PRESS EDITORIAL: Why did Port representatives shoot down nature preserve funding?

Expressions of anger, outrage, contempt and suspicion go on unabated over the secret sabotage of a state grant for the Cedar Gorge Clay Bluffs Nature Preserve by anonymous actors in the Wisconsin Legislature.

It’s all well deserved. The fatal rejection of the stewardship grant that was fully approved for the preserve by the Department of National Resources, perpetrated in a secret meeting of the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee and enabled by the opposition of a single anonymous state senator, an anonymous developer and a lobbyist, is a classic sign of rot in government.

It is no surprise that a number of letters to the editor published in this newspaper have suggested corruption was at work. A county official described the finance committee action as “funny business.”

Somewhat lost in the disgust over the damage done by state politicians is the fact that local elected officials dealt the preserve a financial blow almost as costly as the scuttling of the state grant: Port Washington’s representatives on the Ozaukee County Board effectively killed a proposed county appropriation of $1 million for Cedar Gorge.

Acting in concert, every county supervisor from Port Washington—Dave Larson, Rick Nelson and Dan Becker representing city districts and Lee Schlenvogt from the Town of Port Washington—voted against the county funding resolution. Their votes defeated it.

Port Washington Mayor Ted Neitzke abetted the demise of the resolution by opposing it in a letter to the County Board.

The county contribution for the preserve had broad support among County Board members. A majority of supervisors representing districts throughout the county from north to south voted for it; the final tally was just three votes short of the required two-thirds of the board.

By what tortured logic opposition to the county grant by elected office holders representing Port Washington was supposed to benefit their constituents was not explained.

Somehow they must have missed what the numerous supporters of the Cedar Gorge Clay Bluffs Nature Preserve see clearly—that it would be a gift for Port Washington, a county nature park in the city, paid for mainly by private donors and federal grants, with no cost to city taxpayers for buying the land, establishing the preserve and maintaining it.

It would be the first positive result of the city’s ill-advised decision decades ago to annex land far south of its then city limits at the behest of a developer who promptly went bankrupt.

It is apparent, however, that the naysayers representing Port Washington would prefer to see the land developed.

Before casting his vote against the nature preserve, Supr. Nelson said he was concerned about “how much income we’re going to lose” if the preserve land is not made available to a developer.

At some point shortsightedness morphs into a total absence of vision, and those who think a better use for the Cedar Gorge land would be to turn it into a housing development seem to have arrived there. The express purpose of the nature preserve, after all, is to prevent development of the 131-acre site because it has extraordinary value as one of the most significant natural places left along the Lake Michigan shore.

It is evident from the popularity of the nearby Lion’s Den Gorge Nature Preserve, which has similar terrain, botanical features and shoreline and has frequently been overwhelmed with visitors, that the people of Ozaukee County want the Cedar Gorge park to be a reality.

The high value placed by the public on opportunities for outdoor recreation on land preserved in a natural state has been documented by years of research. Studies have repeatedly shown that such places are not a cost burden to municipalities, but rather, they add to the taxable value of property in the community. Prized as lifestyle enhancements, they attract new residents and tourists. City land adjacent to the Cedar Gorge preserve area now earmarked for development would yield increased tax revenue because of the presence of the preserve.

Were the Port Washington opponents of the preserve swayed by the report that a mysterious unnamed developer bragging of deep pockets had suddenly appeared and was ready to “partner with Port Washington” to turn the preserve land into a residential subdivision?

Other County Board members found that last-minute wrench thrown into the preserve funding process contemptible. Supr. Paul Melotik of Grafton said, “It’s hard to believe this is happening. I don’t think we should have some anonymous developer-legislator telling us what we should do.”

The Ozaukee Washington Land Trust is vigorously carrying on fundraising for the preserve, and there has been a surge of donations in response to the state and county rejections of funding support. Still, it’s a hard climb, with more than an additional $1 million needed and a deadline for the expiration of federal grants nearing.

The project needs the help that most of the members of the County Board were willing to give, and Ozaukee County is well positioned to provide it. Its finances are in excellent shape and it has a large surplus of cash from an American Rescue Act grant.

The Port Washington delegation to the County Board, now with a new member since the election, can make amends for its disservice to county residents by reintroducing the funding resolution and voting for it.

For the City of Port Washington’s part, the Common Council should not be content to let the mayor speak for the city on this important issue. It is not unreasonable to assume that a majority of Council members see the benefits of the preserve for their constituents. They should stand up for those views and pass a resolution urging the County Board to approve a county grant.


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


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