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Great Lakes Article:

Cities overlooked in providing environmental protection
By Jim Rowen
The Capital Times
09/09/03


Wisconsin's city dwellers are back from summer vacations in northern Wisconsin. The restorative solitude provided under the pines has been there for generations, and with the right kind of protection it should be available for decades.

Gov. Jim Doyle wisely kept faith with the state's history and saved the Wisconsin Stewardship Fund in his budget. He implemented new land purchases and blocked a Republican plan that would have forced the Department of Natural Resources to sell conservation acreage. This is the state of John Muir, Aldo Leopold and Gaylord Nelson. Environmentalism here is mainstream and needs to be bipartisan. Doyle did the right thing.

But we need to remember that the environment is not just "up north." Our everyday, familiar landscape needs conserving and nurturing, too, and it is disappointing and destructive that policy-makers can't widen their perspective.

In heavily urbanized southeastern Wisconsin, where more than one-third of the state's population lives, a plan to build 127 new miles of freeway lanes has been approved by an un-elected regional planning commission. That road construction will take 664 acres, including some wetlands. Two hundred families will lose their homes because a lot of that land is in densely populated Milwaukee County.

More acreage, most of it farm and woodlands, will be taken for large-lot subdivisions as these expanded freeways sprawl throughout Washington, Racine, Kenosha, Ozaukee, Walworth and Waukesha counties. Not surprisingly, many communities in Waukesha County are facing water shortages because aquifers are being drained and some ground water is contaminated with naturally occurring radium.

This is not a sustainable model, but it is moving full-speed-ahead with the blessing of regional planners, politicians, developers and road builders. Waukesha is even seeking permission to divert 14 million gallons of water from Lake Michigan even though a treaty prohibits such diversions, lest more diversions are made all the way to the West Coast.

This level of distorted development would be fought in northern Wisconsin. The public and its leaders wouldn't permit the paving of the North Woods because people want it protected and nurtured.

The double standard is that many policy-makers continue to think that environmental protection is for the narrow country lanes, remote streams and leafy trails, and fail to recognize that other environments need protection, too.

The more we ignore the environment near the cities, the more a growing population statewide will look farther from home for peace and quiet. They'll fight it out for position on those widened highways to get out of town - to the "protected" environment up north.

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