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Anxiety in a risky business PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 22 June 2016 21:31

Trying to make a living by fishing on Lake Michigan is risky business. We’re not referring to the big lake’s potential for violent weather. That can be a hazard, but fisherfolk are generally well prepared to deal with it. The risks that most endanger the fishing business do not come from nature. They’re manmade.
    By all accounts, charter sport fishing operations based in Port Washington and elsewhere on Lake Michigan are having a banner season, with big catches of salmon and plenty of happy customers. But last week a shadow appeared over this sunny fishing scene—a proposal to significantly reduce the stocking of chinook salmon.
    The recommendation to cut chinook stocking by 62% next year came from the Lake Michigan Committee representing fishery management agencies of the four states that border the lake.
    The president of the Port Washington Charter Captains Association told Ozaukee Press what he thought of the recommendation in no uncertain terms: “They’re going to put us out of business. It’s pretty simple—less fish, less business.”
    Although it’s true that a reduced population of the lake’s biggest gamefish could have a negative effect on the charter fishing business, the matter is far from simple. The intent of reducing chinook numbers is not to constrain the sport fishing industry, but rather to improve its long-term prospects for success.
    The goal of the stocking cutback would be to increase the lake’s population of prey fish, chiefly the alewife. Chinook salmon are the most voracious consumers of alewives in the lake.
    The alewife population has been free falling. The decline was so drastic last year that alarmed freshwater scientists likened it to the start of the alewife crash that devastated Lake Huron sport fishing in 2003. A recent University of Michigan report predicted that Huron’s salmon population will never recover.
    With ironic timing, alewives announced their continued presence in waters around Port Washington about the same time as the chinook recommendation came out by dying in greater numbers than have been seen in recent years. There are floating rafts of the corpses and decaying alewife remains on beaches, accompanied by their distinctive odor.
    This is of mild interest, but seeing it as evidence of an alewife comeback would be akin to believing that a cold winter means global warming isn’t happening. The federal government’s trawling survey covering many miles of Lake Michigan in 2015, including sweeps by a 40-foot wide net in the waters off Port Washington, found some of the smallest numbers of alewives since the species’ population peaked about 40 years ago.
    The angst over the possible stocking cutback reflects the shaky state of the lake’s ecosystem, which in some ways is like a human-built house of cards. Move or change one element and the whole affair starts teetering.
    Salmon have to be stocked to sustain a fishery because they don’t naturally reproduce in large enough numbers. The alewives they need for food are threatened because the plankton alewives need for nourishment is being consumed by the billions of quagga mussels that cover the lake bottom.
    Imported in the ballast water of ocean-going ships, the alien mussels don’t belong in the lake. For that matter, neither do alewives, herringlike saltwater fish that colonized the lake after entering through the Welland Canal. Their numbers at first were controlled by native lake trout, but then lake trout were all but wiped out by the sea lamprey, which also invaded via the Welland Canal. Salmon were introduced to feed on the alewives that had reproduced in such extreme numbers they became a blight, fouling beaches, marinas and harbors.
    And the beat goes on: humans trying to adjust the balance of a lake that their actions, whether accidental or intended, knocked out of kilter.
    The worries of the business owners and workers in today’s version of the Port Washington commercial fishing industry are understandable. Their livelihood is at risk. Yet knee-jerk opposition to a chinook stocking cutback should be reconsidered.
    Reducing the chinook population wouldn’t necessarily be a disaster for charter fishing. Other species, especially coho salmon, could increase in numbers without competition from chinook, according to Wisconsin DNR fishery managers. Chinook may be the most prized trophy fish, but the smaller coho provide most of the action and have been the mainstay of this season’s successful start.
    If the case is made at hearings the DNR will hold next week that the prey fish population is truly on the brink of collapse, the chinook cutback would look more like a move to keep charter fishing operators in their risky business, rather than put them out of it.

The development that changed everything PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 15 June 2016 19:38

The Port Washington city government’s decision to sell public marina land as a site for a commercial entertainment complex produced not just a controversy that has polarized the community but also a cliché: “catalytic development.”
    The term, as an often-repeated staple of the cheerleading for the Blues Factory led by Mayor Tom Mlada, is meant to imply that the development, like a catalyst that accelerates a chemical reaction, will spur additional economic development.
    The term may be new to Port Washington, but the effect it describes has been a force here for years as the essential driver of the city’s remarkable downtown resurgence. The Port Washington marina, owned by the taxpayers and operated as a division of the city government, has proven to be the ultimate catalytic development.
    It is not an exaggeration to say that the commercial investments that have powered the revitalization of the downtown, including the Boerner Building, Duluth Trading Co., Harbour Lights commercial and condominium building and other businesses, would not have happened without the marina that brought the beauty of Lake Michigan into the business district and is a magnet for visitors who provide essential fuel for the community’s economic engine.
    City officials reported in January that the marina operation closed its 2015 books in the red, apparently the result of reduced boat traffic caused by unusually cold summer weather and a fuel contract that failed to anticipate the drop in oil prices. But if the marina lost money last year, it was only in a technical accounting sense. By other measures the marina made money for the city, lots of it, as it has for decades.
    Based on a study by the University of Michigan and data compiled by the Wisconsin Department of Tourism, the direct economic impact of the marina is estimated to be about $4 million a year. This consists of the money spent in the city by people who use the marina by launching boats at the marina ramps, renting slips for their boats, cruising to this port in their motor yachts and sailboats and going on sport fishing outings on the vessels of the charter fleet.
    The estimate does not include the money spent by visitors and city residents attracted to downtown dining and shopping by the compelling intimacy with the water offered by a marina complex nestled in the heart of the city a few steps from  the main business street.
     The marina also pumps cash directly into city coffers. It is, in effect, a city department that functions as a business, paying an annual fee into the general fund from revenues generated by launch passes, slip fees and fuel sales, which totalled $736,000 last year. The city collected $45,000 from the marina fee in 2015. With ample reserves built up over years of successful operation, the marina pays the city whether its financial statements show a profit or a loss.
    Marina revenues, besides funding the operating expenses of sprawling harbor facilities, including docks, walkways, landscaping and a staff to manage it all, has also covered some of the infrastructure costs of Rotary Park adjacent to the marina. Over the years, the city government has not been bashful about dipping into marina reserves to cover expenses only loosely related to the harbor operation.
    Widely admired for its first-class facilities and efficient operation by city employees, the Port Washington marina outshines other municipal marinas on the lake whose management is outsourced to private companies, notably Sheboygan and Manitowoc.
    The cliché fits like a glove. When elected officials in the last two decades of the 20th century voted to invest in the harbors, docks and shore facilities that make up the marina complex, they did more than fill a need for safe, accessible boating facilities. They created a development that truly has been catalytic. The marina changed everything.
    As anyone who has taken Chemistry 101 knows, chemical reactions don’t always turn out as hoped. The hope for the Blues Factory iteration of a catalytic development, which requires the sacrifice of marina space and water views, has to be that it will not erode the success of the city’s proven catalytic development.       

Taking power from the people PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 08 June 2016 21:34

These are hard times for the Grafton School District. Some of its school buildings are in terrible shape. One of them is verging on being unfit to use. A referendum authorizing spending to fix the problems was defeated. In the aftermath, the school superintendent resigned.
    Hard times, indeed. Yet a reason for optimism exists amid the angst because there is a way out of this crisis, and the school board is already mapping a route. A reassessment of the most critical needs is underway in preparation for a new referendum presumably designed to be more palatable to voters. The vote could be held as early as November. If not then, it would likely be part of the spring election.
    A new referendum is the only means the school district has to raise money to deal with facilities that are so deteriorated parents and teachers have expressed worries about the safety of students. If State Sen. Duey Stroebel had his way, even those means would not be available.
    Stroebel (R-Saukville), whose district includes a part of the Grafton School District, sponsored a bill in the last session of the Legislature that would have banned school districts from holding a referendum for two years following a failed referendum.
     The bill, excoriated by school officials from across the state who predicted the very situation Grafton would face if the measure passed, is but one example of the efforts by the Wisconsin Legislature to undermine local control of local government.
    Fortunately, this one did not pass. The same cannot be said, however, about a bill intended to take away the power of local elected officials to enact ordinances in their communities to control a growing environmental nuisance.
    In March, Gov. Scott Walker signed into law a bill that prohibits communities from making their own rules regulating plastic bags and other plastic containers.
    No Wisconsin municipality was considering regulation of plastic bags when the law was enacted, but it is reasonable to assume that one day communities might want to apply a small fee for each bag used or even ban them. The bags are ubiquitous and so abundant they seem to be reproducing. As litter, they are unsightly. They last virtually forever and with an estimated 100 billion used in the U.S. every year are an expensive waste disposal problem. Only 12% of the bags are recycled
    Of more concern, they’ve been found to be a threat to marine life. In streams, lakes and oceans where windblown or other discarded bags and containers accumulate, the plastic leaches harmful chemicals into the water. Plastic bags and containers make up most the volume of the great garbage patches that plague the oceans and are even beginning to be seen on the Great Lakes.
    The cost of dealing with discarded plastic packaging, plus the cost derived from the greenhouse gases emitted in their production, is estimated at $40 billion a year by the World Economic Institute.
    None of this suggests that Wisconsin communities would be rushing to regulate plastic bags if they weren’t prevented from doing so by state law, but certainly local elected councils and boards should have the authority to apply such regulations in their cities, villages, towns and counties, as a number of municipalities in the United States have done.
    Why has the Wisconsin Legislature made it its business to use the power of state law to protect the commercial use of plastic bags? One answer is that such legislation is on the to-do list of the American Legislature Exchange Council (ALEC), the organization funded by business interests that has an especially avid following in the Republican majority of the Wisconsin Legislature. Beyond that, it fits a pattern of concerted effort to preempt local government, just as does the attempt to use the power of the state to shackle school districts trying to deal with their building needs through referendums.
     Some of the same state officials who push this agenda give lip service to a political philosophy based on shrinking the federal and state governments and transferring power to the people at local level.
    One word describes this better than any other: hypocrisy.

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