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An invitation to lake invaders PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 16 September 2015 16:31

Proposed legislation would restrict Coast Guard in fight against invasive species arriving in ships’ ballast water

Given that the way the current Congress deals with threats to the environment has been to weaken environmental protection regulations at virtually every turn, it should be no surprise that proposed legislation affecting invasive species in the Great Lakes protects the interests of shipping companies more than the fragile ecosystems of the lakes.

    Still, it boggles the mind that the legislation would exempt the ballast water carried by ships from more stringent regulation under the Clean Water Act. Ballast water is the culprit that delivered the invasive species that have wreaked havoc on the lakes’ ecosystems.

    The legislation, attached as a rider to the Senate Coast Guard authorization bill, would limit the Coast Guard’s ability to enforce ballast water standards more demanding than the requirements that took effect in 2012. This is precisely the outcome the shipping industry wants. The bill’s authors obviously were persuaded more by the industry’s lobbyists than the environmental experts who consider the current ballast water restrictions inadequate.

    Members of the congressional majority have made it an ideological mission to scale back government regulation in many areas, but the ballast water proposal smells more of ignorance than political bent. Perhaps they haven’t heard about the devastation wrought by foreign life forms transported to the lakes in ships’ ballast water.

    Everyone familiar with the recent history of Lake Michigan knows about it. The bloater chub, mainstay of the Port Washington fishing industry as recently as 20 years ago, has essentially disappeared. The yellow perch population is so depleted that commercial fishing for it has been banned and recreational fishermen rarely hook one of the panfish that were once caught here by the thousands on a single weekend. Native whitefish and lake trout are struggling to survive. All of which is blamed on changes in the lake’s ecosystem inflicted by fast-reproducing quagga muscles, a hideous fish called the round goby and other creatures carried from European and Asian waters by ships.

    Even the salmon and trout species introduced into the lake for sport fishing are showing signs of stress, and their future is threatened by viral hemorrhagic septicemia, a fatal fish disease brought to the lake from foreign fish farms in ballast water.

    The cost to Great Lakes states of dealing with invasive species, including protecting municipal systems from the mussels, is estimated at more than $250 million a year.

    As for the prolific quagga mussels, they are beyond counting. There are thought to be billions of them in Lake Michigan alone. Their shells now cover vast areas of the lake bottom.

    Nature being the amazing force that it is, Lake Michigan is showing nascent signs of struggling to adapt to the predations of the invaders. In the waters around the Beaver Island archipelago near the top of the lake, smallmouth bass are thriving in numbers and sizes not seen in many years.

    Icthyologists attribute this to the decline of the bullhead, a fish that competed with bass for food, caused by the clarified water that results from the filtering action of quagga mussels. They also think the bass are finding a new food source in the waste pellets excreted by the mussels.

    This may be a source of hope, but it’s a small victory at best for a gasping lake. Native fish remain threatened by the invasive species currently in the lake and new ones that will likely come if stricter ballast rules are not adopted.

    The Great Lakes need stronger protection, not the weaker safeguards that would result from legislation that favors shipping interests over the health of the world’s largest freshwater source.

    If the ballast water provision becomes law, it will be a compelling argument for taking the one step that would ensure that no more invasive species arrive in ballast water: Closing the St. Lawrence Seaway, an option that is gaining favor as the economic benefit of international shipping to and from the Great Lakes diminishes and the danger to the lakes increases.

Vibrant new downtown trumps nostalgia PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 09 September 2015 23:25

It’s fitting that Port Washington gives Harry’s Restaurant a celebratory farewell, but it has no need to look to the past for inspiration in a new era

Newspaper feature stories don’t get much more appealing than the one that appeared last week on the front page of Ozaukee Press under the headline, “Cooking their way into Port’s heart.” In it, Press staff writer Kristyn Halbig-Ziehm traced the history of Harry’s Restaurant, which will close this month after 79 years as a downtown Port Washington eatery.

    The story of how a tiny enterprise started on a proverbial shoestring by a high school dropout grew into a family business and then into a Port Washington institution so beloved that it will be the object of a community celebration on Sept. 20 surely warmed the hearts of readers.

    No doubt it fascinated many of them too, with the glimpses it gave of the mid-20th century life and culture in the city. Prices in the Harry’s Restaurant menu of 1943 (the International Photoengravers Union label on the back attests that it was printed by Ozaukee Press) reproduced with the story provided a graphic measure of changing times. Younger readers may have had difficulty believing there actually was a time when, as at Harry’s, hamburgers cost a dime and the most expensive item on the menu was a T-bone steak for 45 cents.

    Someone who is handy with inflation tables might calculate that a McDonald’s burger in 2015 costs less in inflation-adjusted money than a 10-cent Harry’s hamburger in 1943, but other societal changes evident in the story are not so easily explained away. It is hard to find many parallels today, for example, to what restaurant founder Harry Burton accomplished in the humblest of circumstances. The man who left high school after two years to go to work in a diner not only started his own business, but with his wife Mabel raised four children in a small flat above the restaurant at the corner of Franklin and Main and sent them off to colleges and successful careers.

    A photo taken in the 1950s showing the restaurant with the factory buildings of the Wisconsin Chair Co. looming behind it added more context to the Harry’s story and sparked memories among those old enough to have them of a downtown that in three blocks boasted four grocery stores, pairs of drug stores, bakeries, meat markets and hardware stores, a fish market and a “five and dime” Ben Franklin store, not to mention eight taverns.

    Gilded by nostalgia, those times are pleasant to contemplate, but they belong to history. A few of the bars remain, but everything else is gone, including the grim chair factory buildings that walled the downtown off from the adjacent lakefront. It is a new era and the downtown that comes with it is a vibrant, exciting heart of the city.

    Harry’s will be missed, of course, and the send-off at the “Hurrah for Harry’s celebration in honor of the founders and those who carried on the business after them is well deserved. Yet the condominium and commercial building that will replace the restaurant should be welcomed with equal fervor. The sleek new building will replace a deteriorating structure of little character and an abandoned drive-in banking facility and spur economic activity with a new resident downtown population, all of which trumps nostalgia.

    Regardless of the era, it seems every community needs a coffee shop type of gathering place, the role that Harry’s filled nearly every morning for eight decades. Perhaps one of the existing downtown coffee and food purveyors will fill the void or maybe it will be a new restaurant in the building on the Harry’s site.

    If the latter is the case, please, don’t let it be called Harry’s Restaurant. Like the jersey number of a legendary athlete, that name should be retired to posterity.

Don’t pierce the dike PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Thursday, 03 September 2015 21:37

Letting Waukesha get around the rules and take Lake Michigan water would be a precedent that could threaten our precious freshwater resource

There is more water in Lake Michigan this summer than it has had in years, but that is no reason for the signers of the Great Lakes Compact to lower their guard and let Waukesha take some of it.     

    High lake levels really don’t have any bearing on the decision about whether to let Waukesha pump water out of the Great Lakes watershed, but they surely get the attention of regions of the country that are affected by drought-depleted water supplies.

    The fear that the Great Lakes freshwater resource would be raided by states going dry from climate change and reckless development was a factor in the signing of the Great Lakes Compact by the eight states touching the lakes and its enactment as a federal law in 2008.

    The compact forbids taking lake water out of the Great Lakes basin unless it is approved by the governors of all eight states. In the first request to divert lake water since the compact was signed, Waukesha is asking for that approval. It should be denied.

    Waukesha does have a water problem, one that is largely self-inflicted. Rampant development drew down the aquifers serving its municipal water wells and some are now contaminated with radon gas. Advanced water treatment technology used successfully by a number of Wisconsin communities reportedly would relieve the problem, but Waukesha officials prefer the Lake Michigan option and are proposing to pump 10.1 million gallons from the lake every day.

    The problem with taking water by cities like Waukesha, which are located outside of the Great Lakes drainage area, is that the wastewater does not flow back to the lakes, as required by the compact.

    Waukesha proposes to pump most of the treated wastewater it would generate from a lake diversion a considerable distance into a river that flows into Lake Michigan. But that doesn’t overcome the fundamental reason the Waukesha application should be rejected: Approving a diversion outside of the lakes watershed would be a precedent that could threaten the lakes as areas of the continent get progressively drier.

    The possibility should be taken seriously. Recall what Bill Richardson, the governor of New Mexico and a presidential candidate, said in 2007: “States like Wisconsin are awash in water” and should share it with other states.

    Representatives of water-challenged states seem to have prevailed in the 1980s when Congress directed the Army Corps of Engineers to study the feasibility of sending Great Lakes water to dry parts of the country, though nothing came of it.

    The director of the Northland College water research center in Ashland was recently quoted by the New York Times as asking, “If you could send water from the Great Lakes to Asia, where can’t you send it?”

    He was referring to the infamous attempt in 1998 by a Canadian company to send tanker ships full of Lake Superior water to Asia, which had been approved by Canadian authorities and was abandoned only after a furious public outcry.

    The Great Lakes Compact is the closest thing the Great Lakes have to a dike protecting their precious freshwater resource. Letting Waukesha take water would be like drilling a hole in the dike. It would be a small leak, but one sure to get bigger as the Waukesha precedent is exploited.

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