First, I have to apologize for the lateness of this letter. We want to do them quarterly, but some problems delayed us last fall. I won’t bore you with the details, but the root problem is staffing and money – not enough of either. The DNR is operating at about 2/3 normal strength. Resignations and retirements are increasing. This means less service from them, which slows us down considerably. We had to cut down on mailings because each one costs about $1, whereas e-mail costs nothing. If you have e-mail but you’re still getting a paper copy of this letter, send your e-mail adress to us at – email@example.com. It will help a lot. This newsletter and other info is on our website, at – http://www.wisconsingreatlakescoalition.org. Click the “E-mail Signup” button to subscribe.
Thanks to the budgeting process in Washington, things have been slow since the last time I wrote to you. But good stuff is happening, and awareness of the Great Lakes’ problems is increasing around the area. We need to be pro-active and not wait for the politicians before Washington takes away all our funding. The board is bringing together some key people from each of the major agencies involved to come up with a priority and a plan. That way we hope to get a few of the major projects done, while continuing to work on getting funding to do the rest of them.
Now, here are a few brief updates on some of the issues around our lake.
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IUGLS – International Upper Great Lakes Study, being done by the International Joint Commission (IJC) and the Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). As I reported to you in our last newsletter they have decided not to make any changes in the St. Clair River because no-one can find anything wrong with it. I’m a member of their study group and voted with the majority. They still have to complete their Lake Superior water level control study. Now they’ve been given another study – this one is to evaluate the effects of high water on the lakes. Four levels will be studied, the highest being 50cm (about 20 inches) above normal. As of the end of March our lake was 20 inches BELOW normal. The study has just begun and it will take about two years to complete, and it may give us the answer to the wrong problem. Totally unacceptable!
Water Levels – even if the IJC’s plan is good, and I believe it is, at the rate we’re going our beaches may soon look like the one below. Some scientists tell us the Great Lakes will drop by three meters in a few decades unless we change the way we use them. You and I won’t be around to see it, but our grandchildren will, and they’ll tell their friends how Grampa used to talk about the beautiful clean lakes he swam and fished in. “Those old guys sure had an imagination!” they’ll say. Obviously something has to be done. If we allow the Corps to proceed at its normal rate, we’ll be able to walk to Michigan. And something is being done. You’ll read about it a little farther along in this report.
Asian carp – and if that weren’t enough, how about this?
These are Asian carp in the Illinois River. Fortunately no significant number of them has gotten into our lake – yet. Also fortunately, everyone involved agrees we can’t let them get in. The solution will cost billions because Chicago will have to rebuild its sewage treatment system. Today it dumps into the Illinois River; in the future it’ll go into the lake. And Chicago’s sewage is not chlorinated – that will have to be done. But some big people – Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emmanuel for example – are in favor of it. I’m afraid of what the new budget will do to it, but it looks as though it will be addressed before it’s too late.
As to actions being taken, the last electronic barrier electronic barrier is installed and being tested. As soon as that’s done they’ll bring it up to ¼ power and shut down another for maintenance. And, the Army Corps of Engineers has built a 13-mile fence between the Illinois and Des Plaines Rivers so that during floods the carp can’t cross between them. But why only ¼ power you ask? It’s because they’re afraid that if someone fell in they’d be electrocuted. The Army Corps of Engineers has also been commissioned to do a study on how best to resolve the problem, but they won’t have it done until 2015. By that time we may all be eating carp for our Friday night fish fries.
Needless to say, the glacial pace at which the Corps operates is totally unacceptable. So unacceptable in fact that a number of private groups are raising money to do their own study. These groups are not engineering groups but they do provide grants and funding for many environmental projects around the lakes. My understanding is that they have already begun to pull together a group of the people needed and have gotten going.
This is a tremendous step forward for all of us on the lakes, but it’s a sad commentary on our representatives in Washington. The groups taking on this respnsibility will need our support, and lots of it. Let’s be sure they get it.
One thing to note – these carp are not new; they’ve been in the Great Lakes for a long time. By now you’ve no doubt head about the 36-pound bighead carp caught by a commercial fisherman in the Mississippi River near the point where the St. Croix runs into it. Recently the Canadian Customs made two arrests of people trying to bring live carp into the US. The reason we haven’t had a problem is that there aren’t enough of them – yet – to establish a breeding population. We need to put some pressure on our members of congress to make sure it gets done quickly and that the physical separation of Lake Michigan and the Illinois River is accomplished.
People, this is a problem you can help with. Call Senators Kohl and Johnson and tell them you want this fixed now.
Speaking of Senator Kohl –
Yes, this is your president and Senator Kohl in his office in Washington. As part of Great Lakes Day in DC, we met with several of our congressmen and lobbied for help with funding for the Great Lakes.
Rep. Sensenbrenner and Sen. Johnson did not participate, why I don’t know. This might be another subject you can write to them about. Sen. Kohl did ask me about the carp and we discussed them for several minutes, so I know he’s aware of the problem.
NR115 – Wisconsin’s shoreland management program
We haven’t talked about this for some time but we need to now. You’ll remember that this is an update of the original plan the state wrote back in the 1950’s, and that it went through several years of public hearings and re-writes before it finally became law. Now, the counties have to update their own regulations and zoning ordinances to match the changes the state has made. Counties can have more restrictive regulations than the state, which has caused wide variationa from county to county. Sheboygan County, where I am, is doing a very good job: last year their Planning Department set up a committee of interested citizens and is meeting regularly with them to get their input. Thus far we’ve made changes in building height limitations – it’ll be 35 feet, and have worked on the definition and location of the Ordinary High Water Mark (OHWM) and setbacks from it. There’s also a proposal to reduce impervious surfaces from 20% of your property to 15%, not good. Impervious surfaces include roads, driveways, pathways, sheds or garages, as well as your house. You may also need a permit to cut down a tree!
Changes in any of these could affect whether some of us can expand our places.
But not all counties are doing these zoning ordinance revisions with public input. If you feel changes need to be made in your county, call your county’s Planning Department and ask them to do what Sheboygan County is doing. If you don’t get a response, send us an e-mail and we’ll see if we can help. Don’t let this slide – the counties have to have their changes in by September. They go to the Natural Resources Board in December and must be in force by February, 2012.
Great Lakes Restoration
I am pleased to report that, thanks to a lot of effort on the part of its members, the Lake Michigan Stakeholders Group, which we began, is standing on its own. Your president no longer manages them; they have a new leader – Jim Kettler – who is very good and has them organized and even writing bylaws. The Feds have reduced this year’s budget to $300 million, for which we’re very grateful – we thought we’d lose all funding. The EPA is processing over 100 project requests from Wisconsin, about 50 have been approved so far. We done good, people!
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What is WGLC doing about all these issues? Simple – we are the ONLY shoreline property owners’ group on Lake Michigan. We speak for you – to Legislators, the DNR, Governors, Senators, State and Local Politicians, and other concerned groups both here and in Washington. In fact, the speaker at our next membership meeting on July 28th, 2011, will be Cathy Stepp, the new DNR Secretary, who will discuss what Wisconsin’s plans are for the lakes. She’ll take questions, too. Our views do not always jibe with the DNR’s, but we have been successful in a few things like keeping Great Lakes Restoration going. See the enclosed WGLC Annual Meeting Notice for details.
One thing we badly need is a volunteer to maintain our data base of addresses and dues payments, to follow up on late payments, and to handle mailings. It would be nice, but not absolutely necessary, if the person lived near Oostburg or Cedar Grove. We’ll provide a computer and phone. I expect we’re talking about 10 – 12 hours per week. If you’re interested, send us an e-mail. We are also looking for two board members to replace those we lost over the winter. The job wouldn’t take up to much of your time, 2 – 4 hours per week. We usually meet at Concordia University Wisconsin in Mequon. We’d like to have a board member in each area of the Lake Michigan shoreline, but today they’re all from the Ozaukee-Sheboygan County areas. If you’re interested, send us an e-mail – firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our membership meeting this year will be on July 28th, 2011, to take advantage of the nicer weather. It will also be held at a more central location, Lakeshore Technical College in Cleveland, WI, midway between Sheboygan and Manitowoc. We want to get as many of you there as we can. Normally we have the meeting in Q4 but attendance has been so low that we needed to make a change.
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But there is a sad note. Our group is almost out of money. Members and constituents who pay their dues are only about 1% of the total lakeshore population, which isn’t enough for us to survive. We need about $40,000 minimum to fund our activities for one year, but the typical amount we collect is less than $10,000. This membership meeting will probably be our last. Mailings, meetings, travel expenses, and clerical work all cost money, and unless people can be more generous in their support, the only shoreland property owners group on Lake Michigan will cease to exist. This at a time when we’re not only having some successes but are getting feelers from groups in other states to join us.
At meetings and conferences we are usually the lone taxpayer voice in the room – at Great Lakes Day in Washington, I was the only attendee who actually owned property on a Great Lake. But attending these meetings and making sure people are doing what they’re supposed to is time-consuming and expensive. We miss many meetings because we simply can’t afford to go. We need your support desperately – we won’t take public money because of the strings attached, so we rely on our members. About 30,000 of us own property on Lake Michigan yet only a little over 200 pay dues. People, we can’t do this with our pretty faces alone. Please get that checkbook out and send whatever you can spare. I promise you it will be put to good use.
Some of you have pointed out that funding is available. True, but not for advocacy groups such as we want to be. We don’t want to accept public money because we will then be limited in what we can say and do; I wouldn’t be able to pick up the phone and call the Secretary of the DNR, for example, nor would we be able to endorse candidates for office. Meetings with our Great Lakes Caucus, (the next one is planned for this summer, at their request) the group of legislators we organized, would be no more. There is a remote possibility that we can work this out – we’re looking into what’s called a ‘fiscal partnership’ with another group that may make it unnecessary for us to get the IRS 501(c)(3) tax exempt status normally required to get any grant. It’s a long shot but at this point it’s all we’ve got – except for you, our members.
So please, send your dues in and any other donations you can spare, as soon as you can. I’d hate to see the efforts of the last six years be for naught.
Jim Te Selle, President