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Poems written on the sky PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 03 May 2017 20:22

A tornado cut through Port Washington like a giant chain saw in August 1964. The twister didn’t just remove roofs and topple walls, it actually cut some houses in half. That not a single person was killed or seriously injured was so hard to believe that people called it a miracle.

There was nothing miraculous, however, about what the tornado did to the trees of Port Washington. It laid waste to much of the city’s cover of shade trees. Along the western reaches of Grand Avenue in particular, it took down stands of magnificent deciduous trees, many of which dated to the 19th century, towering, thick-trunked elms, maples and oaks whose arching branches created a verdant canopy over a street bordered by stately old homes. 

Other arboreal disasters were to follow. Dutch elm disease claimed many of the tornado survivors, and in a 21st-century plague, the city’s ash forest was decimated by the emerald ash borer, with more than 500 sick trees in public spaces cut down in the last two years alone.

The presence of trees is often taken for granted, but when they’re gone their contributions to a community are starkly obvious and badly missed. Besides their seasonally evolving beauty, urban trees grace streets with shade, quiet, wind-breaks and bird life; they clean the air and emit oxygen while introducing nature into a largely man-made environment.

Port Washington has been hit hard by tree loss, but it’s fighting back with an aggressive program to restore the leaf canopy. This year the city’s Public Works Department will plant 600 trees along Port streets, even more than in the recent past when it added about 500 trees a year. The tree program is so ambitious that the city is starting its own nursery to ensure a dependable supply of a variety of tree types. 

It will take years to regrow the canopy, but even at a young age the plantings bring many of the benefits of trees to city streets. Some of the varieties in the eclectic mix are remarkably beautiful, especially the ornamental fruit trees at blossom time.

Residents of Port Washington have Public Works Director Rob Vanden Noven to thank for the city’s commitment to trees. Under his aegis, the city has invested not only in thousands of trees, but in the resources needed to manage the public forest. The DPW now has crews led by two foresters to plant new trees, remove dying trees and maintain the tree stock with systematic pruning.

Not everyone is enthralled with the extent of the city’s tree program. A few critics have noted that the trees cost taxpayers a significant amount of money for their purchase, planting and upkeep. Others of a practical bent have said the trees will be a nuisance when they grow tall enough to interfere with utility wires and that the downtown trees will block commercial signs and views from second story windows.

There is some truth in all of the complaints, but the gifts of trees are worth every bit of their expense and bother.

The tree planting program will enhance residential streets more every year, but it has already brought new beauty and character to the downtown. For the first time in city history, trees were planted on both sides of Franklin Street as part of the rebuilding and streetscaping of four its blocks. Ten years later, the results are satisfying beyond expectation. The ranks of trees add texture, color and perspective to make Franklin one of the handsomest small-town commercial streets likely to be seen anywhere. When aglow with strings of white lights, the trees bring a sense of fantasy to the street at night.

“It’s just intuitive that a tree-filled space is better to be in than a space devoid of trees.” Vanden Noven said that in a news story in last week’s Ozaukee Press.

That’s a pretty good tree quote, if not quite as inspirational as what the poet Khalil Gibran said about trees: “Trees are poems that the earth writes upon the sky.”

Amen to the words of both tree lovers.

Bang, ping, zing, varoom PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Thursday, 27 April 2017 19:40

There’s a Target down range, but that doesn’t mean it’s all right to blast away with various types of firearms a scant half mile from the Village of Grafton’s shopping mecca at its intersection with the I-43 freeway.

The Target we’re referring to is a department store, one of a plethora of retail establishments in the sprawling commercial district at the eastern border of the Village and Town of Grafton, not one of the targets aimed at by the shooters who were creating a nuisance on a nearby Arrowhead Road property.

There were no reports of bullets hitting Target or any other stores, but the proximity of  the private firing range to the shopping area was considered when the Grafton Town Board cracked down on the shooters recently.

The board revoked the firearms discharge permit for the property owned by Michael and Dean Hoppe in February and refused on April 12 to grant their request that it be reissued. It was the right decision, one that highlights the growing conflict between urbanization and the remaining countryside of Ozaukee County. 

The possibility of bullets straying into the busy shopping complex was mentioned by Town Chairman Lester Bartel, but even more worrisome to board members were reports from town residents.

One told of shooting by “multiple weapons and rapid, successive firings taking place,” accompanied by continuous gunshot noise, “zings and pings.” She added, “I felt like I was in a war zone and not in a quiet, calm country residential home.”

A neighbor said he lost count after hearing 400 rounds. Another reported the shooting going for four to six hours one day.

Theresa Stay expressed what no doubt were the sentiments of many Town of Grafton residents when she told the board, “I expect where I live to be somewhat quiet and peaceful.”

That expectation, of course, is what motivates people to move to the Town of Grafton and other once rural areas of Ozaukee County. Numerous country-style subdivisions have sprung up on what was once farmland in the Town of Grafton, whose tax roll is swelling with the value of homes on large lots. Elected representatives have a responsibility to work to keep threats to that peace and quiet at bay.

In the eastern part of the Town of Grafton, a growing source of incursions into the peace of the countryside is the county road that runs through it, Highway C. Designed to be no more than a country road, it has become a heavily traveled alternative to state Highway 32 and I-43 and a joyriders’ speedway.

Commercial vehicles, including semi-trailer trucks, traveling between Port Washington and points south are part of the traffic that frequents the road. Conflicts with residents who use the road in a different way are inevitable. The mix of bicycle riders, runners, walkers, jogging mothers pushing strollers and even horseback riders with this excessive motor traffic can lead to nothing good.

As for quiet, that is a forlorn hope on any warm weather weekend when fleets of motorcycles take over the road. Realistic residents of Wisconsin, home of Harley-Davidson headquarters, have given up expecting police in this state to enforce exhaust noise limits for motorcycles, but enforcing speed limits for them, which it seems is not happening much on Highway C, should be another story.

The county should do its part to protect the peace and quiet of the Town of Grafton countryside by applying weight limits to keep large trucks off of Highway C and increasing attention to the road by sheriff’s department patrols.

Country living is a quality-of-life alternative that is attracting many families to Ozaukee County. Residents lured by that lifestyle shouldn’t have to have a shooting range in their backyards—or a country road that acts like an urban thoroughfare. 

Revenge of the cattle class PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 19 April 2017 21:22

The cattle class will be cheering for Dr. David Dao when he sues United Airlines.

The millions of Americans who have been treated like herded livestock while traveling on commercial airlines make up the cattle class, and they will surely be pulling for a court to inflict maximum pain on United. 

But no matter how substantial that financial punishment will be, it won’t be as painful as the injuries done to the physician when he was dragged off of a United plane in Chicago last week—a concussion, broken nose, lost teeth and sinus injuries said to require reconstructive surgery—for refusing to kowtow to an order to leave the plane to make room for airline employees. 

Dr. Dao’s suit against United is inevitable, but he likely won’t be able to sue others responsible for the deplorable treatment of air travelers. That would include the federal government.

Airlines can get away with treating travelers like cattle because the Federal Trade Commission under the Obama and Bush administrations blessed the mergers of the country’s largest airlines. As a result, four companies now control well over two-thirds of U.S. air travel. Due to the dominance of airline hubs at some airports, many travelers have only one airline option. The lack of competition breeds contempt for customers.

The U.S. Transportation Department has failed air travelers as well with anemic regulation of airlines. Air travel should be viewed as an essential public service like electricity and water, and providers should be regulated at least somewhat in the way of utilities.

The outlook, unfortunately, is for less, rather than more, airline regulation. The Trump administration has shelved an Obama proposal to require airlines to more clearly inform the public about extra fees, such as for luggage and various upgrades from the lowest cattle-class status, and has promised to weaken or eliminate other airline rules.

Someone should also be sued over the storm-trooper mentality that has captured the minds of air travel law enforcement authorities. Exhibit A would be the Chicago airport police who thought it was perfectly all right to assault and bodily remove a 69-year-old airplane passenger at the request of a corporation that wanted his seat for an employee.

Some airline travelers don’t check their bags, but everyone of them checks their civil rights at the door when they enter an airport. Look askance at an airport cop or a TSA agent, and your trip, if not your freedom, is in jeopardy.

The traveler who made what was by all accounts an innocuous comment to Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke on an airplane in January can relate to that. He was met by a squad of deputies when he left the plane, and was detained, questioned and, he said, threatened. Had his remark been made at a restaurant or a mall instead of on a plane, not even a self-styled tough hombre like Clarke, a John Wayne legend in own mind, would have dared use the police-state tactic.

Outrage over the assault and battery of Dr. Dao, recorded by cell phone video and seen by hundreds of millions of viewers, has drawn attention of one of the most reprehensible affronts to air travelers—the practice of overbooking flights.

United had sold every seat on the flight from O’Hare to paying customers and then decided it wanted four of those seats for members of a United crew bound for Louisville. When no one responded to a call for volunteers to give up their seats, passengers were selected and told to leave the plane. Dao, who was traveling with wife (also a physician, as are four of his five children), refused, saying he had to get home to see patients.

Though it has become standard operating procedure, overbooking is a practice that serves only the interests of airline companies and smacks of fraud. Passengers, after all, reserve and pay for their seats, yet are routinely denied the use of those seats when it serves the airlines’ convenience.

Airlines should either use the technology needed to avoid overbooking or live with the possibility that there could be a few empty seats on flights due to cancellations.

United couldn’t even manage to apologize properly after the images of what its CEO called “reaccommodating” a passenger by having him dragged off a plane bloody and concussed went viral, so a significant increase in respect for passengers is probably too much to hope for.

But at least members of the cattle class will be able to enjoy the pummeling United is going to get from the “reaccommodated” passenger’s lawsuit.

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