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Snowplows powered by garbage? Dane County invests in renewables

Continue reading Snowplows powered by garbage? Dane County invests in renewables

UW-Madison to review impact of voter ID law in the state

A comprehensive UW-Madison study is underway to determine if Wisconsin’s new voter ID law played a role in the lowest statewide turnout for a presidential election in more than two decades.

The study will review the impact of the state’s voter ID law, considered by some as among the most restrictive in the nation.

The review will focus on Dane and Milwaukee counties, which have the highest percentage of minority and low-income voters in Wisconsin, according to a news release announcing the analysis.

About 66 percent of voting age people in Wisconsin cast ballots on Nov. 8. That turnout was down nearly four percentage points compared to 2012 and was three points behind the predictions from state election officials.

Most counties in Wisconsin saw a decline in turnout, but the drop was particularly dramatic in Milwaukee County, where nearly 50,000 fewer votes were cast this year compared to 2012.

Preliminary exit polling showed that turnout fell off most among young voters and African-Americans.

In Dane County, turnout was up slightly in real numbers, but down roughly 2 percent from four years ago among registered voters.

“Overall there were few problems on election day,” Milwaukee County Clerk Joe Czarnezki said in a press statement.  “However, there were reports of voters who showed up to the polls with the wrong form of photo ID, while others simply did not go to the polls because they feared they did not have proper ID.  This study will move us from anecdotes to facts.”

Dane poll workers dealing with defective ballots

Poll workers in Dane County will have to recopy votes from thousands of defective absentee ballots during this week’s primary.

A problem with the ballots’ margin has caused trouble feeding the paper through vote-tallying machines, the Wisconsin State Journal reported over the weekend.

“If you think of it like a bar code, if there’s anything interfering with a bar code, (the machine) can’t read it properly, so it just won’t take the ballot,” Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell said.

The county had about 150,000 ballots printed for the Aug. 9 election, anticipating about 20 percent of registered voters will turn out.

Almost all the defective ballots are in Madison wards.

The defective ballots were replaced shortly after the first wave of absentee ballots was mailed, McDonell said, but the number of faulty ballots “is in the thousands.”

Poll workers will open the faulty ballots and mark new ballots with votes that correspond to those cast on the defective ballots, the clerk said. Such a practice is standard procedure when there are problems with the ballot or the voter makes a mistake, he said.

The original ballots also will be kept for comparison in potential recounts.

McDonell said Madison also has completed testing voting machines it’s renting after a July 21 storm flooded voting equipment storage space in the basement of a city-owned mall. The city is using insurance to replace all but one of 98 tabulators and 90 other machines used to assist voters with physical impairments or language barriers.

Dane County court rules against DNR in CAFO case

The latest development in Kewaunee County residents’ drive to protect drinking water from agricultural pollutants confirms the duty of Wisconsin DNR to require monitoring for groundwater pollution.

In October 2015, Clean Wisconsin and Midwest Environmental Advocates filed suit after DNR decided to ignore an administrative law judge order to require monitoring and an animal unit cap in a Kewaunee County Confined Animal Feeding Operation permit.

Late last week, Dane County Circuit Court ruled that DNR’s actions were illegal and that the agency overstepped its authority by ignoring the ALJ order.

In the case of Kinnard Farms, Administrative Law Judge Jeffrey Boldt ordered groundwater quality monitoring, a limit on the number of animals at the facility and other conditions on the facility’s wastewater permit to address widespread concern about groundwater contamination in late 2014.

Ten months later, DNR ignored that decision and stripped these sensible and necessary groundwater protection conditions from the permit, according to a news release from Clean Wisconsin.

Dane County Judge Markson wrote: “The laws that provide structure and predictability to our administrative process do not allow an agency to change its mind on a whim or for political purposes. The people of Wisconsin reasonably expect consistency, uniformity, and predictability from their administrative agencies and from the Department of Justice .…DNR had no authority to reverse (its own final) decision. Its attempt to do so is without any basis in law, and it is void.”

Responding, Elizabeth Wheeler, a staff attorney with Clean Wisconsin, said, “This ruling reinforces that DNR has an absolute duty to protect groundwater. The conditions in this permit are reasonable and common-sense protections in an area that is riddled with widespread drinking water contamination.”

She continued, “It is a fundamental duty of DNR to ensure that Wisconsin residents have a safe, reliable, and clean source of drinking water. The people of Kewaunee County don’t have that right now, and if DNR can’t require monitoring or other limits in permits, it will be impossible to locate the source of the contaminants, much less clean up the mess.”

Act 21 at issue

One of the issues in the case was to what degree 2011 Act 21 limits DNR’s authority.

Clean Wisconsin said industrial representatives have been trying to use Act 21 as a way to prevent DNR from requiring sensible permit conditions to limit pollution.

This law also is the basis for a recent opinion for Attorney General Brad Schimel that essentially stripped DNR of its authority to regulate pumping from high capacity wells, which is drying up rivers, lakes, streams and wetlands in some parts of Wisconsin.

“We are pleased that courts are rejecting the claim that DNR’s hands are tied by 2011 Act 21, and we hope this is the beginning of many court decisions that restore one of the most critical functions we rely on our DNR for: protection of our water,” Wheeler said.

The decision follows the release of 65 DNR-facilitated workgroup recommendations for addressing groundwater contamination in Kewaunee County, including increased CAFO audits by DNR and revised regulations for landspreading manure in sensitive areas.

Tips and tricks to navigating Dane County Farmers Market

All it takes is one human traffic jam to understand why you need a distinct strategy to navigate the narrow sidewalks of the Dane County Farmers Market, which encircles Madison’s Capitol Square each Saturday from now through October.

As traffic jams go, this one was relatively friendly. Starting at the corner where the State Street Mall runs into Carroll Street and the Square, we endured a long, slow crawl east on Carroll towards West Washington Avenue. We dodged baby strollers and coaster wagons filled with produce, avoided dawdlers clustered at the various booths, and sidestepped shoppers already weary from the street’s modest uphill climb.

It wouldn’t have mattered if our brains were hemorrhaging, our parking meter was about to expire, or even if we just had to really pee: Sticking to this sidewalk slog meant we were headed nowhere fast. It was the last straw — the moment we knew we had to develop our own Farmers Market strategy, one that suited our needs while going with the market’s natural flow to maximize our shopping experience.

Founded in 1972 by former Madison Mayor Bill Dyke in an attempt to bridge the state’s urban and rural cultures, the Dane County Farmers Market replicates open-air markets Dyke had seen on his travels in Europe. The state’s first and largest farmers market — also believed to be the largest in the country — offers only Wisconsin-grown produce and agricultural products to eager shoppers.

What started with just five booths during its inaugural week almost 45 years ago has blossomed into as many as 180 vendors selling everything from arugula to venison and cheese bread to fruit preserves to weekly crowds of roughly 15,000 shoppers per Saturday at peak season. Experienced market-goers well understand the tricks and techniques of navigating the market for maximum convenience. Here are some of the more useful strategies and shortcuts.

It’s all a matter of timing. The market is technically open for business from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., but vendor arrivals and departures often depend on who they are, how far they’ve come and what they’re selling. Chances are if vendors run out of their primary products, they will fold up their stands and leave.

For shoppers, earlier is better, especially if you can arrive at or shortly before 9 a.m. Early-bird sales will have been underway for a few hours and chances are most vendors have not yet run out of hard-to-find seasonal items like ramps (a species of wild leeks) and scapes (the flower stalks of garlic plants eaten as a vegetable).

There are enough shoppers during the early hours to bring some energy to the proceedings, but the human traffic jams have not yet started to form and nearby parking is still plentiful.

Travel counter-clockwise for ease and speed. For whatever reason, most of the Farmers Market foot traffic moves counter-clockwise. Those who attempt to swim against the tide generally get hung up in the crowd, can’t get close to the booths and actually slow their own progress. In this case, the road less traveled is inefficient, obstructive and a lot less interesting.

Take advantage of shortcuts and “bypass routes.” Shoppers who stick to the sidewalk will have the best view of the booths, but will spend the most time navigating the market. Those who want to shop only a few pre-selected vendors have found other ways to get around.

The Capitol lawn is up for grabs all summer long. It hosts some 30,000 music lovers each Wednesday night for the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra’s Concerts on the Square — but it can also serve as a bypass route and gathering spot for Farmers Market shoppers.

Families gather there to relax during their shopping experience, while those in a hurry jump the small barricade and create their own express lane to circumvent the crowds and clogs. Be careful not to tread on the flowerbeds, but do what you need to do to get through.

Walking along the sidewalks on opposite sides of the streets is another option. In fact that’s best the way to visit the food carts and restaurants open for Saturday morning business and get up close and personal with the many street musicians entertaining the weekly crowds. This season’s water main construction projects on the Square make this a little more challenging, but not impossible to negotiate.

One of the best strategies may be cutting through the Capitol itself. Its doors are open, its architectural views grand and it has restrooms available for those who’ve had a little too much coffee.

Shop wisely, and well. It helps to know ahead of time what you are looking for, and the Farmers Market website offers an update of what will be available at the market for a specific week. You can also sign up for an e-newsletter to have that list delivered directly to your computer or mobile device.

But it can be even more fun to simply browse the vendors and see what catches your eye. Whether you’re looking for hickory nuts for a recipe, have been waiting to try spicy kimchi (fermented Korean cabbage) or want wildflowers to decorate your table, you will find them all during your travels around the square.

Some Saturdays are better than others. Certain Saturday events on the Capitol Square can make visiting the Farmers Market more challenging — or entertaining — than others. On June 18, the World Naked Bike Ride will visit the Square at 11 a.m., followed by Maxwell Street Days (July 18), the Paddle and Portage canoe race (July 30), the Madison Mini-Marathon (Aug. 20) and the annual Taste of Madison (Sept. 3).

The only event that moves the market off the square and onto the 200 block of Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., however, is Art Fair on the Square (July 9). Plan for additional traffic and parking issues on all of those days.

Leave Fido at home. The Farmers Market has a no-dogs-allowed rule for safety reasons, but that doesn’t stop people from bringing their pets along with them. However, given the cheek-to-jowl crowds and the stress that may bring to some animals, it’s best not to subject your canine friends, those around you and yourselves to the experience. What’s more, violators have been known to be ticketed.

Unfortunately, there is no corresponding no-double-wide-baby-strollers rule.


SIDEBAR: It Ain’t Over When It’s Over

The April-to-October Dane County Farmers Market is one of the Saturday morning highlights for many Madison foodies, but the program also offers year-round options for shoppers to get their produce on.

In addition to Saturday, there also is a Wednesday version of the Farmers Market that runs from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the 200 block of Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. in front of the City-County Building during the same summer season as its larger counterpart on the Capitol Square.

In November the market goes indoors and is open for business Saturdays from 7:30 a.m. to noon through December 17 at the Monona Terrace Convention Center, 1 John Nolen Drive. After that, a much smaller version of the market moves to the Madison Senior Center, 330 W. Mifflin St. and runs until the spring season begins in April.

Dane’s outsized board has advantages, challenges

While some Milwaukee County residents may think their 18-member board of supervisors is too large, Dane County is doing just fine — with 37.

“That’s better than when there were 91,” says County Executive Joe Parisi, with a laugh.

Not that Dane County is typical even today.

“According to the National Association of Counties, we believe that we have the third largest board in the nation,” Parisi notes.

Besides serving as the state capital, Madison also is the county seat. Until 1966, the Dane County board consisted of 91 supervisors. That year it was reduced to 47. In 1972 it was reduced to 41.

“Then, after the 2000 census, the number went down to 37 and they’ve stuck there ever since,” says Parisi. He believes tradition accounts for the large number of representatives.

While some Milwaukee County residents may think their 18-member board of supervisors is too large, Dane County is doing just fine — with 37.  “That’s better than when there were 91,” says County Executive Joe Parisi, with a laugh.
While some Milwaukee County residents may think their 18-member board of supervisors is too large, Dane County is doing just fine — with 37.
“That’s better than when there were 91,” says County Executive Joe Parisi, with a laugh.

Dane County was organized before statehood, in 1836, the same year the Wisconsin Territory was split from the Michigan Territory. Milwaukee County was organized the year before Dane County, when all of Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota and parts of the Dakotas were included in the Territory of Michigan. (Wisconsin attained statehood in 1848.)

The number of Dane County’s representatives increased along with its population.

County supervisors meet in a chamber shared with the Madison Common Council, in the City-County Building, two blocks south of the Capitol Square. All 37 meet in one room.

Are 37 county supervisors too many? Or does the high number translate into better services for constituents and a more representative governing body?

“I can see both sides of the debate,” says Parisi, who’s served as county executive since 2011. Prior to that, he served as a Democrat in the Assembly.

“One of the things I like about this is that it does make it very grassrootsy,” he says. “The supervisors don’t represent a lot of people, so they’re very accessible.”

At the same time, he says, a smaller board could maintain that quality. “To do the quick math, each supervisor represents about 13,500 residents. Now, if you went down to about 25 members, I think that would still just be about 20,000 people, so it wouldn’t be that much different.”

There are, of course, disadvantages to having such a big board.

“Communication can be a little challenging with a board this size,” Parisi says. “When I am dealing with a policy issue or the budget or anything where I have to interact with the board, communicating a concise message to all 37 members can become challenging. I issue memos, I speak to leadership and chairs, my staff meets with members — but it’s just kind of cumbersome in that way, so I can see the argument for a little smaller board, from an efficiency standpoint.”

If it’s hard for Parisi, communicating with others is just as hard for his supervisors. “It’s a part-time job,” he points out. “Most of them have day jobs.”

There have been a several attempts over the years to reduce the board but none have succeeded.

“Among the supervisors there are probably a few people on both sides of the issue,” Parisi says.

Has there ever been an attempt to enlarge the board?

“I have never heard anyone on the planet suggest that we create more elected officials!” he says.

Dane County landowners sue over pipeline project

Seven Dane County landowners filed suit on Feb. 8 in Dane County Circuit Court to force the Enbridge pipeline company to provide $25 million in clean up insurance before increasing capacity of the largest tar sands oil pipeline in the United States.

“Enbridge’s bullying tactics met their match today, as seven Dane County citizens took their safety into their own hands,” 350 Madison spokesman Ben Peterson said in a news release.

Enbridge wants to triple the capacity of Pipeline 61 to 1.2 million barrels of tar sands oil per day by upgrading pumping stations along its route across Wisconsin from Superior to refineries in Texas.

Last spring, the climate action group 350 Madison argued for inclusion of the $25 million insurance provision in arguments before the Dane County Zoning and Land Regulation Committee. In July 2015, the Republican-controlled Legislature passed a measure prohibiting counties from requiring pipeline insurance.

Peterson said Enbridge’s efforts to triple the capacity of its dirty tar sands pipeline through Dane County pose substantial risks to taxpayers and the environment.

“Yet,” he said in the news release, “efforts by the Dane County Zoning Committee to protect local citizens, their well-being, and the environment by requiring that Enbridge purchases clean-up insurance have been steamrolled by the Canadian behemoth exploiting its political clout.”

He continued, “That gut punch to the integrity of our political institutions occurred in the dark of night when the company or someone acting on its behalf, lobbied key legislators to include an 11th hour budget amendment that sought to override the county’s insurance requirement.”

The plaintiffs live within 350 yards of the pipeline and are near neighbors to the pumping station in the town of Medina.

The upgraded Waterloo Pump Station would increase the capacity of the underlying 42-inch diameter pipeline, which is larger than any other oil pipeline in the United States, from 560,000 to 1.2 million barrels per day of bitumen from the Alberta tar sands through the Midwest to Gulf Coast refineries.

For tar to flow through a pipe, it must be combined with toxic and volatile diluents, heated and forced under pressure, which the new pump station will increase to 1,200 pounds per square inch. This creates additional abrasive and corrosive stresses on the pipeline, through which 2.1 million gallons will flow each hour, increasing the risk of major oil spills.

When a tar sands oil spill occurs in waterways, the diluents have been observed to evaporate and, unlike conventional oil that floats in water, the bitumen sinks, making cleanups extraordinarily difficult and expensive.

Enbridge has been responsible for 800 oil spills, including the worst inland oil spill in U.S. history in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in 2010. That spill continued for 17 hours before the pipeline was shut down, causing $1.2 billion in damages. The company had known the pipe was cracked and corroding five years earlier, when 15,000 defects in the pipe were observed. 

Dane County to build state’s longest bike bridge

A Wisconsin company has been awarded a bid to begin construction of the Lower Yahara River Trail, connecting Dane County’s Lake Farm County Park with McDaniel Park in the Village of McFarland.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation awarded the contract to Janke General Contractors Inc. in Athens for just over $5.9 million dollars. 

The nearly 2.5-mile first phase of the project will start this spring and includes over a mile of bridges and boardwalk.

When completed in the summer of 2017 the path will be the longest pedestrian/bicycle bridge and boardwalk that has never been used by trains or motor vehicles in Wisconsin. 

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi, in a news release, said, “Dane County has some of the best biking paths and access in the world, it is an important component to our quality of life that attracts many people to move and live here.” 

The Lower Yahara River Trail will link Lake Farm County Park with the city of Stoughton.

The initial construction phase of the project starting this spring will be funded with about $4.6 million of Federal Highway Administration Transportation Alternative Program dollars and $1.3 million of Dane County funds.

The county provided an additional $593,290 for design and engineering of the trail. 

The trail will also include an accessible fishing pier near the railroad trestle on Lake Waubesa, along with rest stops and observation areas. 

Dane County Parks staff are clearing trees from the trail corridor that will be used to build timber frame shelters at other county parks and for a fish habitat improvement project on the north shore of Lake Waubesa. 

Dane County Parks has been planning the project with bicyclists, as well as transportation officials, engineers, the UW Milwaukee Cultural Resource Management Department, Ho-Chunk Nation, the Army Corps of Engineers and the state historical society.

Madison, Dane County post lowest unemployment rates

New data show Madison and Dane County still have the lowest unemployment rates among cities and counties in Wisconsin.

State Department of Workforce Development data released this week show preliminary December unemployment rates in most cities and counties increased slightly since November but are down since last year.

Statewide data released last week put the preliminary December unemployment rate at 4.3 percent, up slightly from the November rate of 4.2 percent. The estimated number of people working rose by 7,000 from November and the number of unemployed rose by 3,400.

The figures are based on a survey of 3.5 percent of Wisconsin employers. The numbers tend to fluctuate more than quarterly employment data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The national unemployment rate held steady at 5.0 percent in December.

Environmental group continues challenge of Dane County pipeline pumping station | Meeting tonight in Madison

Partnering with local landowners, climate change organization 350 Madison continues to oppose Enbridge Corporation’s plans to ship more tar sands oil in pipelines through Dane County.

On Dec. 2, the group filed a brief with the Dane County Board opposing the company’s latest demand that the county remove all references to the need to buy cleanup insurance in case of an oil spill from zoning permits.

The board will hear 350 Madison’s objections to the appeal taken by Enbridge at its 7 p.m. meeting on Dec. 3 in room 201 of the City-County Building in Madison.

Enbridge, according to a statement from 350 Madison, plans to triple its originally approved Pipeline 61 volume of 400,000 barrels per day to more than 1.2 million barrels per day — nearly 50 percent more than the Keystone XL pipeline was to transport.

Enbridge sought and quickly received approval to upgrade pipeline pumping capacity in all other Wisconsin counties through which Line 61 runs on its path from Superior to the Illinois border, but Dane County landowners and environmentalists halted progress here last year, when Enbridge was held to compliance with county zoning restrictions for prime agricultural land.

In April, following several packed preliminary hearings, the Dane County Zoning and Land Regulation Committee voted to support 350 Madison’s proposal that Enbridge should be required to carry extra insurance to help cover cleanup costs in event of a spill.

In May, Enbridge appealed the committee’s decision requiring $25 million in clean up insurance as a permitting condition, but before the matter could be taken up by the full county board, GOP legislators added a rider to the budget bill in containing a provision barring counties from requiring insurance from pipeline companies.

Meanwhile, in late July, zoning committee administrator Roger Lane removed the insurance requirement and issued Enbridge the pumping expansion permit, according to 350 Madison.

However, according to the brief filed by the environmental group on behalf of two Medina residents whose property abuts the Dane County pumping station, “…By ordinance, only the Zoning Committee can issue, or modify, a conditional use permit by a majority vote of its members, among whom the Administrator does not number, and … only after consultation with the town, notice and public hearing.”  

The environmental group believes the permit issued by Lane has no legal effect and the zoning committee’s original requirement for Enbridge to maintain clean up insurance remains on the books, even though the county can no longer enforce the provision due to the budget rider.

“It is not enough that Enbridge can go ahead and build its pump station in Dane County. Now, their appeal to the County Board to strike language from the Conditional Use Permit for environmental cleanup insurance is insulting taxpaying citizens of Dane County and members of the Zoning and Land Regulation Committee who exercised their duty to constituents,” Mary Beth Elliott, Tar Sands Team Leader for 350 Madison, stated in the news release.

She continued, “Zoning committee members worked extensively to grapple with the potential horrific effects of a tar sands spill here from a pipeline to flow at an unprecedented 1.2 million barrels daily. They knew what they were doing in requiring environmental insurance, based on the testimony of an internationally recognized insurance expert. The environmental insurance requirement needs to remain on the permit, not be struck because a foreign pipeline giant can afford high paid lobbyists to influence legislation.”

Enbridge, according to 350 Madison, had a staff of four lobbyists in Madison during the run up to the budget bill, but the company claims its lobbyists never met with lawmakers.

Enbridge is responsible for more than 800 spills since 1999. In Wisconsin, pipeline ruptures in 2007 spilled about 29,000 gallons of crude oil onto a farm in Clark County and about 176,000 gallons of oil onto a farm in Rusk County. In 2009, a rupture spilled about 1,200 barrels of oil on a farm in Grand Marsh.

The worst Enbridge spill was the 2010 spill in the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. About 843,000 gallons of tar sands oil flowed into a creek and then the river, making the Kalamazoo disaster the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history.

The spill revealed the destructiveness of tar sands oil. Tar sands ore, mined from deforested land in Canada, must be mixed with chemicals to move through a pipeline. This makes the crude more acidic and leads to more ruptures and spills, according to the Sierra Club.

In Michigan, when the tar sands crude spilled and was exposed to air, toxic gases forced the evacuation of more than 300 homes and a thick, heavy tar gunk sank to the river bottom.

The cleanup on the Kalamazoo, which environmentalists and the EPA say still is incomplete, has cost more than $1.2 billion — an amount well over the cap on Enbridge’s liability insurance.

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