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Editorials
What cows give besdies milk PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 24 July 2013 15:06

Protecting water quality in America’s dairyland depends on farmers willing to add field runoff control to their responsibilities

Wisconsin has the second worst water quality in the nation along its Lake Michigan and Lake Superior beaches, according to the National Resources Defense Council. Wisconsin’s license-plate slogan is “America’s Dairyland.”

    The two facts are related. It is almost impossible to function in the industry of agriculture without polluting water. Which is evident in another fact: Water along beaches in northern Ozaukee County, according to 2012 testing, was more contaminated with bacteria than any in the state, except near the commercial port of Superior on Lake Superior.

    The worst Ozaukee County readings were taken at the ends of Cedar Beach Road and Highway D, bookend beaches at each side of Harrington Beach State Park in the Town of Belgium.

    The countryside inland of these beaches and the park is a patchwork of dairy farms. Runoff from the fields of these farms carries manure to Lake Michigan at three points in Harrington Beach park where stormwater flows into the lake and at other spots up and down the beach where heavy rainfall creates small streams.

    Runoff carrying animal waste is a double threat to water quality, transporting both E. coli bacteria that can sicken and even kill humans and phosphorus that promotes the algae blooms that can render beaches and swimming water unusable.

    It’s not just Ozaukee County’s or Wisconsin’s problem. Non-point agricultural pollution is considered the biggest threat to water quality in the country.


    Chemical fertilizers and silt carried off of finely tilled fields are part of the problem, but manure is the more formidable pollution culprit. The animals we need for milk and meat produce it. Farmers recycle it by putting it on fields to fertilize crops. Rain and snowmelt deliver it to water meant for recreation and drinking.

    Changes in dairy farming have worsened the problem. Cows used to make cow pies in pastures. Now most of them never get into pastures and generate manure in large herds confined in buildings. This prodigious production of animal waste is stored and then applied to fields.

    There are proven ways to mitigate non-point agricultural pollution, including buffer strips, wetland restoration, grass waterways, no-till or low-till farming practices and leaving a dense cover of crop residue on fields after harvesting.

    Ozaukee County land and water conservation personnel have been working with farmers for years using these methods in pollution abatement projects. The cost of some of this is covered by state and federal grants, although the $100,000 received by the county last year seems like a trifling amount considering the size of the problem.

    Some of the cost has to be borne by the farmers, as it should be, and many Ozaukee County farmers, to their credit, have willingly taken on this responsibility. Other businesses whose practices can affect the environment have to budget for pollution control, and farms should be no different.

     While many agricultural practices are regulated, farms get some leeway in environmental protection, earned by being the source of the nation’s food and keeper of an ethic held dear in this country, that of working the land.

    Hope for reducing the agricultural pollution of Lake Michigan rests on voluntary actions of farmers—on the hope that those who make their livings working with what nature gives them will see the need to protect all of nature’s gifts.


 
To the ramparts—repel the geese PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 17 July 2013 14:39

The city will have to fight to defend Port Washington’s newest park from lazy wildfowl that prefer urban life to migrating

Being kind to animals is a fine human trait, but there are times when being kind to animals is unkind to humans. Welcome to those times.

    Formerly wild animals—right here in civilized Ozaukee County—are damaging human property, laying waste to human vegetable and flower gardens, endangering humans on streets and highways, dispossessing humans from their recreational lands and fouling human spaces to the point of creating a menace to human health.

    This is no time for saccharine notions about coexisting with encroaching wildlife. If our forebears had been afflicted with such sentiments, we wouldn’t be here—they would have been eaten by bears or wolves.

    Property owners are on their own trying to deal with the predations of deer, turkeys and wildfowl that prefer snacking in their backyards and gardens over the hard work of foraging elsewhere.

    But where public property is concerned, government officials are going to have to face a responsibility to defend taxpayer-owned land and facilities from usurpation by creatures that were meant to be wild but have developed a predilection for the comforts of urban life.

    A small step in that direction came last week from the Port Washington Harbor Commission when it recommended that the Common Council adopt an ordinance making it illegal to feed wildfowl in the city.

    The commission was reacting to the mess being created at the north end of the marina by geese and ducks. The fowl like that locale anyway, but now they’re especially fond of it because people have been feeding them, often right in front of a sign requesting, “Please don’t feed the birds.”

    The motivation of the feeders is mystifying. The birds don’t need the food—they’re plump to the point of being obese from junk food (which is just about anything humans feed them) and lack of exercise. The idea is probably to get up close and personal with “wild” creatures, though you don’t need to feed them to do that. The Canada geese and mallard ducks are so secure in the marina neighborhood you can just about pet them.

    So, by all means, pass the no-feeding ordinance and replace the “please don’t” sign with an “it’s the law” sign. Then post a bunch of the signs around the soon-to-open Coal Dock Park, the site of the next big man-against-wildfowl battle.

    Referring to the looming battle, City Administrator Mark Grams predicted, “It’s going to be a huge problem.” That’s right, but probably an understatement. Until construction work started on Coal Dock Park, the land east of the power plant was a preferred gathering place for an immense flock of geese.

    What does this portend for the park? Do the math. Each Canada goose produces up to two pounds of excrement a day. Hundreds have been known to assemble there on a single day. Anyone for a walk in the park?

    Allaying this nuisance is going to take a lot more than an ordinance, of course, such as some tax dollars. Look at it as a necessary expense like plowing snow from streets and public walkways and cutting grass in the parks.

    Canada geese have managed to surpass deer as the most annoying wildlife encroachment problem because they adapt so easily to urbanization. Given a ready supply of food (available just about anywhere near the water even without generous humans), a place to lay eggs (which they do frequently, resulting in about four new geese a year from each pair) and protection from hunters and predators, they’re happy to give up their migrating ways and reside beside humans.

    Cities across the country are fighting occupation of their territory by masses of geese. Weapons include dog and coyote decoys, devices such as the Goosinator and Goose Buster that make noises to annoy geese, repellent sprays, recordings of dogs barking (probably more annoying to humans than geese), goose repellent sprays, oiling goose eggs to make them infertile and hiring a goose dog service.

    Just because it sounds like it might be effective to have dogs (border collies are the canines of choice) harass the geese regularly, we recommend the goose dog option.

    We do not recommend the remedy that a number of East Coast cities have tried—rounding up the geese and killing them. That would be an affront to the kindness-to-animals trait.

    Besides, the experts say it doesn’t work. New flocks quickly fill the space vacated by their euthanized brethren.    

    Let the battle begin.


 
A park to mark the end of a sooty era PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 10 July 2013 14:47

Coal Dock Park will give the public access to the beauties of Lake Michigan on land that once was the source of chronic pollution

The repurposing of the land on the lake side of the Port Washington power plant is so dramatic that it can truly be said, to resurrect an ancient aphorism, that the city has made a “silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”

    Sow’s ear indeed. For nearly 70 years, the land was host to a certified blight—the power plant’s coal pile. “Pile” understates the degree of blight. It was a mountain of fossilized carbon that gave off a black, gritty dust that could be seen, smelled and even tasted over much of Port Washington.

    Southeast winds carried the grit into the downtown and beyond. Pockets of spontaneous combustion frequently burned in the mounded coal for days, sending up an acrid smoke that seemed to color the air a faintly yellow hue and was distributed around the city by the lake breezes.

    Thus did the coal-burning power plant produce its smut at both the beginning and the end of the electricity-making process—when the raw coal was stored and moved into the plant to fire boilers and when its smoke and unburned residue of carbon and sulphur were emitted from the plant’s stacks.

    That is now history that will fade fast from memory as the one-time home of the source of that nuisance is transformed into Coal Dock Park—the silk purse.

      The charm of the park, which will open in a few weeks, will not be about what is in it, but what is around it. On filled lake bottom, the park juts into Lake Michigan and is embraced by its waters on three sides, inviting visitors to experience an intimacy with the lake rarely found on public lands.


    The city’s work has mainly been to civilize the place, to make it green and provide for walking and lake viewing. This restrained treatment of the former coal repository is just right for this stage in the park’s development.     A community brainstorming exercise, though it produced no definitive plan, yielded a plethora of ideas for the development of Coal Dock Park, including building a community center there. But it would be premature to proceed with that idea even if funding were available, for the location is so extraordinary that nothing ordinary in purpose or design should go there.

    Maybe one day . . . something special. Think of Milwaukee’s Calatrava.

    In the meantime, the new park achieves something for the city that may be unique in Wisconsin. It completes the chain of public lakeside walkways that covers the entire waterfront, from the north beach, around the marina and through the downtown, over Sauk Creek and now through Coal Dock Park and the adjacent bird sanctuary to the south beach.

     Also important, the new park maintains (and actually improves) a remnant of its former life—the deep-water dock where coal freighters once moored to unload their sooty cargoes. An asset that many small ports don’t have, the deep-water facility will be a boon to tall ship festivals and perhaps other beneficial uses in the future, such as visits by cruise ships.

    Not mentioned so far in this paean to Coal Dock Park is the 8,000-pound gorilla (OK, more like 8-million-pound gorilla) that broods over it—the massive gas-fired power plant.

    Yes, it’s a daunting presence looming over the park. Locals may have come to terms with it, but it’s a startling sight to visitors who wonder what the city was thinking when it allowed it on the lakefront. It shouldn’t be there, of course. After the better part of a century enduring the coal plant, Port Washington deserved a future without a power plant on its lakefront.

    That didn’t happen, but one of the consolation prizes in the negotiation over the new plant was what is now Coal Dock Park. And a valuable prize it is—as both a piece of the lakefront the public can call its own and a symbol of the end of Port Washington’s coal dust era.


 
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