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Natural areas and neighbors in peaceful coexistence PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 11 January 2012 19:13

DNR’s proposed Town of Fredonia nature area should go forward as a benefit to man and nature; deer hunting worries should be addressed

Privacy can be purchased. It’s one of the great perks of being rich. But most folks don’t have the luxury of owning vast tracts of open land surrounding their homes, so it’s understandable that those who live close to other people’s undeveloped land put a high value on the privacy and access to nature this fortunate proximity provides.

This accounts for the almost automatic outcry from neighbors when privately owned land is purchased by the state or conservation organizations to be preserved as natural areas open to the public.

Some of this is going on now in the Town of Fredonia, where neighbors of the Dix property are protesting the proposed purchase of the 80-acre tract by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources as a state natural area.

The expressed basis for their protest is the fear that members the public drawn to the natural area will trespass on their properties.

This is a familiar refrain. It was heard when the DNR bought land in the Town of Belgium for Harrington Beach State Park, when the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust bought the Squires golf course, also in the Town of Belgium, to create the Forest Beach Migratory Preserve and when the Lion’s Den Gorge Nature Preserve in the Town of Grafton and other green spaces were acquired for preservation and opened to the public.

In all of these cases the fears of neighboring property owners were never realized. Public natural areas and private homesteads coexist without conflict. Owners come to see the value of having nearby land protected from development.

If the DNR goes ahead with its plan in the Town of Fredonia, the neighbors of the Dix property will be assured of never having to live next to a subdivision.

Nonetheless, one of the concerns they voiced at a recent town board meeting—that the property would be designated as a public hunting ground—merits the attention of the DNR. The agency wants hunters to have as much access as possible to the natural areas it controls—understandable in a state with a deer-hunting ethic as deeply ingrained and politically influential as Wisconsin’s.

Deer hunting has been allowed at Harrington Beach and Lion’s Den with few, if any, problems, but the state should listen to the worries expressed by the manager of the Jewish Community Center’s Rainbow Day Camp, which operates year around on property adjacent to the Dix land.

“We are vehemently opposed to having public hunting next to a children’s camp,” Lenny Kass said.

If the natural area plan goes forward, the DNR should restrict hunting within a reasonable distance from the camp and nearby homes.

The state asked the Fredonia Town Board for a resolution endorsing the Dix property purchase. The supervisors, recognizing a hot potato when they see one, demurred, but it would have been in their constituents’ interest to have gone out on a limb and supported the plan.

If the natural area is established, town residents will benefit by having a nature preserve available for hiking, skiing, bird-watching and just observing nature. And all the creatures that share the environment, including humans, will benefit from having these acres of wetlands and upland forests kept natural and safe from development.

If the DNR follows through, the Town of Fredonia will get a one-time payment in lieu of the fairly modest taxes the property generates, but there could be more significant economic benefits down the road. As part of the state’s North Branch Milwaukee River Wildlife and Farming Heritage Area, the former Dix property would be an attraction for visitors and a quality-of-life feature that would appeal to potential new residents.         

The neighbors’ concerns are understandable. But if the experience of other natural areas is a guide, they will fade as the benefits of preservation for the public of land blessed with natural character become manifest.

The Highway 33 nightmare PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 04 January 2012 18:23

The DOT predicted the Port-Saukville road project would be a nightmare; it wasn’t—until work stopped and drivers were left with a confusing, cobbled together, dangerous road

Before the rebuilding of Highway 33 between Port Washington and Saukville began, a state Department of Transportation spokesman, in a moment of astonishing candidness, told people assembled at an informational meeting that the project would be a year-long “nightmare” for drivers.

The assumption was that the nightmare would be the difficulty of using the heavily traveled link between the communities during the construction process, starting and stopping as dump trucks, bulldozers, backhoes and other road-building equipment weaved through temporary driving lanes, having to move at a crawling pace, enduring tedious detours, that sort of thing.

All of that turned out to be nothing more than the stuff of a modestly unpleasant dream, far short of nightmare status. Construction contractors worked with an alacrity unusual in a state highway project. Compared to, say, the putzing pace of the never-ending tweaking of overpasses that has made ranks of blaze orange construction barrels a semi-permanent feature of I-43 north of Port Washington, the Highway 33 project proceeded at a fast clip and with surprisingly little inconvenience for drivers.

But now we get it—the nightmare is the aftermath, the Frankenstein version of Highway 33 left for drivers to use after construction crews suspended their work for the winter.

The highway is patently unsafe. Driving lanes jump from one side of the partially completed roadway to the other in confusing, counter-intuitive ways. A galaxy of reflective barricades distracts drivers who need all the concentration they can muster to safely navigate the road’s odd twists and turns. Crossings are so oddly configured and marked as to be invitations for drivers to turn into oncoming traffic lanes.

Worst of all, the project made a formerly safe crossing—where Highway LL passed above Highway 33 on an overpass—into a classic, treacherous T-bone intersection. Traffic on 33 doesn’t stop. Temporary stop signs tell drivers on LL to stop; if they don’t get the message, the consequences could be dire.

It is because intersections like this are so dangerous that the finished Port-Saukville stretch of Highway 33 will have roundabouts at three crossings.

City of Port Washington officials have urged the DOT to make improvements, including adding some street lighting.

A DOT spokesman said the agency is thinking about it and in the meantime everyone should drive slowly. Drivers surely appreciate the advice, but this is not an acceptable response.

The current situation might be tolerable if it were a short-term expedient. But this is for the duration of winter and then some. Before construction resumes, drivers may have had to deal with it for six months.

That is not acceptable for a road that is so heavily traveled the DOT says it has to be made into a four-lane highway, which is what the project is all about.

The DOT predicted a nightmare and managed for months to avoid it. Now that it’s finally here, it should act quickly to make it a short one.

Lake Park tower needs further review PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 28 December 2011 17:56

With its swift approval of the 80-foot structure, the Plan Commission ignored aesthetic drawbacks; an alternative site should be considered

It didn’t take members of the Port Washington Plan Commission long to fall in love with the idea of an 80-foot tower in Upper Lake Park.

The tower proposal was presented to the commission Dec. 15 and after a scant 15 minutes of discussion garnered an enthusiastic endorsement. Five members praised the tower effusively and voted to approve it. Only Mayor Scott Huebner declined to get on the bandwagon and voted against it.

The tower would be a gift from a group of Port Washington residents who have adopted the name Friends of the Tower. Perhaps it was appreciation for this generosity that accounted for the commission’s uncharacteristically speedy approval, but good intentions do not change the fact that placing a structure of this size on prominent public land warrants more thorough consideration.

The possibility of costs to taxpayers involving maintenance or liability was mentioned but hardly explored.

The most significant ramification of the tower—its aesthetic impact—might not have come up at all were not for Huebner, who based his vote against it on his belief that the tower would be too high for its location.

The tower, a blocky, utilitarian structure by nature, would be a protuberant addition to the city skyline.

Huebner noted that the eight-story condominium building on Lake Street is a lingering source of regret in some quarters because of its dominating height in a lakefront setting. The tower would be roughly the same height, mounted on one of the city’s highest points.

Plan commissioners were excited about the tower’s potential as a tourist attraction, which is understandable because similar towers are quite popular elsewhere in Wisconsin. However, the purpose of those towers, which are mostly in state parks, is to offer vantage points for clear views above the surrounding trees.

Without the need for man-made assists, Upper Lake Park already offers such vistas, including, from its southeast promontory, one that could well be the most dramatic lake view from public land on the west shore of Lake Michigan.

The view of the lake from 80 feet higher would not be much the different, just a bit farther beyond the curvature of the earth.

It is now up to the Common Council to apply the due diligence the tower proposal requires. This should include addressing the foregoing concerns and exploring the possibility that there is a better place for the tower. Such a place could be the city’s newly acquired park land on the former Wisconsin Electric coal dock property at the harbor.

There the tower would be an asset unencumbered by negative side effects. The site is at lake level; the tower would add expansive views at about the same height as the Upper Lake Park bluff.

Moreover, because the coal dock property is in the process of being developed by the city for recreation, the tower could be incorporated into its design.

The aesthetic concerns attached to a very tall structure would not be issues on the coal dock site, which is bordered by the city’s largest building, the We Energies power plant.   

On this site, the tower could reach its full potential as a visitor attraction and another way for residents to take in the magnificence of Lake Michigan.

The tower’s donors, who to their credit want to do something quite special for Port Washington, would have the satisfaction of knowing they accomplished that by providing a key feature of an important new lakeshore recreation area.

Assuming it is not also smitten by love at first sight, the Common Council should take a clear-eyed look at the negative aspects of a tower on the heights of Upper Lake Park and consider the feasibility of an alternative site on the coal dock land.

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