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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Gold at the End of the Rainbow?

Just visited friends with really cool digs – a crumbling, some say cursed, old failed resort along the lovely Mukwonago River. They’re worried about their future because the state bought all 970 acres of the old Rainbow Springs Resort using the so-called Stewardship Fund with the intention of scrapping the decrepit buildings, restoring an old golf course to prairie, and opening the acreage to nature based recreation including hunting and trapping (yikes!). They say it was the most expensive conservation purchase ever in southern Wisconsin, so you can bet the state is hell-bent to accomplish their mission.

Or maybe not. The old private golf course had been allowed to operate until last fall, sending fertilizer into the pristine Mukwonago. It’s now closed, but local golfers aren’t happy and are lobbying to get it back. I feel for my friends and all, but I'm not so sure a lot of Kentucky Blue and a private golf course is the "nature based recreation" envisioned for the property. And given it was purchased with taxpayer funds, it all seems a little stinky to me.

Turns out that back in 2008 when the state bought the property, then Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker called it a waste of taxpayer’s money. Scott Gunderson, formerly the state representative for the area, is now the Executive Assistant to the Secretary of the DNR, the agency charged with managing the land. A meeting was held a few weeks ago to get public input on how the property should be restored and the types of nature-based activities allowed, and when the private golf course was raised, Mr. Gunderson certainly didn’t pooh-pooh the idea. Hey, maybe this could be a way to offset all that “wasted” taxpayer money? Or could this be the nose under the camel’s tent toward privatization of our public lands?

I’m not too worried though - golf courses don’t quite meet the criteria for how Stewardship funds can be spent, so state law would have to be changed to allow it. A big change like that would need lots of public discussion and careful consideration and could take years. Hey, wait a second……………

posted by the River Rat

Thursday, March 24, 2011

What's in YOUR Water?

No one appreciates a little dirty water like a rat, but I hear you humans don’t quite have the constitution for it. Based on quite a bit of research, the state requires public water systems to disinfect water before it’s piped into homes. Almost all the systems around the state do, but a handful, about 12%, still don’t. There haven’t been any alarming events like the cryptosporidium outbreak in Milwaukee in 1993, but it’s pretty clear the rate of gut-busting illnesses in communities drops in direct relation to the addition of disinfection.

So I’m just not sure what to make of a new bill proposed in both the state Assembly and the Senate that prohibits DNR from making communities disinfect their drinking water (unless the big bad Feds step in and say they have to). Yeah, there’s some expense related to disinfection, but tell that to the mom of a sick pup. The really wild part is that Representative Severson, the author of AB 23 who represents a community that doesn’t disinfect it’s water, is a doctor! Aren’t they the ones who always want to improve the health of the public? I don’t know if I’ll ever understand you humans; sometimes it’s so much more straightforward to just be rat. Maybe if I go to the public hearing next Wednesday it will all make more sense.

Cruel Man Won't Allow Granddaughters to Swim in Manure Water

What's wrong with grandparent love when a granddad rudely refuses his granddaughters a bath?

Mr. Charles Wagner of Kewaunee County, usually known as a kindly and generous man, won't allow any rubber duckies and bubbles for his granddaughters to frolic in.

Mr. Wagner's problem? There's a little manure in his tap water.

Mr. Wagner even had the temerity to write to his legislators, calling on them to do something about farm runoff oozing into his well and the wells of hundreds of people in northeastern Wisconsin.

"Gentlemen," Mr. Wagner whined to his elected officials, "we need to do something meaningful to stop this pollution from happening each spring, fall, and every big rain event." Apparently Mr. Wagner gets a little manure in his water quite often.

What does this guy want, a state law or something that would keep cow manure out of drinking water wells? And now he's worried that a farm nearby his place is bringing in 4,500 new cows. He seems to think that might make his problem worse.

Well, Mr. Wagner, you could always take your granddaughters to the Holiday Inn, let them splash in the whirlpool there. And there's always bottled water, in case you think that brown tap water that smells like your neighbor's barn might not be drinkable. (Can't you make coffee with it? You'd never know the difference.)

(Rat Editor's note: the accompanying photo is real and unadulterated -- no Photoshop!)

posted by the River Rat

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Equinoximity to Paddling

Posted by the River Rat

We just passed through the Vernal Equinox, dear fellow River Rats, which means the paddling season is clearly open. In fact, if you haven't been out yet, you're late!

This Rat launched on Dane County's Token Creek on Equinox + 1 (3/21). It was classic guerrilla paddling in that strange zone near the airport where you're isolated and obscured, yet the National Guard F-16s screech overhead coming back from their test bombing runs and a slow-moving train shakes the ground so much it ripples the water.

The water level was high -- swirling and murky. The usual passages underneath Token Creek's iconic craggy willows had to be bypassed by cutting across oxbows that are usually high and dry, but this day were easily passable (well, you had to use your paddle like a pole).

But the season didn't really open on a warm March post-equinox day; in fact it opened (in this Rat's world anyway) Feb. 26, on the lovely Badfish Creek in northern Rock County (its own form of guerrilla paddling, I suppose -- about half its flow at Cooksville is sewage outfall from Madison). It was a paddle made lovelier by a toasty 16 degrees F at launch time.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Human Droppings

After being staked out recently at a big river rat hangout (a place where people who have fun in the water congregate every year, tell stories and buy stuff), Rat heard an earful.

I don’t get human organizations very well, but if these people who work in them are willing to tell a mere Rat how bad things are getting, it must be getting bad. My hearing is better tuned to basements and sewer pipes and stuff, but I’m pretty sure I heard right: it sounds like some organization that takes care of rivers and lakes will merely pretend that’s what they do.

Permits? Get ‘em out the door before the ink of the rubber stamp is dry. Work load? If you don’t have enough people in the organization to do something, hire a private contractor who knows even less, and costs more. Ten years of and tens of thousands of hours of citizen and DNR staff time spent revamping standards to protect lakeshores and river banks? One phone call from an unhappy friend of a high-level DNR official, and ten years of work, and new law, are put on ice. Oh, there’s also the middle school-style attendance system instituted last month.

Rat suspects there’s more, so my ear and eye will be trained on my rat hole, just to see what more comes my way. I have rat friends inhabiting buildings with a high window over the door we rats can never reach, but they say when things come “over the transom,” it lands with a dull thud, but the humans in the office get giddy about it.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

One-Party State?

That’s a phrase you hear when people used to talk about the old Soviet Union (and maybe the new Russia), and you still hear applied to China, amidst all the praise it gets as an engine of capitalist enterprise.But does Rat smell the rotting cheese of a one-party state in Wisconsin? There certainly is no law or decree in the offing to ban all political parties but for a state-sanctioned one. But Wisconsin Republicans are edging ever closer to building an electoral system that shoots steroids into their body politic, while the Democratic political apparatus gets the health care equivalent of impossibly high deductibles.

Lines of Authority

The first win in this political trifecta hews to the long-established, non-partisan and hideously undemocratic tradition of giving the mapping software for drawing legislative districts over the party in power in the year after the decennial census. By virtue of their sweeping victories in November, state Republicans totally control the mouse that will draw the district lines this time. And true to tradition owned by both parties, they will draw district lines that create “safe seats” for their side. Those Republican-advantage seats will be cemented into place until 2022.

Is That Really You in That Photo?

The second win in the trifecta is not quite law yet, but is bound to pass. Republicans have promoted a “voter ID” bill to force voters to show a photo ID at the polls in order to vote. Democrats have declared as bogus the Republican claims this bill is intended to limit fraud, given there is actually very little voter fraud. The voters most likely affected by voter ID requirements are old people (many don’t drive anymore), students (they move around a lot, and the Wisconsin legislation wouldn’t allow student IDs), and poor people, who often don’t own cars and therefore have no driver’s licenses. The latter two communities are reliable Democratic constituents, and Voter ID may inconvenience enough of them that they don’t bother to vote (Democratic).

The Don’ts of Dues

The third win in the trifecta is not policy yet, and it is at the heart of the political turmoil that has rocked the state down to the deepest rat holes from Madison to Manitowish Waters. Governor Walker has proposed that the public employee unions’ employers (state and local government, school districts) no longer be required to collect dues from public workers on behalf of their union organization.

Those dues fund a lot of things for unions, and no small part of that cash goes to election campaigns. If unions – which are Democrats’ most effective machine of organized people and organized money – can’t put the same team on the playing field as Republicans can, Democratic candidates will have a much harder time winning elections.

Oh, one more Republican advantage (does that make this a quadrifecta?): that party is by far the greater beneficiary of the so-called Citizens United Supreme Court decision, making corporations “persons” and allowing them to throw a lot more money into elections. Big Business often hedges its political bets, giving money to candidates from both parties. But if one party clearly has wrested control of the political machinery, why bother with the lesser party that’s been so weakened it can’t win?

One ironic outcome of cutting off the unions’ dues-collecting ability is that, at least in the next couple of years, given the indignities of the Walker proposals, they could end up raising more money than through their usual means.

We rats disagree vigorously about strategies to evade rat poisons and rat traps, but in the end we are united opposing all rat controls. People with Republican leanings might not like Democratic policies, but they can’t want a sterile, monaural political system.

Would they?