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The recession’s gift PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press Editorial Board   
Wednesday, 19 May 2010 17:28

Thanks to the damaged economy, Walmart will not build one of the state’s biggest big-box stores in Saukville; that’s progess

At last, something positive, a hint of a silver lining in the gray economic clouds, has come out of the nation’s lingering recession: Walmart is dropping its plan to build what would have been one of the state’s biggest big-box stores in Saukville.

The Walmart Supercenter once planned for a 40-acre site on the north side of Highway 33 near the Feith Family YMCA could have been as large as 225,000 square feet, 50% bigger than the enormous Costco store in Grafton.

As a January 2007 Ozaukee Press editorial noted, “The crowds needed to sustain this behemoth would generate suffocating traffic that would tax village streets and make unprecedented demands on its police department, related to not only traffic control, but crime prevention. Everyone who drives on Saukville roadways would pay the price for the overwhelming size of the Supercenter.”

Now the diminished economy has forced Walmart to scale back some of its expansion plans, with the happy result that this megastore will not be built. Instead, the present Walmart store on the south side of Highway 33 in Saukville will be enlarged.

In spite of considerable public outcry against the outsized store proposed by Walmart in 2007, village officials seemed enthused about the possibility of it being built and adding as much as $83 million to the village tax base.

The new plan is getting a warm reception from the village too. The remake of the old store, which had not lived up to the village’s aesthetic expectations, will be welcome.

There is a sense of relief too in the fact that there will be no issues involving what to do with an empty big-box. The Village Board, to its credit, had put the onus for that on Walmart by adopting an ordinance requiring big-box owners to prepare reuse plans when moving to a new building. Still, the door was open to a new use that might not have been in the best interests of the village.

Walmart’s Saukville expansion, nonetheless, is not an unalloyed blessing. Some of the negative ramifications feared from the huge stand-alone Supercenter attach to the new plan, especially its impact on the Port Washington-Saukville area’s small-town retailers.

With 25,050 additional square feet of store space (for a total of 121,000 square feet), the Saukville outlet of the world’s largest retailer will be more formidable competition than ever to every local independent stores selling products and services also offered by Walmart.

Of particular concern is the announcement that the new store, which Walmart is identifying as one of its Supercenters, will include a 20,000 square-foot supermarket, a direct threat to Port-Saukville’s three grocery stores (one of which is next door to Walmart and the other across the street).

Competition often favors consumers, but if it drives other stores out of business, reducing shoppers’ choices, snuffing out commercial diversity, it will be no favor to the families of our communities.

Walmart’s grocery offerings will doubtless be appealing, but we hope shoppers will remember that if they want choices instead of empty stores they will need to support the markets that have been faithfully serving the area through the ups and downs of business.

The enthusiasm expressed for the Walmart expansion at a recent Plan Commission meeting included a signal that village officials might react favorably to a request to permit the new store to be open 24 hours a day.

Village President Barb Dickmann opposed 24-hour operation when it was brought up in connection with for the proposed stand-alone Supercenter three years ago. She had it right the first time. As the village police docket makes clear on almost a weekly basis, the current store and its parking lot, even with more conventional store hours, demand a disproportionate amount of police attention. The problem will only be worse with a bigger store. There is no benefit to the village in having an enlarged store in operation around the clock.

What is a benefit to the village is that it dodged a bullet in getting a less super Supercenter. Thank the recession for that.

 
A milestone not to be missed PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press Editorial Board   
Wednesday, 12 May 2010 15:23

It is the responsibility of elected city officials to lead the way in celebration of Port Washington’s 175th anniversary

Fathers are expected to remember their children’s birthdays. Yet Port Washington’s city fathers—its elected officials—forgot their city’s 175th birthday. And now, informed of their oversight, they’re saying, oops, that’s too bad, but it’s too late to organize a party.

Port Washington deserves better.

Port Washington is one of Wisconsin’s oldest cities, founded in 1835. That was 13 years before Wisconsin became a state.

The city can’t pass by this 175-year milestone with an oops and a shrug. That would be an insult to the memory of the men and women who built the community—the founders, the generations of entrepreneurs and industrialists, the builders and mariners, the civic leaders, educators, lawyers and doctors, the benefactors who shared the wealth their work here created and all the others who contributed to the vitality that has helped Port Washington endure and prosper.

The 175th anniversary must be celebrated as an expression of pride in what Port Washington has accomplished in its nearly two centuries of existence and as an inspiration to today’s citizens to nurture, strengthen and continually improve the community bequeathed to them by their civic forebears.

The responsibility to get this going falls right on city hall. There have been some murmurings about passing it off—perhaps to the Main Street organization, or the Historical Society, or the Tourism Council. It’s popular these days to farm out tasks that had once been done by government to other community organizations, “tight budgets” being the usual rationale.

That’s fine for some things, but this is a city responsibility. Besides, Main Street’s mission is to help the business district, and a 175th anniversary celebration would be for the entire city, not just the downtown. The Historical Society has limited resources and is hard pressed to support the services it now provides in maintaining the 1860 Light Station and in presenting a maritime museum during the Maritime Heritage Festival. And as for the Tourism Council, a city’s anniversary celebration is not a tourist event; it’s a birthday party for residents.

Citizens expect a lot from their representatives in city government; guiding an operation as complex and costly as a good-sized municipality is a demanding job. But there’s more to it than passing ordinances and approving budgets. There is also the imperative of being versed in the context of their service—the community’s heritage—and to ensure that such important markers of that history as a milestone anniversary are properly observed.

The city officials in office in 1935, 1960 and 1985 understood that well, judging from the celebrations they spearheaded for Port Washington’s 100th, 125th and 150th anniversaries, events that fairly glowed with civic pride. The 150th anniversary was such a momentous occasion that it was commemorated with a 152-page issue of Ozaukee Press.

The officials currently in office forgot to include something for the 175th anniversary in the 2010 budget. That, as they say, is history. It doesn’t get the city off the hook. There is still time to do this right. A city-sponsored celebration doesn’t have to be extravagant or expensive. (Let’s say for openers that we can forego fireworks.) Some seed money can surely be found in one of the city’s accounts.

Set a date, get the ball rolling. There will be plenty of help to keep it going. Citizens of Port Washington have demonstrated pride in their community time and again by volunteering, and they will step up for this. But they should be led by those who have the privilege of being elected to serve this vibrant community whose roots reach back 175 years.

 
Energy and consequences PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press Editorial Board   
Wednesday, 05 May 2010 16:35

The Gulf oil spill, already one of history’s great environmental disasters, reminds us that our energy demands exact a price in more than dollars

It’s no slight to the enormity of the disaster to say that a cartoon character may have the wisest take on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill that is sure to rank among the world’s worst environmental accidents:

“We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

Those are the words of cartoonist Walt Kelly, spoken by his possum-philosopher character Pogo, fittingly, in a poster promoting Earth Day 1970.

Any happening as awful as this—an oil rig explosion killing 11 people and resulting in 210,000 gallons of crude oil gushing into the Gulf daily with no end in sight, threatening wetlands, fisheries, the economy, in fact a way of life in Louisiana—requires something to blame. BP, the giant oil company that owns the out-of-control well, and government agencies are candidates.

When all is said and done, though, the blame cannot fall anywhere but on the unquenchable thirst for energy from oil. The enemy, indeed, is us.

The lesson is not that oil wells shouldn’t be in places where the environment is vulnerable. The way things stand, they have to be. We need the oil. The lesson is that until we reduce that need we will have to face the consequences.

You can say, if you actually want to repeat a mindless slogan of the last presidential campaign, “drill, baby, drill,” but know that a price will be paid in human and environmental consequences.

It is not the exclusive curse of oil. Coal is said to provide cheap energy, but the coal mine explosion in West Virginia in April reminds us that some pay a very dear price for it, including the 29 miners who were killed, and the many hundreds like them who have perished in coal-mining accidents over the years, and the thousands sickened by coal-related illnesses. The price the rest of us pay in the environmental degradation caused by coal-fired energy is less, but still a consequence to be reckoned with.

Government energy policy should be about mitigating and eventually eliminating the consequences. The Wisconsin Legislature’s failure to pass the Clean Energy Job Act means that this state still has no energy policy to do that.

The legislation would have set goals for reducing carbon emissions and increasing energy generated from renewable resources. Beyond that, it would have made a change in state law that could have had an important impact on converting to clean energy—it would have lifted Wisconsin’s moratorium on new nuclear power plants.

While the consequences of oil and coal accumulate in a grim toll of human and environmental suffering, nuclear power plants have been producing carbon-free energy in America for 55 years without the loss of a single life.

There is no more efficient way to produce clean energy in the volume needed to meet America’s needs than by nuclear reactors. Even though no new nuclear plants have been built in the U.S. since 1980, and some plants have been shut down, nuclear power is still able to produce 20% of the nation’s electricity and more than two-thirds of its carbon-free electricity. (Wind power produces barely over 1%.)

Think of the clean energy that could be produced, and the carbon the atmosphere would be spared, if construction of nuclear power plants were not discouraged or prohibited, but promoted as the way to meet growing power demand while cleaning the air by displacing coal plants.

Nuclear power relies on a process that is inherently dangerous and creates dangerous waste, but the technology to deal with those problems has advanced to the point where it is no longer responsible to restrict nuclear power options.

Until most cars are electric, of course, increased used of nuclear power would not prevent disasters like the one playing out in the Gulf of Mexico, but it would deal with one consequence of the demand for energy.

 
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