A Voice for Lake Michigan
Hello again! A typically Wisconsin November – warm, then single-digits. It’s also a November full of news for us on the Lake Michigan shoreline. This time I can report that it’s all good – well, almost all.
But before we get into that, we need to talk about our annual membership meeting. It’s on Saturday, December 10, at Concordia University Wisconsin in Mequon, 1:30 – 4:00 PM. Since the most important issue that you all reported in our survey (we’ll talk about that in a minute) was water quality, we have a speaker who’s a true expert in the field. Dr. Sandra McLellan is a scientist at the Great Lakes WATER Institute at UWM in Milwaukee and her specialty is studying E. coli and the really noxious stuff like salmonella and cryptosporidium – where it comes from, how it gets into the lake, what happens to it then, and what can be done about it. Her presentation is excellent and she’ll tell you things about you-know-what that you never knew and maybe never wanted to, but it’s critical to the health of the lake. She’ll take questions after her talk. I urge you to come. The address and detailed driving directions are on the enclosed Annual Meeting Notice. Please take time to RSVP using the tear-off form and the return envelope.
We have lots to do in addition to our speaker: elect new board members, approve a new set of bylaws, change our name (see above), and talk a little about our plan for 2006. And maybe we’ll get a tour of Concordia’s bluff restoration, a $12 million project that is well worth seeing and should interest those of you who live on bluffs. See the attached Annual Meeting Notice for the details of the meeting.
The candidates for the Board are all existing members, so enthused about what we’ve begun that they want to continue. I’d urge you to vote for them but that probably isn’t appropriate so I won’t, but it’s a good board. They are:
Dr. Don Korte
Jim Te Selle
We have several accomplishments to report. Thanks to your support and some hard work by our Board, we’ve made some serious headway this year. To recap:
The survey – This was a smash hit and an excellent tool to get us noticed and taken seriously. The most important issue you identified was water quality. The second was low water level. High water level was near the bottom of the list. Us shoreline owners think overall water quality is “fair.” Over 46% of us are permanent lakeshore residents. More than 85% of us have never heard of the Great Lakes Restoration Collaboration or the Council of Great Lakes Governors. Most of us think that Mother Nature should control lake levels. The final report is 194 pages, but a 6-page summary of the questions themselves will be available at the meeting. But just as important as the results is the attention and power it’s given us with the DNR, etc. – no-one has ever done a survey like this, so it represents knowledge that we can use to get the attention of our elected officials. And they’re already listening; I’ve met with one State Senator who is willing to set up a caucus of senators from districts in the Great Lakes basin. We had a better than 20% response rate to the survey, which is unheard of, and it’s bought us credibility and clout that we couldn’t have gotten any other way. Thanks to all of you who answered it, you’ve helped us and the lake immeasurably.
By the way, we received a ton of letters and comments from you along with the surveys. I’m very sorry that we can’t answer them, there’s just too many. Soon we’ll have a website set up and that should make things easier. The level of interest and concern you’ve all shown is heartwarming. Keep it up.
The Great Lakes Charter Annex is an agreement – not a treaty – between the US and Canada about water usage in the Lakes. It specifically covers taking water out of the lakes, such as what Waukesha wants to do. It’s up for renewal and the bi-national group reviewing it has done a very good job. The basic concept has been changed from “we will allow diversions except for.” to “we will NOT allow diversions except for…” This is a major toughening of the agreement and means that if you can’t prove that 1 – you’ve got an effective water conservation plan in effect and it’s not enough, and 2 – there’s no other alternative, and that 3 – you’ll give the water back to the same lake you took it from, you won’t get any. Our comments were duly noted so I can safely say that while we can’t claim to be the chief architects of success here, we were heard and our opinion considered.
The Great Lakes Clean Water Act (GLCWA) is up for renewal. This is another agreement between the US and Canada that mandates the condition of the lakes, especially regarding pollutants. It was last modified in 1978 and is just a tad out of date, hence the review. The GLCWA is the parent of the Great Lakes Restoration Collaboration, which is our government’s response to the problems identified by the process of renewing the agreement. The International Joint Commission (IJC) has held hearings around the basin getting public input, and it seems pretty clear that people want some action and are tired of waiting for the two governments to do something. The fact is that they have been doing something – the Restoration Collaboration is the big project they’ve proposed – but they’ve done a terrible job of informing the public. To be honest though, we the public need to get more involved and insist they do a better job – more about that later. Anyway, the outlook here is that the Restoration Collaboration will be approved in some form, but probably not at all like the $20 billion the various states’ agencies would like. Katrina, Iraq, the budget deficit, and some bridges in Alaska seem to be taking all the money. Not to worry, there’s about $5 billion out there in existing programs that hasn’t been used, and if we can get our hands on that, we should be fine. Assuming of course we can get an effective, workable plan with measurable objectives in place, and then find someone to lead it. At the moment no-one is steering this ship, which is what led us to get involved. But due largely to our efforts, there’s a movement in Wisconsin to put together a strategy to implement Restoration when it comes. We’d like to be pro-active here, not just wait until politicians decide what should be done. Watch for news on this in the coming months.
NR115 is being re-drafted and should go to the state legislature this spring. The DNR changed all the things we objected to and is even willing to consider cutting the cord between the OHWM and the setbacks to our homes and cottages. Don’t expect miracles, we’ll have to have some definition of the OHWM, but it should be consistent up and down the lake, easily measurable, and hopefully a little more lake-ward than it is today. I don’t think we can take all the credit for the changes but we can sure take some of it. And especially thanks to those of you who sent in the comment sheets to the DNR! They saw that we are indeed an effective entity and that we need to be consulted on future issues.
Concordia University has been very gracious and helpful, letting us use their facilities and taking an active and supporting role in our efforts. They lend a professional aura and validity to whatever we do, and that has helped us greatly. We are building a relationship with them that will help us both, and we couldn’t be more pleased. When you come to the meeting, take a minute to say thanks to Dr. Don Korté, our mentor, and a new member of our Board.
Finally, our forum – sponsored by us, run by the DNR, and hosted by Concordia – was held Nov. 10. Over 40 people from various agencies and organizations around the state attended. We had Native Americans, sportfishing groups, The Nature Conservancy, Sierra Club, MMSD, several county planning agents, scientists, River Basin Educators, and a lot more people. I’m developing a great respect for them all. These are smart, dedicated people whose plates are full; how they’re going to absorb Restoration and still handle their regular jobs will depend a lot on what we can do with them in the next year They all want to do it, and they all have the best intentions, but there’s little or no organization, and no plan. The purpose of this forum was to create “A Voice For Lake Michigan” and get them all to start thinking of how we’re going to pull this off. You all know how effective government is at these kinds of things, so we figured we’d better do something. As an example of what happens (or doesn’t happen) when we are silent, the AOC program (Sheboygan harbor, Fox River, Milwaukee harbor) has been in existence for over 20 years and never funded. We need to get a plan in place before Washington dictates one to us.
Results of the meeting were all we had hoped for – the group collectively decided we needed much better organization of all the people involved if we are to make this work. It’ll take several more of these meetings to get a core strategy in place but I was verypleased with this one.
Don’t forget – the position of your Board is that we want the lakes fixed so Restoration must work, and we’re willing to support whatever efforts are needed. Our primary selling points are that 1 – we live on the lake so we provide a unique viewpoint; 2 – being a citizens’ group we can directly contact elected officials and tell them to support what we want; and 3 – there’s about 30,000 of us so we can be a very effective lobbying group. These are very compelling issues for agencies like the DNR, EPA, etc., who aren’t used to having a citizens’ group help them get something through the legislature, and they’re listening! These are powerful tools. That brings me to my comment above about involvement – any power and influence we have is not mine or the Board’s, it’s yours. From time to time we’ll ask you to write letters or sign a petition, and when we do, it’s because your power as voters is needed to make something happen. Inform yourselves and speak out – we need you!
That’s it for the news, but before I let you go, we need to talk a bit about education. The other night I heard a very nice and sincere gentleman address the IJC at their meeting in Green Bay. His concern was that there’s a city beach in Green Bay that’s been closed for 20 years because of pollution and raw sewage, and it’s Milwaukee’s fault. I suppose he truly believes that all that sewage traveled 180 miles north from Milwaukee, made a left at Washington Island, and then went 50 miles south to that beach. Several other people got up and made similar comments, so he’s not alone. Now we all know that MMSD has a few problems, but this is a bit of a stretch! I know that everyone in our organization totally understands these things and wouldn’t make that mistake, but it does seem as though a public education program is in order here. So, that’s what we’ll be doing in 2006. After all, we can’t win the battle if we’re shooting at the wrong enemy. What do I mean by that? Simply this: the city of Green Bay and it’s surrounding area had had nine episodes of overflow in 2004. None big, but overflows in any event. If the Green Bay public knew it, they’d probably do something about it.
Our priorities for 2006 will be public education and ‘continued engagement’ (DNR-speak for more work to be done) to get Great Lakes Restoration implemented quickly and effectively.
Finally, we are a membership organization that relies on you for our support. So if you can’t make it to the meeting on Dec. 10, please take a minute to become a member or to renew your membership for 2006 by sending us your membership dues of $35.Remember while there are lots of other groups out there with an interest in the Great Lakes, we are the only group in Wisconsin that is representing the interests of Lake Michigan shoreline property owners.
That’s it for now; my wife says I have to come help with the dishes. See you all in Mequon on Dec. 10. If you can’t make it, best wishes to you and yours for a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Jim Te Selle, President
P.S. we have a new e-mail address: WGLC@wi.rr.com. Please use it. And please send us your e-mail address! (Editor’s note: this newsletter predates our new website. The correct e-mail address is email@example.com)
And we have a new mailing address:
P.O. box 700168
Oostburg, WI 53070-0168
Jim TeSelle, President