State Senator Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) represents parts of four counties: Milwaukee, Waukesha, Racine, and Walworth. Her Senate District 28 includes New Berlin, Franklin, Greendale, Hales Corners, Muskego, Waterford, Big Bend, the town of Vernon and parts of Greenfield, East Troy, and Mukwonago. Senator Lazich has been in the Legislature for more than a decade. She considers herself a tireless crusader for lower taxes, reduced spending and smaller government.
I blogged during May about the trend of voting via the Post Office. As one election official put it, “There is no line at your mailbox.” Just how popular is the absentee ballot? The Associated press reports that nationwide, about a third of the electorate is expected to vote before Election Day, November 4, 2008.
The numbers show an increasing percentage of voters want to take advantage of the absentee ballot because they are travelling, they are elderly and have difficulty getting to the polls, the convenience of considering their choices in the comfortable confines of their home, or simply because they can. Many states, including Wisconsin, allow anyone to vote absentee, no questions asked.
During 2000, 16 percent of voters in the United States cast their ballots early. The number increased to 22 percent in 2004.
Statewide in Wisconsin, according the Government Accountability Board’s Kyle Richmond quoted by the Associated Press, about 365,000 people used absentee ballots or cast early votes at clerk’s offices in 2004, about 12 percent of the voting age population in the state. The number is expected to grow this year to 15 percent.
Voters who request an absentee ballot should start getting them in the mail the week of October 6, 2008. Here are details on obtaining an absentee ballot in Wisconsin.
Here is an Associated Press story on the popularity of Post Office voting.
Cranberries are big business in Wisconsin. Wisconsin Rapids now boasts having the largest cranberry producing plant in the world.
Our cranberry business could be even bigger if the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and cranberry growers can come to an agreement on expediting the permitting process to transform as many as 5,000 acres into cranberry bogs. An economic study prepared this year by University of Wisconsin economists has concluded that if Wisconsin’s cranberry industry were to add 5,000 new acres, the state would gain 1,115 new jobs and see an annual income increase of $75 million.
The CEO’s of Ocean Spray Cranberries and Cliffstar Corporation, two large and significant buyers of Wisconsin cranberries, have been discussing speeding up the process with Governor Doyle and the DNR so that cranberry expansion can take place in Wisconsin. Failure to come up with an agreement could send the cranberry companies to seek land in Canada, taking all the jobs and income that go along with the expanded fruit production.
A greater global demand for cranberries has necessitated the call for more bogs. The United States is exporting 30% of its crop to places like the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, China, and South Korea.
Wisconsin is an ideal place to grow and harvest cranberries and expand production. The state understands the business and already has plants in operation. Canada has plenty of land to convert into bogs, but lacks Wisconsin’s knowledge of the industry and processing plants.
Cultivating cranberries is time-consuming. The time it takes from beginning work on the land to the actual harvest is usually about three years. Add on the two-year permitting process in Wisconsin and one can understand the concerns of cranberry companies who can’t wait that long to satisfy global demand.
What is the hang-up? Some portions of the land that would be included in the Wisconsin expansion contain wetlands. Environmental groups are worried the wetlands will be destroyed. The CEO’s of Ocean Spray and Cliffstar insist they will replace any wetlands converted into cranberry bogs.
There is not a state in the entire country that produces more cranberries than Wisconsin. The Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association reports the cranberry is the state’s number one fruit in both value and acreage, providing an annual $350 million boost to the state economy and 7,200 jobs in Wisconsin. The Association also says in order to meet the rising worldwide demand for cranberries, an additional 110 million pounds, or 5,000 acres of berries must be produced in the next 5-10 years.
Wisconsin has a golden opportunity to expand one of our most successful industries, create jobs, and benefit the state economy. The Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune reports there is progress in talks between the state and cranberry executives. I urge the involved parties to come to a mutual agreement soon that will be in the best interests of all, especially Wisconsin’s lucrative cranberry industry.
This summer, I blogged that the Wisconsin blueberry is a superfood. The Wisconsin cranberry is also a superfood with many health benefits.
What is going on inside Milwaukee City Hall? It seems Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett has suddenly become worried about the fact that Chicago is discharging large amounts of sewer overflow into Lake Michigan.
Last week, Mayor Barrett wrote a letter to U.S. Congressman Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) expressing his concerns about, “the amount of the overflows reported by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago which were estimated at 99 billion gallons” during a strong storm this month. Barrett continues:
“So, in this one September storm alone, Chicago released five times more combined sewage than Milwaukee has released in 14 years. Additionally, Chicago is perhaps the only community that can have overflows that go both east and west into different watersheds (Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River) at the same time. Chicago has dozens of combined sewer overflows every year into the Mississippi basin – the source of drinking water for millions of people. Chicago is also the only city on the Great Lakes that does not disinfect its wastewater.”
I commend Mayor Barrett for writing the letter; however, I have two questions for Mayor Barrett:
1) Where have you been?
Chicago’s dumping of vast amounts of sewage into Lake Michigan should come as no surprise. Historically, Chicago has more or less been able to do whatever it wants about Lake Michigan, regardless of the circumstances or consequences.
Take, for instance, Chicago’s diversion of water from the Great Lakes.
The Illinois-Michigan Canal was opened to shipping traffic in 1848, the same year Wisconsin entered the Union. Every day, 64.6 million gallons of water was diverted from Lake Michigan at Chicago through the Chicago and Illinois Rivers to the Mississippi River.
The Windy City’s sewage poured into the Chicago River and then into Lake Michigan, Chicago’s drinking water source. As a result, in 1885, over 10 percent of Chicago’s population, 90,000 people died from cholera.
Since then, the amount of water in the Chicago diversion has grown substantially, even beyond the limit imposed by a 1967 U.S. Supreme Court ruling. The Chicago diversion was not only in direct defiance of the high court, but is, today, the largest diversion out of the Great Lakes Basin. The other Great Lakes states voiced concern, leading to a battle in federal court.
Illinois agreed to reduce the outtake of water from Lake Michigan to the amount set by previous court decisions. The other states agreed not to take legal action for previous Illinois violations. What a sweet deal Illinois received. At a time when Wisconsin communities are desperate for water, today, millions of northeast Illinois residents that live outside the Great Lakes Basin have access to Lake Michigan water because of the Chicago diversion.
With that history in mind, I am not surprised at Chicago’s recent dumping of sewage into Lake Michigan.
2) If this so concerns you, Mayor Barrett, why didn’t you raise these issues during the time you so vigorously lobbied for approval of the Great Lakes Compact?
I thought, listening to officials like Mayor Barrett that the Compact was going to resolve these issues, protect our resource, and prohibit the kind of harmful action Chicago took. Throughout the entire process, I never heard Mayor Barrett voice any objections about the questionable Chicago sweet diversion deal or the city’s dumping of sewage into Lake Michigan.
During the lengthy deliberations about the Great Lakes Compact, I made it clear that despite my reservations, I supported an effective document that was good for the Great Lakes, the state of Wisconsin, and would preserve our greatest natural resource.
Time and time again, I heard Compact proponents make the case that the Compact would address the water needs of New Berlin. The conventional wisdom was that the Compact needed to be approved quickly, and if it was, New Berlin’s water woes would be taken care of. Making those arguments were city of Milwaukee officials from Mayor Tom Barrett on down. They claimed the city of Milwaukee would no longer have issues with New Berlin getting water if Wisconsin would simply okay the Compact. City of Milwaukee officials even threatened to withhold the sale of water to New Berlin until the Compact was approved by the Legislature.
What happened? Wisconsin approved the Compact, but for the city of Milwaukee, on this critical public health issue, it remained business as usual, as it imposed a hefty price tag for a community in desperate need of water. For the city of Milwaukee, it was never about the Compact. It was and remains a question of money and control over a suburb to the west.
It appears Tom Barrett, who argued long and hard that the Compact needed to be approved as quickly as possible, and even used precious water as a negotiating chip, believes Congress needs to be aware of a serious problem in the Great Lakes Basin. Maybe Mayor Barrett should have thought about that before his rush to judgment.
Congratulations to the Little Muskego Lake Association (LMLA) on having a very successful carp shoot on September 20, 2008. Approximately 100 fish were removed from Little Muskego Lake. When the carp shoots from the spring are factored in, a total of approximately 630 carp were removed from Little Muskego Lake during 2008. Carp shoots provide great environmental benefits, including making the water clearer and improving the populations of other fish.
Ridding our waters of carp is critical. During the early 1900’s, biologists discovered carp were filling waterways to the point of crowding out other more prized game fish. Carp are known as bottom feeders. They literally suck up mud and spit it out before selecting their food from the water. The carp cause sediment to stir up resulting in poor water conditions and feeding problems for desirable fish.
Carp eggs stick like heavy-duty industrial strength glue so it can get quite messy. Carp shooters are a special breed of people, willing to get down and dirty to help the environment.
The carp shoot was truly a team effort. Organizers made perfect plans. Crews removed floating weeds on the lake. Police patrolled in two shifts. The event went off without complaints or problems as all riparians gave their full cooperation and support. Videographers captured the carp shoot for broadcast on Madison’s Fox Channel affiliate in October.
Little Muskego Lake got a big boost in quality thanks to everyone who played a part in this successful event. Congratulations carp shooters for your contribution to our environment and quality of life!
The state of Wisconsin seems to be on a roundabout binge. The philosophy of the state Department of Transportation (DOT) is that whenever major intersection improvements on state roads or four-way stops are planned, the installation of roundabouts must be considered. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported on August 24, 2008 that statewide, there are 58 roundabouts open on state and local roads, seven to 10 more are scheduled to open by the end of the construction season, and 140 or more are in various planning stages.
Before the state proceeds with its plan to blanket roadways with roundabouts, it should slow down and I have made that request to the DOT. I have also asked the DOT to rethink the roundabout at Racine Avenue and I-43 in Muskego because of concerns with the roundabout at I-43 and Moorland Road in New Berlin.
The design at the New Berlin roundabout left much to be desired with poor signage and lane markings. There have been a number of accidents at the roundabout, not to mention a high level of anxiety and frustration. There are also complaints about the roundabout on Drexel Avenue in Franklin near Highway 100 and the new Shoppes at Wyndham Village.
Some of my constituents that have corresponded with me about roundabouts have been receptive to the roundabout concept. They agree with the DOT that roundabouts improve safety and reduce crashes. The DOT contends, “Roundabouts move traffic safely through an intersection because of slower speeds, fewer conflict points, and decision-making. Studies by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety show that roundabouts provide a 90% reduction in fatal crashes, 76% reduction in injury crashes, 30-40% reduction in pedestrian crashes, and a 10% reduction in bicycle crashes.”
However, constituents I have heard from angrily oppose roundabouts. I am very concerned about the danger posed by roundabouts resulting in accidents. There are other concerns including poor signage and lane markings that I have already indicated. What about semi-trailer trucks? The configuration of roundabouts makes it extremely difficult for semi-trailers, long trucks, campers, and cars with boats to successfully negotiate the turns.
Proponents at the DOT suggest frustrated motorists, in time, and with more education will learn to accept roundabouts. How does DOT adequately train the masses, the vast number of motorists on our roadways? Most of them will never get their hands on a DOT brochure or see a roundabout video on the DOT website.
That is why I suggest the state put the brakes on roundabouts until the kinks can be worked out. The idea is to improve all aspects of roundabouts: design, safety, ease of use. The DOT should bring together special study groups of designers, engineers, and importantly motorists to determine the best model for roundabouts. I have asked the DOT to conduct simulations with a cross-section of Wisconsin drivers and cross-section of vehicles before proceeding further with roundabouts.
Until then, the state should put away the plans to build more and more because the current roundabout design at I-43 and Moorland Road is not ready for prime time.