- Associated Press - Friday, May 27, 2016

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, May 26

Waukesha has earned the right to draw water from the lake

Last week, representatives of Great Lakes states and provinces recommended approval of the City of Waukesha’s request to draw water from Lake Michigan to replace the city’s current supply from deep wells. Next month, the Conference of Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Governors and Premiers will make a final determination of that request.

We hope it follows the recommendation of the representatives who voted last week and approves Waukesha’s years-long quest for a sustainable and healthy supply of water. The approval would make the city the first U.S. community outside the Great Lakes drainage basin to receive a diversion of lake water since the compact became federal law in 2008 - and would demonstrate that the compact process works.

The representatives added some significant conditions to Waukesha’s application - including shrinking the city’s potential service area - but in the end, on a 9-0 vote with Minnesota abstaining, found that drawing water from Lake Michigan was the most reasonable solution.

State officials had determined the same: In December, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources concluded a five-year review of the city’s request with a finding that the continued pumping of water from the deep sandstone aquifer was not sustainable since it is 350 feet below predevelopment levels. The naturally occurring radium in the deep aquifer poses potentially serious health issues for city residents.

There are still critics who favor a non-diversion solution. But they should read closely the Declaration of Finding by the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Water Resources Regional Body. Among its conclusions:

?”All of the Applicant’s water supply alternatives within the Mississippi River Basin are likely to have, and cannot be sustained without, greater adverse environmental impacts than the proposed diversion. In addition, none of the evaluated alternatives were found to be reliable sources for a long-term, dependable and sustainable public water supply and, therefore, the Applicant is without a reasonable water supply alternative.

?”(A)pproximately 100% of the volume withdrawn from the Basin will be returned via flow through the Root River, a tributary of the Basin. This effectively results in no net loss of water volume to the Basin.

?”The changes in the characteristics of the flow within the Root River, while potentially creating some negative changes for certain aquatic and benthic organisms, is expected to provide an overall net benefit to the Root River and the Lake Michigan watershed.

?”Approving a diversion of Great Lakes water with return flow will result in a net increase of water in the Lake Michigan watershed.”

The conclusion is simple: This diversion is the best alternative for the lake, the aquifer, the waterways in Waukesha County and the city of Waukesha.

Waukesha has worked long and hard to get this right; so did the DNR and so has the Great Lakes conference. Critics who say this opens the door to sucking the Great Lakes dry are blowing smoke. Approving the application means that the compact to protect the Great Lakes works. Communities in counties outside the basin are prohibited from applying. Even those inside such counties will need to go through an expensive and thorough review, just as Waukesha has done.

And this is as it should be: Only in very narrow circumstances and requirements and after stringent review can water be drawn from the lakes. Waukesha has passed the review and met those requirements. It deserves the diversion.

___

La Crosse Tribune, May 23

It’s time to fix our road problem

If Wisconsin is open for business, we’d better figure out how to raise more money to fix the roads.

In fact, a panel of local business people and public officials concluded last week that poor roads are already costing businesses money and putting a damper on economic development.

It’s time for leadership and political will in the Capitol in Madison - and some resolve to just fix it.

What do poor roads cost?

TRIP, a national nonprofit transportation research firm, estimates that deficient roads cost Wisconsin drivers $6 billion per year.

According to TRIP, each driver in Milwaukee and Madison pays more than $2,000 each year because of poor roads.

Statewide, an estimated 42 percent of roads are in mediocre or poor condition and 14 percent of Wisconsin bridges need repair or modernization.

When it comes to jobs, nearly 1.4 million jobs in Wisconsin are tied to transportation-dependent industries.

Imagine the challenge for a business like La Crosse-based Kwik Trip, which sends trucks to its 500 locations in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa every day.

Those deliveries of everything from fuel to snacks traveled 26 million miles last year - more than half of those in Wisconsin.

Jeff Reichling, Kwik Trip’s superintendent of petroleum transportation, sees the toll on vehicles - shorter intervals between maintenance, more damage to shocks, tires, axles and frames because of road problems.

“This will only continue to grow as a problem,” he said.

That’s not good for businesses such as Gundersen Health System, which operates as the largest employer in its 19-county, tri-state region, or Organic Valley, which has 300 to 400 loads either coming or going from its Cashton facility each week.

The panel spoke at a forum in Onalaska sponsored by the Transportation Development Association of Wisconsin.

La Crosse County takes care of 285 miles of roads - and 165 miles need at least reconditioning, county highway commissioner Ron Chamberlain said.

The county has identified $90 million needed to fix its trunk highways. Unfortunately, it has identified how to pay for only $22 million of that work.

In Farmington, there’s a road that runs through the county forest that harkens back to a time before the automobile came along.

As town Chair Michael Hesse told the panel, the town has a stretch of nearly a mile of Radcliffe Road on the county’s northern fringe that is made of dirt.

Every six weeks or so, depending on usage and weather conditions, the town has to get the road grader out and smooth out Radcliffe Road. The town also has to use the grader for gravel roads, albeit less frequently.

Sadly, it’s becoming more and more difficult for local government to deal with funding problems.

Since 2011, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, the Legislature has passed 128 measures that have stuck local government with unfunded mandates or taken control from local government.

While state leaders have touted tax-saving measures, don’t be fooled that the cost hasn’t shifted from one taxpayer pocket to the other.

The taxpayers certainly aren’t fooled.

In the wake of state funding cuts to education, taxpayers in a number of school districts have voted to raise taxes to increase funding for local schools.

Consider that in 2000, taxpayers in Wisconsin school districts approved local school referendums on a 50-50 basis. In 2011, that approval rating rose to 70 percent. Last year, that rose to 81 percent.

Remember: These are local taxpayers voting to charge themselves more and raise taxes for local education.

Taxpayers really do understand the value of good roads, good schools and other critical needs.

And, in the case of roads, not all of the funding comes from state taxpayers - and more creative funding can and should be explored, especially as vehicles become more fuel-efficient.

During last week’s forum on roads sponsored by the Transportation Development Association of Wisconsin, Rep. Jill Billings, D-La Crosse, said: “The public understands there’s an issue. I think they are ready for a fix. Businesses are looking for a fix.”

But it won’t happen without honesty and courage.

We’re long overdue.

___

Wisconsin State Journal, May 27

Just another week in the state of intoxication

Here’s a warning for anyone who plans to drive this Memorial Day weekend: Don’t become another name on this list.

And please note: They’re not all repeat drunken drivers. The Oregon man whose passenger died after a rollover crash Wednesday is facing his first OWI offense.

Sadly, the last week of arrests, prison sentences, injury and death wasn’t that unusual. Wisconsin’s drunken-driving scourge goes on and on. More penalties and prevention are needed.

Last Friday, Leland Mellum, 59, of Richland Center, was accused of driving drunk for the fifth time after crashing his vehicle in Richland County and injuring a passenger.

On Sunday, Joshua Perkie, 32, of Muscoda, was arrested in Richland Center for what could be his seventh OWI offense.

On Monday, John Przybyla, 76, of Friendship - who blamed a beer-battered fish fry after being pulled over for his 10th conviction of drunken driving - was sentenced to seven years in prison.

Also Monday, Ross Cotter-Brown, 30, of Edgerton, was in court on charges he drove drunk for the fourth time in five years, running his truck into and seriously injuring two girls walking home from school in Middleton.

On Wednesday, Mark La Veen, 53, of Janesville, was sentenced to four years in prison for his 10th OWI conviction, which occurred in Fitchburg.

Also Wednesday, a passenger died after Brett Leutenegger, 21, of Oregon crashed his truck while allegedly driving drunk in the town of Albany.

Also Wednesday, a New Glarus man was cited for being intoxicated after crashing his vehicle through a wall into a barn, the Green County Sheriff’s Department reported.

Today is the start of the holiday weekend and the unofficial start of summer. More than 755,000 Wisconsin residents are expected to travel, according to AAA. That’s a 2.2 percent increase over last year, with lower gas prices fueling heavier traffic.

Be safe. Don’t drink and drive. Don’t become - or cause - the next horrific crash on our highways.

Wisconsin has long ranked as one of the worst states in the nation for OWI. Our state’s latest embarrassment was having 12 communities listed among the 20 “drunkest cities” in America. Appleton was the worst. Madison was No. 4.

Gov. Scott Walker and the Legislature have been slow to crack down on drunken driving, and they’ve failed to aggressively pursue prevention. Promising technology that tests the blood or fingernails of chronic offenders to enforce sobriety should expand. And every drunken driver should have easy access to treatment for alcohol abuse.

Gov. Scott Walker just signed a law requiring all fourth offenses to be felonies. Yet Wisconsin remains the only state that treats a first offense as a traffic ticket. First-offenders should have to spend a night in jail, appear in court and face a misdemeanor charge.

Alcohol-related crashes in Wisconsin killed 162 people and injured almost 2,700 in 2014. Just as startling, some 25,000 drunken-driving convictions are expected to occur in Wisconsin this year.

Don’t add to that number this weekend - or ever.

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