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Editorials
Kill the ethanol tax PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 18 March 2015 15:41

Bad on all counts, the ethanol mandate deserves death at the hands of Congress now because it takes money out of the wallets of American families

Here’s a head-scratcher for you: A few politicians are still defending a government mandate that takes money out of the wallets of American families, damages the environment and sets back efforts to feed the hungry people of the world. How can this be?

    Here’s a clue: It’s a matter of location. If a politician is in Iowa, it’s apparently OK to support the ethanol mandate. We learned that from Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who announced when in that state recently that he now favors the federal government biofuel requirement that he had long opposed.

     No head-scratching needed here. Walker was in Iowa looking for votes as a Republican presidential candidate. Iowa grows a lot of corn used for making ethanol and is the country’s largest ethanol producer, so it is not a good place for a politician to be telling the ugly truths about a costly and useless government mandate.

    Elsewhere not even political expediency can justify support for forcing ethanol on American drivers. The mandate that now requires 13 billion gallons of corn ethanol to be added to the gasoline supply each year was imposed in 2005 with the express purposes of reducing dependence on imported oil and protecting the environment. It is no longer needed for the first and has failed at the second.

     America is on the verge of becoming the world’s biggest oil producer. It doesn’t need to turn food into fuel to reduce the amount of fossil fuel it imports. As for the environment, the process of ethanol production demands so much fossil fuel that using the product accounts for no significant net reduction in carbon emissions.

    It’s not just that ethanol is no help to the environment—it actually hurts it. The rise in corn prices caused by the government-mandated demand for ethanol has led to the conversion of grassland, wetland and fields used for crops less damaging to the soil than corn for the production of the heavily fertilized raw material of ethanol.

    The fundamentally flawed concept of using food to power automobiles has had a damaging impact on the supply of food needed to sustain human beings. With about 40% of the American corn crop diverted to ethanol production, corn prices have risen, driving up the cost of food in the U.S., while hampering hunger relief efforts in famine-ravaged countries.

    Though the ranks of defenders of ethanol have shrunk to a stubborn few, Congress has not been able to get its act together to kill the mandate. It might help if the word “mandate” were changed to “tax.” That should get the attention of representatives who have expressed hatred for taxes in any form. Besides, it would be accurate.

    The ethanol tax extracts $10 billion a year from American motorists, according to Robert Bryce, author of “The Hidden Corn Ethanol Tax,” a report issued by the Manhattan Institute.

     Bryce bases his calculation on the fact that gasoline containing 10% ethanol yields 3% to 4% fewer miles per gallon than pure unleaded gasoline, but costs more at the pump. The result is that $10 billion tax levy, which penalizes the average driver an added $47 a year in fuel costs.

    What will it take to get Congress to put an end to this nonsense? A taxpayer uprising might help, but unlike the Boston Tea Party, pouring the object of the tax in the water is not an option in this case.

    Still, optimists may find some cause for hope in the fact that a respected bipartisan group of three senators and three House members have introduced legislation to repeal the ethanol mandate.

    Save for a few representatives beholden to interests enriched by ethanol in their states, there is no excuse for anyone in Congress not to support that effort.

    Speaking of excuses, a burning desire to be endorsed by the Iowa presidential nomination caucuses doesn’t cut it as an acceptable reason for a governor who has built his resume as a crusading conservative by condemning federal mandates in health care, transportation and education to now declare that the ethanol mandate is perfectly acceptable.


 
When land preservation is good business PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 11 March 2015 16:13

County’s purchase of lakeshore land for a nature preserve comes with a bonus–it’s a key to desirable development

The vote by the Ozaukee County Board last week on funding for a nature preserve was a tonic for a public jaded by the recurring spectacle of legislative bodies rendered dysfunctional by partisan rancor and entrenched ideology.

    Though technically non-partisan, the County Board has pronounced divisions between conservative and liberal members that are evident in debates on a number of issues. Yet on a measure that will mean spending up to $1 million of taxpayer money on an initiative that expands the reach of county government, the board came together to vote yes by an overwhelming 18-4 majority.

    The impact of the vote will be enormous: It will save 101 acres of lakeshore land from private development, make more than a mile of Lake Michigan beach and bluff and adjacent forest land available for public use in a new county park and pave the way for a desirable conservation subdivision.

    The City of Port Washington is expected to match the county’s investment in the park land, which will facilitate a development along Highway C called the Cedar Vineyard, consisting of 73 modestly-scaled homesites next to the nature preserve and an associated vineyard and winery.

    The fact that the nature preserve is a key to the development enhanced the appeal of county ownership of the lakeshore property. In praising the move to protect the land for public use, Supr. Dan Becker noted that it was also “an opportunity to make a real difference and be a catalyst for growth in Ozaukee County.”

     The relationship between land preservation and growth is more direct than usual in this instance, but environmental benefit and economic benefit frequently go hand in hand in conservation efforts. Many of the natural areas protected in Wisconsin are popular recreational attractions and thus important assets for the state’s tourism industry. Natural areas are so appealing as contributors to the quality of life that in many cases they stimulate nearby development—people like to live near the beauty of nature.

    All of which underlines the mistake Gov. Walker is making in calling for a moratorium on land acquisition by the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund. The fund was expected to pay for most of the cost of acquiring the Cedar Vineyard nature preserve, but now that is unlikely. Had the county not stepped up, the opportunity would have been lost.

     The City of Port Washington should know all about the value of park land as a stimulant to economic development. Its protection of water views and access around the marina in the stunning Rotary Park and harbor walk fostered the revival of the downtown and the growth of its thriving tourism economy.

    It is no wonder, then, that so many Port residents doubt the wisdom of the city government’s ongoing effort to sell publicly owned land at the north end of the downtown marina for commercial development.

    Which prompts the question: What’s wrong with this picture? While Ozaukee County is buying land to give the public access to Lake Michigan south of Port Washington (with the city likely to match the county’s investment in the land), city officials at the same time are trying to sell public lakefront land and views downtown for business use.

 
Lakefront development blues PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 04 March 2015 17:48

A promising proposal for a blues music-themed building deserves encouragement from the city, but not on a cramped site where it would block lake views

To put it mildly, City of Port Washington officials are enthused about the lakefront development proposal du jour, an imaginative concept for a building that would combine a blues music-themed museum, restaurant, performance hall and banquet facility.

    Judging from the glowing comments at last week’s Common Council meeting, they are even more smitten with the blues complex than they were with the previous front-runner for a choice piece of public land at the north edge of the downtown harbor, which was a brewpub.

    That’s progress of a sort. Exchanging public water views and access for a brewpub would be such an absurdly unbalanced trade that even officials who are bound and determined to sell the harbor site for business development might feel a qualm.

    The blues complex is a step up. Unlike the brewpub notion, which is based on a whim that fluttered out of a brainstorming session, the development called the Blues Factory is a coherent proposal. It derives credibility from the stature of its creator, Christopher Long, a respected project management consultant from Madison. The plan has appealing cultural and historical aspects in its theme embracing the story of Paramount Records, which recorded classic blues music by renowned artists in Port Washington, starting in 1917, as part of the Wisconsin Chair Co.

    The proposal has a flaw, however, and it’s the same one that makes the brewpub idea unacceptable: It’s planned for the wrong place.

    The two-story Blues Factory would take up virtually every inch of what is now an open parking lot at the edge of the harbor. The building would obscure the marina and lake views that are part of Port Washington’s distinctive signature.

    The site was chosen because the Common Council, backed by the Plan Commission and the Community Development Authority, is pushing it for use as private development.

     Even without considering the lost lake views, the site is not well suited for a development as ambitious as the blues complex. Cramming the blues building into the confines of the parking lot site would seem to limit the potential of the project, with its need for space to accommodate its performance and banquet features.

    There is some logic in the choice of the parking lot as a site for a Paramount memorial in that the Chair Co. once occupied part of it, but the company’s manufacturing buildings sprawled over many acres of land around the harbor and the historical connection with blues music could be made at another location.

    Long, the developer, has a strong background in environmentally sensitive projects, and one can imagine how, with enough land in a lakefront-area location, he could incorporate water views and outdoor space from which to enjoy them in his project. That’s not an option in the parking lot.

    The city’s handling of the proposed harbor land sale, which has gone forward at a remarkably fast pace in spite of strong public opposition, suggests that its appointed and elected officials want to make this easy—put the land up for sale, get proposals from developers and then let the buyer take care of the rest.

    The intriguing Blues Factory initiative exposes the truth that smart lakefront development isn’t that easy. The proposal from Long and his business partner, local developer Gertjan van den Broek, has the promise of elevating community culture along with enhancing the city’s appeal to visitors and should certainly be encouraged, but not at the expense of the public’s visual and physical access to the lake, which is widely appreciated as Port Washington’s most valuable asset.                 City officials should be working with the developer to find a better site. That would not be as easy as just selling a parking lot along with some of the public’s prized lake views, but it would be the right way to develop the lakefront area.


 
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