance of remembering how to say yes to community needs in the Age of No.





 
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