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Phase out emissions testing PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press Editoral Board   
Wednesday, 20 January 2010 16:10

Southeast Wisconsin’s air is still being made unhealthy by engine exhaust, but emissions tests are not an effective way to deal with the problem

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation recently shut down the only vehicle emissions testing facility in Ozaukee County to save money. Better the DOT had cut back the entire emissions testing program in southeast Wisconsin to save money.

If that sounds like environmental heresy, consider this:

Emissions testing makes much less difference in air quality than it did when the program was started 25 years ago. Vehicle exhaust systems then were primitive compared to those of 21st century automobiles, with emission controls that were prone to failure and tampering. Testing caught and stopped polluters.

Computer controlled engines and exhaust systems on cars and light trucks built in recent years are reliable and virtually foolproof in meeting higher federal standards for clean air. More than 90% of all vehicles tested in southeast Wisconsin pass emissions tests. We’ll venture a guess that the pass rate for the newest vehicles tested, 2007 models, is just about 100%, and doesn’t fall off much for other vehicles of recent vintage.

Meanwhile, the vehicles most likely to have defective emissions systems are not even being tested. Since 2008, vehicles built before 1996 have been exempt from emissions testing. This reduces the financial cost but adds an air-quality cost. The DOT admits that these—roughly one-fourth of the cars and light trucks in operation—are the most likely polluters and that until most of them are off the roads, perhaps by 2018, according to the DOT, failing to test them will cause air pollution from vehicles to increase in the region.

A cynic beholding this state of affairs, in which the vehicles most likely to be polluters are ignored while vehicles that rarely have malfunctioning exhaust systems are tested every two years, might be tempted to say the emissions testing program is mainly for show.

If so, it’s an expensive show. The program costs millions of dollars a year. This is paid by vehicle owners in registration fees and gas taxes and in the dollars, time and aggravation expended to drive to and wait at emission testing facilities.

Which brings us to Ozaukee County’s status as the only county in the seven-county emissions testing region that does not have a test site. Ozaukee County vehicle owners must drive to West Bend or Milwaukee, a round trip for some of more than 40 miles—ironic miles adding emissions to the atmosphere for the purpose of taking an unnecessary test meant to limit harmful vehicle emissions.

State Rep. Mark Gottlieb of Port Washington and other legislators are promoting a good solution: Let emissions tests be conducted by private automotive service outlets. This will work because one of the charms of new automobile engine technology is that the test is a simple plug-in evaluation that most private service providers are able to handle. The DOT is said to like the idea, so relief could be here soon.

The new convenience should ameliorate some of the irritation over the testing program, but it will still amount to a large expenditure of public money on a program that is of questionable effectiveness.

That’s not to say air quality is no longer a problem. On the contrary, southeastern Wisconsin continues to have some of the most unhealthy air in the nation, and the federal Clean Air Act properly mandates that Wisconsin take steps to deal with it.

Vehicle emissions are responsible for part of the air quality problem (though not the largest part), but new car technology has rendered the way Wisconsin tries to deal with it largely obsolete. The sensible move to allow testing at local car service businesses should lead to phasing out of emissions testing for cars equipped with modern exhaust technology.

It is time to acknowledge that the unhealthy air created by internal combustion engines is caused more by too many cars on our roads with properly functioning exhaust systems than by a few that can’t pass an emissions test. The solution is not more testing—it’s engines that don’t burn fossil fuel.

Local lake defenders PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press Editoral Board   
Wednesday, 13 January 2010 17:17

Because every voice in defense of the Great Lakes helps, the County Board should endorse committee’s resolution on stopping invading carp at Chicago

It’s a genuine grass-roots effort, but it might be more appropriate to call it a “water-trickles” effort. We’re referring to the Ozaukee County Environmental Land Use Committee adopting a resolution that supports closing the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal to keep Asian Carp out of Lake Michigan.

It may be a stretch to think that a tiny unit of government in a Wisconsin county could impact a decision that will be made by the United States Supreme Court or another branch of the federal government, but every voice raised in defense of the lake helps in some way, if only to persuade others to join in a chorus that could get so loud it can’t be ignored.

The resolution supports the legal battle by several Great Lakes states, recently joined by Wisconsin, to close the Chicago canal’s outlets to Lake Michigan and also urges Congress to deal with the problem. It deserves approval by the full County Board at its next session.

Of the myriad threats to the future of the Great Lakes, the Asian carp is currently looming largest. These 50 to 100-pound invaders have made their way from the Mississippi River up the Illinois River and Chicago canal and are now a few miles from the lake, held back only by an electric barrier that is susceptible to failure.

If the bottom-feeding carp establish a population in the lake, it is believed they could wipe out valuable native and introduced fish by vacuuming up the plankton the other species need to survive.

Acting on the belief that only closing the Chicago canal’s portals to the lake will stop the carp, Michigan filed a lawsuit to reopen an old Supreme Court case involving Chicago’s diversion of lake water through the sanitary canal. The suit asks for an injunction forcing the Army Corps of Engineers to cut the canal off from the lake.

The injunction should be granted. The canal is a man-made link between the Great Lakes and watersheds that are rife with invasive species. Keeping it open adds to the likelihood of the world’s greatest freshwater resource, already battered by a host of non-native predators, falling victim to an ecological disaster.

The Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal was not always a menace to the lakes. For many decades, in fact, it was a friend of the Lake Michigan environment. While cities on all of the lakes polluted the water with untreated or poorly treated sewage (Milwaukee being a prime offender), Chicago kept its wastewater out of the lake, shunting it down the canal. To this day, the lake water off the harbor and beaches of the largest metropolis on the Great Lakes is some of the cleanest anywhere.

Closing the canal outlets wouldn’t affect that, but it would have an economic impact. Barge traffic between the Mississippi and the lake depends on the canal.

Economics almost always play a role in environmental battles. The cost of doing the right thing for the environment is often perceived as too big a price to pay. But in this case, the economic argument favors protecting the lakes’ ecosystem. The loss of barge transportation revenue is minuscule compared to the cost of degrading the lakes as a recreational resource. In Ozaukee County alone, sport fishing—which could be destroyed by Asian carp predations—has an annual economic impact measured in millions of dollars.

Putting a price tag on the lakes’ future, however, threatens to trivialize the problem. This is too important to be considered in terms of dollars and cents. It’s better to consider protecting the Great Lakes a moral responsibility.

We have to wonder whether the Obama administration gets that. After heartening Great Lakes’ advocates early on with its pledge to do whatever is needed to keep new invasive species out, it has sided with Illinois in the canal court case.

Far from the White House, in the Ozaukee County Courthouse, some government officials do get it. The Environmental Land Use Committee’s initiative recognizes the imperative to protect a precious resource to which Ozaukee County is inextricably tied. May this trickle of sensible responsibility to the freshwater environment become a powerful stream of opinion demanding the door be shut to intruders that could ruin the lakes.

A downtown senior center PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press Editoral Board   
Wednesday, 06 January 2010 17:09

The Port Senior Center building, recognized as an architectural gem, will soon be too small; the center’s next home should also be downtown

One of Port Washington’s rare architectural gems got deserved recognition and a measure of protection recently when the former firehouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
   The building on the corner of Pier Street and South Wisconsin Street was built in 1929 and was the home of the Port Washington Fire Department until 1975. Its historical value is mainly in its distinctive design by Milwaukee architect John Topzant.

    The design is in the Mediterranean Revival style, and a more graceful treatment of a structure meant to house fire engines is hard to imagine, with its Spanish tile roof, arched windows and a tower (once used to dry fire hoses) that features such elegant touches as rows of windows and iron balconies under its own tile roof.

    The National Register listing will help ensure that this remarkable edifice endures as not just a public treasure, but a reminder to designers that public buildings can serve their utilitarian purposes without sacrificing architectural grace.

    The building is now the home of the Senior Center, but soon it won’t be big enough for that use. Enlarging it should not be considered because the inspired character of its design would surely suffer.

    In any case, an addition has been all but ruled out for other reasons. A committee is currently considering two sites for a new Senior Center, one along Highway 33 between Port Washington and Saukville, and one adjacent to the Harbor Campus facility for the elderly on Port’s north side.

    Exploration of the possibilities of these sites is underway, but whatever the results it is hard to imagine that either one would be preferable to a downtown location for the Senior Center.

    The meaning of the term “senior citizen” is evolving. Regardless of what it once meant, today it applies to some of the community’s most active and involved citizens, men and women who are retired from their jobs and have the time to pursue their interests, which are many and diverse.

    People who would use a new Senior Center should be where the action is—downtown, where the restaurants, coffee shops, stores, marina, Harbor Walk and Rotary Park are located.

    A downtown location for a new Senior Center would be a boon not just for seniors, but for a downtown economy that would benefit from these frequent visitors. That benefit would be multiplied if a disused property could be redeveloped into a Senior Center.

    Such a property is the Lueptow’s building in the 200 block of Franklin Street in the heart of downtown. Once a huge, successful appliance and furniture store, the city’s retail anchor, it is today a huge burden on downtown revitalization, a vacant structure that casts a shadow over the bright initiatives that are bringing new life
to the business district.

    The Lueptow building satisfies many of the criteria important to a Senior Center: It has plenty of space, an adjacent property suitable for parking and willing sellers.

    Cost of acquisition and remodeling would certainly be an issue, and would have to be weighed against the cost of the alternatives, but a factor that can’t be overlooked is that turning the Lueptow building into the Senior Center would transform one of the downtown’s most frustrating negatives into a positive.

    As a bonus, it should be noted that behind the daunting solid-brick facade is an early 20th century building of considerable character, with attractive windows and stonework facing Franklin Street. It may not be in the class of the Mediterranean firehouse, but creative redesign could give the city center another
architectural asset.

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