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The wages of dithering PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press Editoral Board   
Tuesday, 24 November 2009 15:20

Failure to act decisively to stop the long-expected advance of giant invading carp now puts Lake Michigan on the brink of an ecological disaster

We’ve heard a lot about dithering lately. It apparently is quite the scourge in Washington. Sarah Palin used the word three times criticizing the Obama administration in a recent interview. The difference between being indecisive and taking the time to evaluate information before making an important decision can be a fine line. On the other hand, most people recognize true dithering, as in failing to act when the need for action is obvious, when they see it. The people of Ozaukee County can see a symbol of the most pernicious form of dithering by looking eastward—at Lake Michigan.

    Would-be decision makers have dithered while one preventable evil after another has befallen Lake Michigan and the rest of the Great Lakes. Now possibly the worst consequence to date of Great Lakes dithering has come to pass: The gigantic Asian carp that could wipe out valuable native and introduced fish species are almost in Lake Michigan or may be there already.

    DNA of the carp, a virtually certain indicator of their presence, has been found in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal past an electronic barrier designed stop the carps’ migration to Lake Michigan. That leaves only a frequently opened Chicago lock between the carp and the lake, and in fact there is no good reason to believe they have not already passed through it and are swimming, feeding and breeding in Lake Michigan.

    The carp were imported in the 1960s for a federally funded sewage treatment project in Arkansas. (It’s an indication of type of fish that are about to join the Great Lakes ecosystem that it was brought to this country to eat sewage and its byproducts.) They escaped soon after and have been making their way north through the Mississippi River and its tributaries ever since.

    Much has been made of the dramatic tendency of one variety of the Asian fish, the silver carp that can grow to more than 90 pounds, to leap out of the water and collide with passing boats. But the reason to fear the fish is not so much what can happen to boaters, but what the silver carp and its cousin the bighead carp can do to lake fish species. By consuming the plankton at the bottom of the food chain, these voracious eaters could wipe out desirable fish that support commercial fishing, sport fishing and tourism.

    That would cause serious economic damage, but worse would be the environmental damage of destroying the ecological balance nature intended for the lakes.

    These monsters didn’t sneak up on the lake. Their movements have been tracked for years and for the better part of a decade the need for electronic barriers was discussed. Eventually a site was chosen on the Illinois River downstream from Chicago. Then a powerful barrier was designed and a decision was made to install it. But there was no funding, so more time passed. Then Congress authorized money for the project and the barrier was built, but it wasn’t turned on because of objections from barge operators. When it finally was activated, it was at a strength many thought was too feeble to discourage the huge carp. And now there’s evidence that while the dithering went on, the carp got past the barrier.

    That should be a galling enough lesson to persuade the Army Corps of Engineers and other agencies involved to stop the dithering and undertake a last-ditch effort to prevent a disaster: Seal the lock (no boat traffic allowed); poison the water between the lock and the carp barrier; do scheduled maintenance of the barrier (which will require further water poisoning while it’s briefly out service), then turn it on with a strong enough current to discourage or kill carp; proceed rapidly with plans to build a second barrier and a berm to contain the carp during flooding.

    This would be done in the hope that no carp have made it to lake, or that not enough of them have made it to create a thriving population. That may be a faint hope, but it would be better than dithering.
Good government work PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press Editoral Board   
Wednesday, 18 November 2009 23:24

Port Washington’s new lake bluff stairway is an example of ‘your tax dollars at work’ in the best sense contrary to government-bashing cliches

 The new stairway from Port Washington’s Upper Lake Park to the public beach is worth a visit for several reasons. For one, the stairs start their descent to the beach from an overlook that extends from the rim of the bluff and presents a view of Lake Michigan that is one of the best in a city of spectacular lake views.  

    Another is that the stairs offer a surprisingly easy way to get to, and even from, the beach, with a smart design that has the staircase positioned diagonally on the face of the bluff; the incline is quite gentle and there many landings where climbers can stop to take a breather and take in more of the view.

    The stairway is also worth checking out as an opportunity to behold a satisfying example of “your tax dollars at work.” The phrase is usually used in the pejorative sense, meant as an ironic comment on government waste and inefficiency. But here it stands for the opposite: the efficient and economical use of public resources for the benefit of taxpayers.

    The stairway was a government project from beginning to end, the product of a collaboration of public works officials and employees of Ozaukee County and the City of Port Washington that was done quickly yet met a high standard of quality and cost less than expected.  

    The topographic engineering was done by Ross Krueger of the city public works department. Ozaukee County Highway Commissioner Bob Dreblow designed the stairs. They were built by workers from the city street department and the county highway department. The cost of the project, which was expected to be nearly $100,000, came to about $50,000.

    Government bashing is a popular sport these days and privatization is routinely invoked by politicians right and left as a panacea to lift the burden of taxes. Sometimes government deserves bashing and private enterprise is often better equipped than government agencies to handle projects, but the stairway serves as a bracing reminder that generalized distrust and contempt for government is foolish.  

    Other local projects have sent the same message. Dreblow’s crew did splendid work on the boardwalks and stairs of the Lions Den Gorge Nature Preserve, which provide access to woodlands and beach and take visitors into the gorge itself, again at exceptionally low cost.

    Several years ago, Port Washington street department workers built an addition to the marina control building that cost taxpayers substantially less than if private sources had been used.

    Stairways and a modest building addition are not rocket science and they’re not health care, but in Ozaukee County they are encouraging symbols of the fact that government can get things right.

Next time, a Belgium school PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 11 November 2009 17:53

The Cedar Grove-Belgium School District needs classrooms and building upgrades; to get them, drop the central campus concept

The appeal of grouping all of a school district’s buildings on a central campus is obvious: It’s efficient.

The efficiency comes from sharing resources, infrastructure, parking lots and more, which can result in construction, maintenance and operation cost savings.

If efficiency were the only consideration in choosing locations for new schools, every school district would have a central campus or be trying hard to create one.

That isn’t the case—in fact, the opposite, decentralization, is the goal of many school districts across the nation these days—because there are educational priorities that trump efficiency. Nevertheless, the Cedar Grove-Belgium Area School District decided to go that route with the proposal to build a new middle school and technical education center on the Cedar Grove campus that was presented to voters last week.

Voters rejected the idea emphatically—by a two-to-one no vote.

School district officials cited the advantages of a central campus as the reason they did not pursue the idea of meeting the district’s space needs by building a school at another location, say, in the Village of Belgium.

Elsewhere, education professionals are less enthusiastic about the central campus concept. In many districts, neighborhood schools are highly valued. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan is pressuring states to do more to facilitate the development of what might be called the ultimate neighborhood schools—charter schools that can spring up just about anywhere. 

It was not surprising that the school district’s building plans gravitated to the central campus concept. The ground rules set by the board in planning for the referendum specified that “political” factors were not to be considered. In this case, the word “political” was code for the Village of Belgium’s often-stated wish to have the district’s next school built there.

The process thus got off to an unfortunate start, with the assumption that decisions concerning a $25 million school building program could be made in some sort of purified, artificial world insulated from everything not deemed strictly educational.

The School Board proceeded with the referendum under the pretence that Belgium’s wishes didn’t matter. The voting results—more than 70% of the Belgium residents who went to the polls said no to the school building plan—made it clear they do.

As they should. Belgium is right to push for its own neighborhood school. The village, with its surrounding township, is a partner with Cedar Grove in funding the school district. Belgium’s population and valuation have grown rapidly; yet it has no public school.

It should not be too much to ask that an elementary school be built there, so that Belgium can have one of the basic elements of what is considered a complete community, with all of the pride and satisfaction that goes with it, so that for a least a few years of their school careers the children of Belgium might be able to walk to school.

The school district’s buildings are overcrowded and in some cases in poor shape. These problems need to be addressed. The resounding referendum defeat sent a message that the School Board must find a better way to do this. Finding that way should start with the premise that Belgium deserves a school.

That would not only be right, but practical. The bad economy certainly contributed to the referendum defeat—proposing to spend $25 million of local taxpayer money when unemployment is at more than 10% is a model of bad timing—but the vote tally also reflected the fact that Belgium residents are committed to satisfying the need for a school in their community.

Now, with one approach tried and failed, it’s time for the School Board to address that need with a plan for school expansion and improvement that includes a school in Belgium. Efficiency may suffer a bit. But the quality of education won’t. That comes from good teachers and good programs—which the Cedar Grove-Belgium District certainly has—not buildings. And not central campuses.


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