Hello again! I hope you all survived the winter and are having a nice Wisconsin spring. Our lake is sixteen inches below its April average, due of course to the low precipitation over the last few years. It’s forecast to stay that way through the summer. At our cottage that means the beach is almost 300 feet wide, the most I can remember in all the years I’ve been a guest on this planet. Too far to drag my boat, so fishing will suffer this year. But far enough so we can sit on our deck in the evening and not smell the cladophora! Some good in everything, I guess.
My apologies for the lateness of this newsletter. We meant to get it out in April but there was always just one more thing coming up to tell you about, so we delayed a tad. Please forgive us – there really are some very significant things happening.
The big news is that, as a result of a request from your President, the Wisconsin state legislature has formed a new caucus – the Great Lakes caucus. Give the credit for putting it all together to Senator Joe Leibham who has been a strong supporter and to whom we owe a big Thank You! The caucus is bi-partisan and consists of State Representatives and Senators whose districts lie in the Great Lakes basin. There are 10 state senators and 23 state representatives. The purpose of the caucus is to provide a communication link between us, the DNR, and the legislature, to keep them up-to-date on what’s happening and to let them know how we who live on the lakes feel. They’ll face many proposals of legislation and regulation about the lakes in the next year or two or three and we of course want them to make well-informed decisions. The first meeting was held at the state capitol on May 17 with about 25 Senators and Representatives or their staff attending. Your President gave a brief report on what’s going on around the lakes, and Chuck Ledin, head of the Great Lakes Office of the DNR, gave a quite detailed report on the problems the lakes are experiencing – from cladophora to phosphorus loading to human drugs causing genetic defects in fish. The group was enthusiastic and supportive. Our next meeting will be in November, followed by another in January. It would be helpful if you would write a brief note to your senator and representative expressing thanks for their interest and participation, and a word or two to encourage their continued support. Please remember, we’re stressing co-operation, not confrontation.
Now, news from the home front:
You’ll note a new logo on the top of this newsletter. Since we are changing our relationship with the International Great Lakes Coalition, your board felt we needed to update our image. We selected this, hope you like it. Also note our new slogan – “A Voice For Lake Michigan”. Were registering it for future use – we have an awards program in mind, and there might be a potential income opportunity too.
Our annual meeting was so successful that we had to break it into two sessions and have the second one in February. Well, that’s just a tad of an embellishment, the truth is that we hadn’t given you enough advance notice of the changes we wanted to make in our bylaws and some of our totally heads-up members pointed this out to us, hence the second meeting in February. Of course it would have been even better if the attendance had been higher – a grand total of six of you got to approve the bylaws which affect you all! In any case we got the meetings done and the bylaws changed. We also elected a new board, although all the members are the same:
Jim Te Selle
We have a vacancy on the board. We currently have one member from Door County, two from Mequon, and all the rest from the Oostburg area (the Oostburg Mafia). We’d like to have someone from another part of the lake, or Green Bay. If any of you would like to volunteer, e-mail me your name and phone number and I’ll call you so we can discuss it.
The reason we are changing our relationship with the IGLC is that we feel our membership wants more issues addressed than just water levels and beach erosion. We learned that from your responses to our survey last year – your Number One concern was water quality. Up ‘til now we have been a chapter of the IGLC. Most of the other chapters have already fallen away, we and the Michigan Lake Michigan group are all that’s left. Now we are an affiliate, a sister group, but not a chapter. There are no legal ties binding us. That means we do not have to send them a portion of our dues, nor do we have to subscribe to their priorities. Now to be fair, the IGLC is in the process of re-thinking their objectives. They have a new president and some new board members who are more environmental in focus, so I’m hoping they can get up a little more spirit and become a real factor in what happens to the lakes. There is a new group in Ontario, and the Lake Michigan group has decided to do the survey we did on their side of Lake Michigan. Even though I pester them constantly to join the 21st century they haven’t thrown me off their board (yet!), so I’ll keep you informed.
We also have a new slate of officers, all elected for two-year terms ending December 31, 2007. They are:
Jim Te Selle – President
Ev Edmunds – Vice-President
Don Korte – Secretary
Doug Aanes – Treasurer
We need some help with clerical work. We’re not to the point where we need a full-time employee, but someone who has about 10-12 hours a week that they could donate would be helpful. It would also be helpful if you lived in or near Oostburg. And you’ll need a computer and be able to do Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Piece of cake, right? E-mail me or Karl Olinger at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested.
The cladophora problem is the Number One source of complaints we hear. Cladophora is that stringy weed that washes up on the beaches, sometimes a foot thick, and then rots. The gulls love it, of course. There’s a lot of research being done to figure out what’s causing it and what can be done about it, mostly at the UWM Great Lakes Water Institute in Milwaukee. To date, there are no firm answers, but there do seem to be some pretty convincing findings: increased nutrient loading, a concentration of phosphorus, higher water temperatures, and clearer water seem to be causing more growth than normal. Cladophora has always been with us, but not in this quantity. Phosphorus was reduced considerably in the 70s and 80s after the Clean Water Act went into effect, but after a low point in the early 90s, it’s now higher than ever. Control measures are still in effect, so what’s happened? And another mystery is that Lake Michigan water temperatures, measured at the Milwaukee intake, are about 5° higher than several years ago. Global warming? Change in wind directions? No-one is sure yet. What about the low water, is that a factor? And, as you learned from Dr. McLellan’s presentation at our membership meeting in December, the biggest single source of pollution in the lake is storm water runoff, not MMSD or any of the other popular candidates. And don’t forget, most pollution isn’t phosphorus or nitrogen, so even if we stop the storm water runoff, what effect will it have on the cladophora? No answer yet, but a lot of smart people are working on it and working hard. I can’t tell you yet what the answer is or when we’ll have it, but I can say that I’ve been impressed with the efforts being made. We’ll keep you informed. As for this summer, be prepared for more stinky weeds.
And – in the next few weeks we’ll have our website operational. Our address is www.W-GLC.org. Sorry about the dash, but some radio station already has WGLC, so we had to do it this way. Give us a couple of weeks before you try it. It’ll have news, links to other relevant sites, and even a place where you can pay your dues or make donations (hint hint).
Finally – for those of you in the Door County area who would like to meet your Board of Directors, we’ll have an open meeting on Saturday, July 8, 10:30AM to noon, at Donny’s Glidden Lodge Restaurant. Those of you living in the area will get a little something in the mail with more details. Yes we’ll have a speaker and yes we’ll feed you (but not very much, snacks only). We’re looking forward to this and we hope to meet a lot of you there. Come with questions, we’ll see if we can answer them for you.
Now, on to what’s happening around the lakes:
Great Lakes Restoration
This is the big one, the opportunity we all have to get our lakes cleaned up and functioning in an environmentally and economically sound way. We want it, we support it. We’ve covered what Restoration is a couple of times so I won’t go into that, but there are some developments you should be aware of.
First, a bill has been introduced in the US Congress to enact the recommendations made by the Great Lakes Restoration Collaboration, eight work groups who developed a list of things they feel need to be done to the lakes. For those of you who would like to read all 196 pages of the bill, the House version is HR 5100 and the Senate version is S. 2505. The two versions are identical. Thirty-one senators and house members sponsored the bill. including Ron Kind and Gwen Moore from Wisconsin. Note the neither of our senators is on the list of co-sponsors, nor are Representatives Ryan, Sensenbrenner, Petri, Obey, or Green, all of whose districts include parts of the Great Lakes basin. We will be contacting them to make sure they’re supportive, but first we need to study the bill and make sure it covers what we need. The amount is $20 billion (yes, that’s billion with a B). And it’s our money! Before we give it our total support we want to make sure that there’s a plan in place to effectively implement it, that someone is in charge and will follow up to make sure it’s really done, and that Congress actually funds it. All this notwithstanding, the ball is now rolling and something will happen, hopefully this year.
One of our concerns is that with all that money out there, a number of poorly-intentioned organizations may go after it, and we may get either the ‘concrete solution’ or no solution at all, as happened after the Clean Water Act in the 70’s – remember the AOCs? Of the original 43 around the lakes, only two have been fixed – the rest, including the ones in Sheboygan, Milwaukee, and Green Bay/Fox River, have yet to be adequately addressed. And this after twenty-plus years.
Second, we have had our second Lake Michigan Stakeholders’ meeting. Our first was in November and we covered it in the last newsletter, you may remember me calling it our Forum. This is a meeting of a large group of organizations, both government and NGOs (government slang for ‘non-governmental organization’) all of whom have some stake in the welfare of the lakes. The meeting is sponsored by us and the Sierra Club, hosted by Concordia University, and conducted by the Great Lakes Office of the DNR. It’s purpose is to develop a plan to implement Restoration in Wisconsin – a detailed, step-by-step plan with timelines, milestones, and resource requirements, just like all of us in corporate America are used to. The DNR is very supportive and thus far I have nothing but praise for them in their approach to the issue. They need this because there’s no lake association for Lake Michigan as there is on inland lakes so there’s no one group they can talk to or work with to get things done. Our proposal is to create ‘A Voice For Lake Michigan’ made up of all these stakeholders, have it form itself into a group, develop the plan, and get it approved and funded.
At this meeting we agreed that some form of organization is needed and we then appointed a steering committee to create vision and mission statements for it. Next step will be to get the whole group to adopt those documents, then develop a set of objectives and priorities. It’s not easy. I, who spent many years doing projects of all sizes and shapes, big and little, on four different continents in four languages, find this one of the most challenging things I’ve done. The reason is that folks in the public sector need to consider everyone’s opinion before they can make a decision – after all, they’re spending taxpayers’ dollars. They use consensus to arrive at decisions, but large groups and complex issues don’t lend themselves well to that. Bottom line, it takes time and much patience. I’m not good at it, I’m afraid, but I’m working on it. I’m used to having a staff and a budget and objectives and someone breathing down my neck to make sure I’m doing whatever it is I’m expected to do, and I’m also used to getting help if I need it. This isn’t the case here. These are dedicated, smart, caring people, they just do things differently than we’re used to. But it seems to be working. Our objective is to have the plan done by the end of this year, which I think is optimistic but do-able. Stay tuned. And if you see an overweight sixty-something pacing up and down the beach, tearing out what little hair he has left and muttering to himself, you’ll know who it is.
We’d like to have our sister groups in other states do the same thing, but we ain’t got that far yet. Later this year or early next, I hope.
Third – a reminder about the caucus I mentioned at the start of this newsletter: this will be our chance to use our unique position as taxpayers and ordinary citizens who live on the lake to make our feelings known. There are about 30,000 of us, so we do have some weight. No, not all 30 thousand pay their dues, but we love you anyway. Even more if you’d send that check!
the Upper Lakes Plan of Study by the Corps of Engineers has officially begun, or should I say officially announced. ‘Upper Lakes’ now means all the lakes except Lake Ontario. We have asked to be added to the Citizens’ Advisory Group, and we’ve asked to be updated on current developments. I suspect the entire Corps is down in New Orleans building levees before the next hurricane season because we haven’t heard much, but we’ll keep after them. You may remember that this is a study proposed by the Corps (after some prodding by the Georgian Bay Association, who wants higher water levels) to determine whether they should revise their water level management policies on Lake Superior and in the St. Clair River. We need this study and support it.
the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement is up for review this year. We discussed this in our last newsletter too so I won’t go into what it is, but it’s another thing we need and support. A call has gone out from the EPA for people to serve on an advisory committee and we have volunteered. The first meeting, a conference call, will be held later this month. This needs to be coordinated with Restoration, as there is some overlap, and we don’t want one to interfere with the other.
The Great Lakes Charter Annex is also up for review this year. This is the one that prohibits (or allows, under certain very tight conditions) diversion of water from the basin. I need to update myself on exactly where this stands at the moment, but when last seen it was in pretty good shape. The issue now is how to: a) get all the states and provinces to approve it, and b) get Washington and Ottawa to approve it.
NR115 will have a new series of public hearings but not this summer, probably in 2007. There were so many comments received from the public after the last round of hearings that the DNR needs more time to figure out what to do. We supported the package we saw last year, but we did ask though that a new benchmark be established for the Great Lakes to replace the Ordinary High Water Mark (OHWM), which is invisible to us and yet is used to determine setbacks for our properties. After the Glass decision in Michigan last year, (read the article in the April 17 Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, http://www.jsonline.com/story/index.aspx?id=416396) – there’s been some new emphasis. The Michigan Supreme Court used Wisconsin’s definition of the OHWM in their decision. They ruled that the public could walk on the beach up to the OHWM, but of course unless you’re a surveyor in your spare time there’s no way to know just where that is. As you know the definition is fine for inland lakes but is totally inappropriate for the Great Lakes. Many of you sent comment sheets to the DNR last year at our request asking for a change. Thus far no decision has been made but the project manager has promised me that our input will be considered. This will be difficult for the DNR, as short of putting stakes on the beach there’s no good way to tell where an OHWM or any other mark may be. Still, we feel it’s important to us to have a standard benchmark in every county and for that matter every state, and to have our setbacks measured in some other way than X feet from the OHWM. It’s one of the issues we mentioned at the Great Lakes caucus in Madison, so our legislators are aware of it. At our place for example, the dunes are returning; an OHWM based on today’s elevation would put our cottage a long way from it, while a few years ago it would have been at our front steps. Otherwise, we have no objections to NR115. As soon as the new version is ready we’ll let you know, the DNR will have it on their website. But – the DNR says they only received “some” comments from you all about the OHWM. I think they probably got about 100, but some other issues got as many as 10,000 so you can guess who’s getting the attention. It’s not too late to make your feelings known – the project manager is:
Policy and Legislative Liaison
Bureau of Watershed Management
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
That’s it for now. We may be seeing some of you over the summer as we’ll try to hold informational meetings up and down the lake. The next one will be in July in Door County. As soon as we have a precise itinerary put together we’ll let you know.
Jim Te Selle, President