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Friday, March 19, 2010

Who Needs A Scenic River When There’s A Bridge To Build?

There’s a bridge to somewhere that nobody wants on the Minnesota-Wisconsin border, but there’s congresswoman who won’t let a mere federally protected river get in the way of a new bridge.

This story reminds Rat of the “bridge to nowhere” made infamous during the 2008 presidential campaign. A multi-million dollar bridge from the mainland to a barely inhabited island in Alaska, it became a symbol of government waste and pork. There was no small irony in that pork chop, in that Republican presidential candidate John McCain railed against such projects, and the Alaska porkchop/bridge was built with the blessing of his running-mate, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

Rep. Michele Bachman of Minnesota is angry that a judge ruled against the construction of a new bridge over the St. Croix River at Stillwater. The St. Croix was among the first rivers to get a federal designation as wild and scenic in 1968. No matter, says Bachmann: the bridge must be built, and if the federal Wild and Scenic River designation is in the way, damn the designation: simply un-designate the river and build the bridge.

This is not Bachmann’s first toe-dip into controversy. She accused candidate Obama of being anti-American and recently claimed that the current health care reform proposal would allow a 13-year old to go to school, get an abortion at Planned Parenthood, and be home on the bus the same day.

Bachman’s bridge over the River Croix – opposed for over 20 years now, mostly because people fear it would metastasize exurban sprawl – is not likely to get built. There’s worse news for the scenic Lower St. Croix: after another dragged-out legal battle, a Twin Cities media tycoon got a green light from the Minnesota Supreme Court to build a small castle on a bluff of the river. River rats fond of the St. Croix fear the ruling will grease the skids for building more castles and change the scenery of the scenic Lower St. Croix forever.

Who needs a bridge when you can sue your way to the Supreme Court to get permission to build a house in a federal scenic riverway?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Sorting out the S*** from the Shinola....

There’s a buzz among river rats and other water watchdogs this week, as the Wisconsin State Journal’s three-part series on how the dairy industry is spreading its way, so to speak, across the Wisconsin landscape, to the dismay and anger of people who end up with 5,000 or 8,000 cows as neighbors, and feel like they had little say in the matter.

Rats who have infiltrated the alleyways of state government have known for a long time what the State Journal’s intrepid reporter Ron Seely quantified by ferreting out email records from the state Dept. of Natural Resources – that the dairy industry gets its way with regulators. This despite whining that they are overburdened with regulations. (They oughta compare notes with a city sewage treatment plant or a paper factory if they really want to know what scrutiny is.)

Rat has experienced first-hand the ways of the dairy industry’s biggest organizational cow, the Dairy Business Association (DBA). Getting its way has meant DBA spreading not just manure but outright falsehoods and near-slander of people who call them out. Several of us met with DBA representatives about a year ago to discuss legislation to limit manure contamination of drinking water. But the organization’s staff sent a “warning” to its members that thoroughly mischaracterized the intent of the policy.

When that brush fire was quelled, DBA’s executive director turned to attacking a well-respected and knowledgeable conservation professional no doubt seen by DBA as dangerous because he knows, intimately, the practices and shortcomings of the industry, and knows how those practices could be changed to minimize damage to resources.

Soon there will be legislation introduced in an attempt to limit, if not eliminate, contamination of people’s wells by manure and other wastes. Yes, it could be yet more regulation that the dairy industry loathes, and it will no doubt throw itself at it in opposition.

And none of it would be necessary if the actually acted proactively and responsibly and fixed the problem where it clearly could be fixed.

There’s not an industry in Wisconsin with poorer public relations right now than the dairy industry, despite all that wholesome family farm stuff they invoke. It wouldn’t take much to turn it around, but for now they’re going in the wrong direction.