Sunday, February 24, 2013

Visualizing the mine proposed for northern WI

Author and outdoorsman Eric Hanson recently wrote a succinct and passionate op ed piece that clearly describes the impact that the proposed mine will have on the Bad River watershed, which is next to Lake Superior.

In the article Hanson says,
"To help us grasp the gigantic size of the proposed Penokee open pit mine, let's picture the mine superimposed on familiar Milwaukee-area geography and landmarks.

"First, let's assess the proposed iron mine's length. Begin at the Summerfest grounds. Drive west past Miller Park - and the Zoo Interchange, too. Keep going past Moreland Road - and past the Waukesha airport as well. Drive until you are just a mile short of the west end of Pewaukee Lake. That is 22 miles, the length of the proposed Penokee mine project.

"The mine would be a half-mile wide."

I've created a visual aid to help with this. The pink bar on the map below, which  reaches from Lake Michigan almost to Delafield, shows how long the mine would be.

Hanson goes on to say, "This is not a mine our grandparents would recognize, a minor incision. This is the new style mining - a mountaintop removal mine project that would turn a unique part of northern Wisconsin into a West Virginia-like land of sorrow."

I invite you to read the op ed, called "Enormous mine, enormous consequences," which was published by the Milwaukee Journal Feb. 19.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Name the new Menomonee Valley Park!

Can you come up with creative name for the fabulous new park in the Menomonee Valley? The message below is excerpted from a press release issued by Menomonee Valley Partners

credit: Wenk and Associates
 Community invited to submit ideas for name of new park
in the Menomonee Valley

24-acre park along Menomonee River to open July 20
Just east of Miller Park, beneath the 35th and 27th Street Viaducts, a former railroad yard is being transformed into a 24-acre park. The effort is part of a partnership among the State of Wisconsin, City of Milwaukee, Menomonee Valley Partners, and the Urban Ecology Center.

The park has a little bit of everything. Serving as the new "outdoor classroom" for the Urban Ecology Center's new Menomonee Valley Branch, the public park will include 24 acres of native vegetation, re-created glacial topography offering great vistas of the city, wildlife habitat, access to the Menomonee River for canoeing and fishing, a mile extension of the Hank Aaron State Trail (connecting the Valley to Mitchell Park and the Domes), community gardens, and public art.

The only thing missing is a name. So the partners are asking the community to submit their suggestions. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," said John Gurda, Milwaukee historian and a selection committee member. "Lots of people name their babies, but who gets to name an entire park?"  People should submit their suggestions at through Friday, March 22.

credit: Milwaukee Dept. of City Development
For thousands of years, this area of the Menomonee Valley was part of a wild rice marsh, where the Potawatomi gathered with other Native Americans during the harvest. In the late 1700s, the first permanent trading post in Wisconsin was established here for commerce between the French fur traders and the native people. In the 1900s, when Milwaukee was known as the “Machine Shop of the World,” this site became a rail yard of the Milwaukee Road Shops, an enormous complex that made rail cars and locomotives and was one of the largest employers in Milwaukee.

After a decade of planning and redevelopment, the site will open July 20 as a new public park. “The park will be a community effort for years to come,” said Laura Bray, Executive Director of Menomonee Valley Partners. “Getting people engaged in naming the land is the first step. In the next several years there will be many opportunities for people to help with plantings as the park continues to grow and develop.” The land is owned by the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Milwaukee, managed by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) as part of the Hank Aaron State Trail, and will be the outdoor science classroom of the Urban Ecology Center, which will run programs there throughout the year.
The names submitted will be vetted by a selection committee that includes representatives from several nearby neighborhoods, the City, WDNR, Menomonee Valley Partners, Urban Ecology Center, Potawatomi Community Foundation, and others. The committee will select a name that relates to the land’s history, its future, or something uniquely Milwaukee and put forth a recommendation for approval by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the
Redevelopment Authority of the City of Milwaukee. A name will be announced prior to the July opening. More information at Renew the Valley.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

County Grounds: What can you do?

Although, as of this writing, it is snowed over in places, there is a fence line now that indicates the amount of land that will be used for Innovation Park.

My recent post about the tree cutting that was done on the County Grounds generated more response than any previous blog post. The reactions expressed in those responses ranged from anguish to anger. Clearly a lot of people care deeply about what happens on the County Grounds.

Along with the outpouring of emotions, many questions were raised. Chief among them was, “What can I do?”

The short answer is, Participate. There are two Wauwatosa Common Council committee meetings scheduled this week, the Plan Commission and the Budget and Finance Committee. Both will allow public comments. If you can’t attend, write to the aldermen and city officials. Details below. 

Witnessing the tree cutting was painful for many people. Be prepared for a similar shock when construction begins in earnest. But there are still opportunities to make your voice heard.

Credit: HGA Architecture/GRAEF
There are many moving parts to the proposed development and some of them have been changed and are to be presented to the Wauwatosa Plan Commission for approval. One aspect of the new proposal is particularly troubling. The 2010 UWM Innovation Park Master Plan (above) shows a distinct separation between the residential developments around the Eschweiler complex on the north and the rest of the campus.

This separation served several important functions. It was to be a bioswale, which helps manage stormwater runoff. The bioswale also would help to maintain a healthy habitat to support wildlife. Just as important, it preserves one of the most magnificent features of this site, an open view across the high point of the entire Count Grounds. (Future residents may have their own reasons for preferring a green space between their apartments and the business park.)

The new proposal (below) has sited a pair of buildings in the former location of the bioswale and added connecting driveways to the residential zone. The reasoning that is given is that the new HWY 45 exit ramp to be built as part of the Zoo Interchange reconstruction will encroach on the buildable area. This is true, but the amount of encroachment doesn’t justify the amount of shift in the new plan. As with the tree removal, it isn’t an innovative solution.

Credit: Nancy Aten
On the map above the dashed white lines indicate Innovation Park buildings, roads and parking. One feature that may be hard to identify on the map is a large surface parking lot in the center. In other parts of the design parking structures have been used in order to reduce the area taken up with surface parking.

The question I would ask the Plan Commission is why the revision forced by the DOT wasn’t done in a way that is more consistent with the vision of the carefully crafted Master Plan?

Meeting and contact information

Plan Commission meeting:
Monday February 11 at 7 p.m. in the Common Council Chambers at Wauwatosa City Hall.

Send emails to:
Alderwoman Kathleen Causier:
Paulette Enders:

Budget and Finance Committee meeting:
Tuesday February 12 at 7p.m. in Committee Room 1 at Wauwatosa City Hall.

This committee will discuss a proposal to change the Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) district from $12.5 million to $30 million. The original TIF was created to build utilities and roadways. The new proposal allows the money to be used more “flexibly.”

Questions that a taxpayer might want answered:

What if this project does not develop as smoothly and successfully as projected?

How will the TIF affect overall land use in Innovation Park?

What about stormwater management, natural landscaping in the stormwater features, and other sustainable development features?

What will be the return to the taxpayers on an investment of $30 million?

Send emails to:
Craig Wilson (chair),
Joel Tilleson,
Tim Hanson, (vice chair)
Brian Ewerdt,
John Dubinski,

Put ‘Innovation’ back into UWM Innovation Park

The piece that follows is a guest post by Cheryl Nenn, Milwaukee Riverkeeper. It was published this morning as an Op Ed piece on the cover of the Crossroads section of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The two photos they used to illustrate her story may be familiar, as I first posted them (and others) in this blog. 

UWM Project is sacrificing County Grounds Land

 Since the mid-90s, local citizens and environmental advocates have been fighting to protect the Milwaukee County Grounds from development. Why? Because the County Grounds contain the largest remaining open space in Milwaukee County and are home to the confluence of the Menomonee River and Underwood Creek.   Eighteen years later, we are still fighting to protect the County Grounds, which continues to experience a death of a thousand cuts.   

In an attempt to be proactive, local advocates worked with Milwaukee County and Wauwatosa to create a Master Plan for 66 acres of the northeast quadrant of the site, which allowed for 850,000 square feet of development but also recommended that views and green spaces be preserved, that new buildings and roadways be shaped to respond to topography and facilitate natural drainage, and that the historic Eschweiler Buildings be preserved.

In 2010, UWM Real Estate Foundation entered into an agreement with the County to purchase 89 acres of the northeast quadrant to create an engineering campus for UWM or an “Innovation Park.”  Since DOT took 17 acres on the west end of the site for the Zoo Interchange, the development area was shifted east, into the open space that was set aside for the public. Innovation Park was proposed to house some private technology companies and potentially reuse the historic Eschweiler Buildings for graduate apartments or university offices. In order to pay for the costly restoration of the historic buildings, the Real Estate Foundation convinced Wauwatosa to increase the recommended square feet of development by 40% (to 1,192,000 square feet of buildable space). This increase in building footprint virtually assured that development would come into conflict with preservation of the natural features of the land. In fall 2010, Wauwatosa approved using $12 million in taxpayer dollars (through a TIF) to fund infrastructure for Innovation Park, including roads, sewers, stormwater management features, etc. The TIF was meant to make the site suitable for development and to "support the goals of natural and historic preservation."  The City is now considering increasing the TIF by an additional $21 million, and diverting TIF funds for parking and other developer subsidies.

Several weeks ago, contractors used TIF funds to remove almost all the high quality vegetation on the site, including a large stand of oaks and pines in a ravine that provides vital site drainage, and a stand of 100-200 year old oak trees east of the Parks Department –  all to make room for the new “Discovery Parkway.” UWM and the City have justified this by saying that the DOT ordered the road further east;  however, the “parkway” could have been better designed to wind around existing trees and honor “existing natural resource features and topography” as stated in Master Plans for the site.

Innovation Park is well on its way to becoming neither innovative nor a park. It is possible to create jobs and tax revenue and still protect the environment. UWM has talented faculty and students, but where are they? Wauwatosa and UWM could use Innovation Park to truly model innovative, sustainable development techniques, attract engineering jobs, enhance a nationally designated historic building district, and protect natural areas and parkland.  They could show leadership in creating a development project that reflects the forward thinking of a world class university. Instead, they are paving paradise to put in a parking lot. There is no innovation here, just another conventional business park that is over budget. It remains to be seen whether Innovation Park will live up to the expectations of its name. We challenge UWM to make use of their talent, before it is too late. 

Saturday, February 9, 2013

A beautiful day in the neighborhood!


The Menomonee River in Hoyt Park yesterday.

I was out most of the day and shot at least a hundred pictures. It was fabulous! I hope I have time soon to process a few more of them.

The Milwaukee River in Kletsch Park. How about that urban wilderness!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Abstract Wild at Starved Rock State Park

Starved Rock State Park is in Illinois, near the intersection of I-80 and I-39, just an hour an a half southwest of Chicago. This, along with the surprisingly spectacular natural features, makes it one of the busiest parks in the country. On a pleasant weekend in autumn the park can receive over 70,000 visitors.

I went to Starved Rock in November (read previous post) and just went back for a return visit. Not coincidentally, I’ve been reading a book by author and wilderness guide Jack Turner entitled “The Abstract Wild.” In it he suggests that our society has lost its understanding of value of wild nature and that our parks, far from being havens of wildness, “were created for, and by, tourism…. They are managed with two ends in mind: entertainment and preservation of the resource base for entertainment.”

As I hiked through the rugged canyons and enjoyed the icy waterfalls that are among the most popular winter attractions, I was struck once again by the often-surreal juxtapositions that result from our approach-avoidance relationship with wild nature. Here is a photo essay of a few things I observed, intermixed with quotes from Turner’s book.

“We treat the natural world according to our experience of it. Without aura, wildness, magic, spirit, holiness, the sacred, and soul, we treat flora, fauna, art, and landscape as resources and amusement.”

“Although the ecological crisis appears new (because it is now ‘news’), it is not new; only the scale and form are new. We lost the world bit by bit for ten thousand years and forgave each loss and then forgot.”

Most of us don’t talk of normal and abnormal or good and evil; we talk about what we like and dislike, as if discussing ice cream. Perhaps what I fear most is that the destruction of the natural world to serve human needs and ideals will become an issue decided by opinion polls and surveys that track the gentle undulations of the true, the good, and the beautiful among a people now ignorant of what was once their wild and beautiful home.”

“This is not the wild, not a wilderness. And yet we continue to accept it as wilderness and call our time there a wilderness experience. We believe we make contact with the wild, but this is an illusion. In both the…parks and wilderness areas we accept a reduced category of experience, a semblance of the wild nature, a fake. And no one complains.”

“When we deal in…abstractions, we blur boundaries—between the real and the fake, the wild and the tame, the independent and dependent, the original and the copy, the healthy and the diminished.”

“Alas, collections of acreage, species, and processes, however large or diverse, no more preserve wildness than large and diverse collections of sacred objects preserve the sacred. The wild and the sacred are simply not the kinds of things that can be collected.”

Once the meaning of the wild is forgotten, because the relevant experience is lost, we abuse the word, literally, mis-use it. … Why do we associate the savage, the brutal, with the wild? The savagery of nature fades to nothing compared to the savagery of human agency.”

“I believe a saner relation to the natural world must end our servitude to modernity [abstraction] by creating new practices that alter our daily routines. I also believe that no resolution to the crises facing the wild earth will achieve more than a modicum of success without an integration of spiritual practice into our lives.”

One final observation in closing: Along with the waterfalls, the other main attraction during this season are the eagles that winter on the Illinois River. I did see a few eagles, mostly on two islands where they could comfortably perch undisturbed by the human gawkers. I saw many more representations of eagles in the gift shops and on the walls in the lodge. One elderly gentleman lounged nonchalantly in the visitor's center wearing a felt eagle hat as if it were the most normal thing in the world. I wish I'd gotten a picture of that. At first glance I thought he was wearing a chicken!

This is one of three posts about Starved Rock State Park. See also Off Season and Flowers, Falls and Photos