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Scenic Wisconsin

An Affiliate of Scenic America

Current Issues

Charlie Mitchell, Editor

Scenic Leadership Conference announced by Citizens for a Scenic Wisconsin

Meeting will take place October 4 in Wauwatosa

The following brief announcement which is being publicized to attract attendees gives a good description of the substance and intent of the Conference. President Gary Goyke created the program and agenda and enlisted respected expert speakers.

For complete information and to register, go to www.scenic.org/oct4 .



Friday, October 4, at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Wauwatosa

Understand why scenic beauty is good for economic development, quality of life, recreation and tourism. Hear from experienced and respected speakers in business, government, tourism and the environment about how to take steps toward protecting and enhancing the visual environment in your community. Topics include establishing green spaces in cities, saving iconic historic barns by re-use and reducing billboard clutter along highways.

Hosted by Citizens for a Scenic Wisconsin.

Go to www.scenic.org/oct4 for the complete agenda and to register.

Ask your representatives in Madison to sign on to the Billboard Reform Act

August 4, 2019

A brand-new bill called the Billboard Reform Act has been announced in the state legislature in Madison by Representative Amanda Stuck of Appleton.

This Act calls for ending the proliferation of billboards (giant adverting signs) along highways, strict supervision and eventual removal of “non-conforming” billboards, and no more destruction of trees near billboards.

For additional information, read the articles:

  1. The Announcement of the Billboard Reform Act was made in a press conference in Appleton on July 27.

  2. The Position Statement from Citizens for a Scenic Wisconsin cites the main provisions of the bill and states the main reasons for and benefits of the Act.

  3. The Analysis of the Act by the State of Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau summaries and explains all the provisions of the Act.

Please send a message to your state Representative and state Senator and ask them to support the Act (LRB 2251) by co-signing and becoming a sponsor of the Act. To be sure who your state representative and senator are, and to get their email addresses, go to the State of Wisconsin website legis.wisconsin.gov and follow the prompts. The deadline for co-sponsoring is August 15, so you need to act now.

Announcement Of A Billboard Reform Act

Press Conference with State Rep. Amanda Stuck

Photo: Rep. Amanda Stuck announced the Billboard Reform Act in Appleton. Charlie Mitchell made a supportive statement on behalf of Citizens for a Scenic Wisconsin. Looking on is Ed Kleckner, a Calumet County supervisor..

July 27, 2019

A small group of interested persons gathered as state Rep. Amanda Stuck of Appleton approached the grassy strip along an edge of the parking lot at Houdini’s Escape Gastropub on Oneida Street in Appleton. On a six foot high wooden fence which stretched along the back edge of the grass was a five-by-six-foot poster with a patchwork of photos of Wisconsin fields, forests and barns: the site of the Press Conference. A cameraman/reporter from Channel 5 TV in Green Bay arrived about 11:00am.

Rep. Stuck made a statement about her new bill (2019 LRB2251) which she is calling the Billboard Reform Act. She said that non-conforming billboards are an unsightly and expensive problem across Wisconsin. She referred to the principles of the federal Highway Beautification Act of 1965 in controlling billboards and she stated the importance of the special Wisconsin scenery which people enjoy and which is so important to tourism. She said the bill repeals the changes made to state law in recent years which favor billboard companies at the expense of taxpayers.

Then Charlie Mitchell spoke in support of the bill on behalf of Citizens for a Scenic Wisconsin. Charlie introduced himself as a businessman who, travelling by car on the state’s highways, noticed an increase in roadside billboards causing a degradation of the landscape. Charlie said that the bill will be effective in improving Wisconsin scenery because it prohibits new billboards going up and strengthens the regulation of non-conforming billboards such that they will eventually be taken down. He said that not allowing trees to be cut down to improve views of billboards is also a benefit.

Charlie cited several reasons and justifications for this Act. Smart phones and GPS are now much more effective than billboards in providing information to the traveler on the highway. The idea that billboards are necessary to doing business was never entirely valid – seven other states have billboard bans or restrictions, and many Wisconsin cities limit or prohibit billboards s a beautification measure. It costs the DoT millions of taxpayer dollars to remove billboards for highway widening.

The story of the Billboard Reform Act led the CBS WFRV-TV Channel 5 news broadcasts at 6: and 10:00pm. The story also aired on WHBV radio in Appleton four times in the afternoon.

More trees best way to fix climate

Study says trees will help fight global warming

Seth Borenstein, Associated Press, July 6 2019

WASHINGTON – The most effective way to fight global warming is to plant lots of trees, a study says. A trillion of them, maybe more.

And there’s enough room for them, Swiss scientists say. Even with existing cities and farmland, there’s enough room for new trees to cover 3.5 million square miles. That area is roughly the size of the United States.

The study calculated that over the decades, those new trees could absorb nearly 830 billion tons of heat - trapping carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. That’s about as much pollution as humans have spewed in the last 25 years.

Much of that benefit will come quickly because trees remove more carbon from the atmosphere when they are young, the study authors said. The potential for removing the most carbon is in the tropics.

“This is by far – by thousands of times – the cheapest climate change solution” and the most effective, said study co-author Thomas Crowther, a climate change ecologist at the Swiss Federal Institute of technology in Zurich.

Six nations with the most room for tree are Russia, United States, Canada, Australia, Brazil and China.

Before his research, Crowther figured that there were more effective ways to fight climate change besides cutting emissions, such as people switching from meat-eating to vegetarian. But, he said tree planting is far more effective because trees take so much carbon dioxide out of the air.

Thomas Lovejoy, a George Mason University conservation biologist who wasn’t part of the study, called it “a good-news story” because planting trees would also help stem the loss of biodiversity.

Planting trees is not a substitute for weaning the world off burning oil, coal and gas, the chief cause of global warming, Crowther emphasized. “None of this works without emissions cuts, he said.

Nor is it easy or realistic to think that the world will go on a tree-planting binge, although many groups have started, Crowther said.

The researchers used Google Earth to see what areas could support more trees, while leaving room for people and crops. Lead author Jean-Francois Bastin estimated that there is space for at least 1 trillion trees, but it could be 1.5 trillion.

That’s on top of three trillion trees that are now on Earth already, according to earlier Crowther research.

The study’s calculations make sense, said Stanford University environmental scientist Chris Field, who wasn’t part of the study. But the question of whether it is actually feasible to restore this much forest is much more difficult,” Field said in an email.

Read more in this article

Turbine Turmoil

Clean energy or undisturbed vistas?

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, April 21, 2019 (Abridged)

Cindy Blanc and husband Peter Minucci took up residence on 5 acres in the south-central Wisconsin countryside for the serenity and scenic views. “This is the best place to watch stars because there’s no light out here,” she said. “Now we’ll have flashing lights.”

Blanc, 57, was referring to a plan for 24 wind turbines, nearly 500 feet tall, including one that would be 1500 feet from the couple’s home in the town of Jefferson, a rural farming community of 1200 people.

On a February afternoon, Blanc and Minucci, 61, drive along a country road to a neighbor’s house to hand out yellow posters with the image of a wind turbine with a red slash mark across it. Protest signs already dot yards throughout the town. Blanc learned about the plans for the wind project in October when she got a notice from EDF Renewables in the mail. EDF’s 65-mefawatt Sugar River Wind Project would spread over 5870 acres. The project would bring in more than $250,000 in in tax revenue annually, according to the company. It would provide electric power to 20,000 homes.

Wind currently provides less than 3% of Wisconsin’s electric power, but the Sugar River project is indicative of a renewed interest among wind developers, according to Michael Vickerman, policy director of pro-renewables Renew Wisconsin. Renew Wisconsin believes wind power is a solution to climate change because it helps reduce carbon emissions, and in some cases wind can produce electricity more cheaply than coal-fired power plants.

But people who reside near power sites often see some negatives, and a fight is playing out in Wisconsin and elsewhere between residents and renewable energy developers.

After receiving the notice, Blanc organized her neighbors to rally against the turbines. Under state law, projects are automatically approved after 90 days unless the local municipality passes a wind ordinance to specify conditions for approval, so the situation felt urgent. Blanc says she is not anti-wind, she just doesn’t think turbines should be near houses. She is afraid her property’s value will fall. “Who is going to want to buy it and live in the shadow of giant, industrial wind?” she asked. “We’re musicians with no pension. This five acres and this old farmhouse is what we worked our entire lives for.”

In February, the Jefferson Town board considered a wind ordinance after months of public pressure. More than 70 local residents packed the hall and 10 people spoke against the project. Ultimately, the board rejected the ordinance, to shouts and jeers from the audience.

In interviews before the meeting, some residents said they have heard that some people living near turbines have suffered adverse health effects from the flashing shadows and low frequency noise: headaches, nausea and loss of sleep. Local farmer Micah Barr who lives about three-fourths of a mile from a wind turbine, said at the meeting that he gets headaches which vanish when he goes indoors. However, the Word Health Organization has very little evidence of adverse health effects.

Linda Kundert said in an interview after the meeting “We never thought of this as an industrial area, but the turbines kind of make it that.”

According to Vickerman, lease payments for hosting a turbine are in the range of $5,000 to 7,000 a year. Jim Bender, one of the few willing to speak in favor of the project, said that it is an “opportunity” and that people can benefit from clean wind energy.

The Green County Board on March 12 passed a wind ordinance and the county zoning department plans to review the project for approval.

Read related article in Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Woods preservation becomes part of Wauwatosa long range plan

Action by Common Council is result of citizen protests. Will it be enough to save Sanctuary Woods?

8 Feb 2019
Photo and Article by Charlie Mitchell

At their Dec 18 meeting, the Wauwatosa Common Council approved a long-delayed and greatly-revised Life Sciences District Master Plan for incorporation into the City of Wauwatosa Comprehensive Plan. The District includes the County Grounds which has a remnant of old-growth forest, a grove of majestic white oaks, on the 58-acre tract which has become known as Sanctuary Woods. Now included in the Plan is a provision that the Woods be re-zoned as a Conservation District. Revisions adding protection for the Woods were made by City staff working with County Grounds Coalition representatives as recently as the week before the meeting. Alderman Jason Wilke’s amendment at the meeting strengthened those protections.

Sanctuary Woods is a refreshing natural area cherished by many Wauwatosa residents, especially dog-walkers. Northeast Quadrant of the County Grounds, North of the Ronald McDonald House, it borders County Grounds Park to the north, a perfect neighbor. The Woods is the last piece of the Grounds which remains undisturbed by development.

The Life Sciences District (LSD) plan became controversial soon after it was introduced in early 2017 because, while it used language that is respectful of the natural environment in the District, it was obviously a blueprint for extensive development with high-rise residential and commercial buildings. The plan was written for City administrators by consultants with backgrounds in real estate development and construction.

The LSD plan is the latest in a history of gradual development of the County Grounds which continued essentially undeterred by periodic public protests. In the 1960s, the Grounds comprised about 1000 acres north and south of Watertown Plank Road roughly from Harwood Avenue near the village west to about Highway 100. It was largely fields and woods. Then the “county institutions” were not much more than County Hospital and a few medical and social service buildings in a park-like setting south of Watertown Plank Road. A few handsome old County buildings survived in the fields and trees north of Watertown Plank.

By 2016, the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center had grown to be a dense agglomeration of large buildings, most of them clad in plain glass, some of them 6 stories tall - a mini-city of hospitals, office buildings and parking structures, and stop lights. West of I94, the Research Park was nearly full with massive business buildings. North of Watertown Plank, there was Discovery Parkway, on a right of way gouged deeply into the sloping terrain where there used to be a savanna of oak and maple, and cliché modern buildings were sprouting along it.

When driving west out of Wauwatosa on Watertown Plank years ago you enjoyed the drive and felt good almost as if you were on a scenic route. Now you feel glad when you get through without a traffic delay.

So when the LSD plan became public, with its proposals for extensive additional development and urbanization described in the latest developer’s jargon such as “mixed-use”, and even though it had beautiful architectural renderings, it stimulated a reaction from the public which bordered on revolt.

Public meetings and hearings draw large crowds

The plan was first made public by the BizTimes which had obtained a draft of it and reported on Dec 19, 2016: ”Wauwatosa officials have been meeting with a team from Milwaukee-based engineering firm GRAEF for more than a year to develop a master plan for the area around I94 and Watertown Plank Road.” “The robust plan . . . envisions Watertown Plank Road . . . becoming a central business corridor connecting to Wauwatosa’s village area.” “The plan includes more density in the form of retail, restaurants and housing . . . allow for 6,500 housing units, 250,000 square feet office space and 70,000 square feet of retail. The estimated annual tax revenue generated by this additional development would be $40 to 50 million.

The citizenry was further informed about the County Grounds by an article by Eddee Daniel in Milwaukee Magazine Jan 09, 2017 entitled “Wauwatosa Master Plan Would Bulldoze Last Corner of County Grounds”. The subtitle read: “Must ‘Sanctuary Woods’ be sacrificed for retail and residential development?” Wonderful photographs depicted the beauty of the Woods.

The ensuing public meetings held by the City of Wauwatosa drew overflow crowds, the first two at city hall, Jan 17 and Feb 7. On March 11, Grassroots Wauwatosa staged a public forum on the future of the County Grounds featuring leaders of local environmental groups as speakers: Jim Price, Monarch Trail; Diane Dagelen, Sierra Club; Cheryl Nenn, Milwaukee Riverkeeper; Nancy Welch, alderperson; and Barb Agnew, Monarch Trail. It drew about 200 people. A third City-hosted meeting took place in the Muellner building in Hart Park on April 6, 2017, and drew about 300 people, practically all of whom spoke in opposition to the LSD plan. They told their reasons for conserving the woods: natural beauty, peace and quiet, wildlife habitat, historic preservation and increasing the market values of the properties near it.

In the continuing approval process, a series of public hearings were held at city hall by the responsible committees. People turned out in great numbers to those hearings to question the plan - the largest steady turnout of people that anybody could remember. Credit the County Grounds Coalition with its well-timed and informative messages written by chairman Peter Abbott.

On May 9, 2017, after a recommendation by the Community Affairs Committee, the Common Council voted to ask the County to re-zone the wooded County-owned land as conservancy. On May 25, Milwaukee County responded by passing a resolution in support of making the wooded area a park. In September, a zoning application was received by the City, but it was fraught with exclusions of environmental land and gerrymandering of commercial land to allow for possible development in the area to the west of the Woods where the vacant Food Services building exists.

On Oct 12, 2017, the Woods received national recognition when the Cultural Landscape Foundation included it on their annual list of threatened landscapes. It lent credibility to local conservation efforts.

Dissatisfied with the re-zoning request by the County and buoyed by the Landscape recognition, a large number of Wauwatosa residents rallied and filled the chamber of the County Parks Commission’s Oct 24 meeting in the Courthouse in Milwaukee to ask that the County re-write the re-zoning application.

After months of uncertainty, on June 20, 2018, Alderman Matt Stippich issued a request to the Community Affairs committee to modify the LSD plan to call for zoning the wooded County-owned land as a Conservation District with the Sanctuary Woods area clearly defined on a map in the plan document for the first time. It passed, to applause by the audience, in their Oct 26 meeting. On Oct 8, the Plan Commission followed suit.

On Dec 4, the Common Council held another public hearing on the LSD plan. Again the subject drew a crowd that filled the chamber, 25 of whom spoke. Almost equal numbers spoke in the categories For, Against and Comment, but all called the plan inadequate in regard to ecology and the environment. Barb Agnew re-iterated her request for specific ecological protections. City officials complied, adding wording to the plan before it was up for approval on Dec 18.

Will the city be able to fulfill the plan to conserve the Woods?

In order for Sanctuary Woods to be conserved, it needs to be re-zoned as a Conservation District, which the City has the authority to do. However, it needs the cooperation of the landowner which is Milwaukee County, especially since the land is in parcels with boundaries which do not correspond exactly to the boundaries of the Sanctuary Woods as described in the LSD plan.

The County has indicated its intention to respect the wishes of the City of Wauwatosa as laid out in the new LSD plan, according to a recent message from Peter Abbott. However, the County must deal with a proposal from a developer to do a project on a parcel to the west of the Woods which also encroaches on the Woods. This current situation is reminiscent of September 2017 before the County submitted a zoning application which was unacceptable to the City.

Let’s hope that the County remains steadfast in its respect for the LSD plan and works out a reasonable policy for potential developers of land on the borders of Sanctuary Woods, and that City officials involve themselves with the County to accomplish the objective of conserving the Woods.

Charlie Mitchell, a life-long conservationist and preservationist, is a member of the Wauwatosa Historic Preservation Commission. He attended most of the public hearings and meetings about the county grounds and spoke at several of them.

First published in Urban Milwaukee Online


State farmers divided on solar proposal

Some are eager to lease their land; others all it ugly

January 29, 2019
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - Excerpts

Bob Bishop is a 61-year old farmer living in dairy country in southwestern Wisconsin. Soon, however, the family will stop raising dairy cows because the industry is in trouble. The bishops, who farm in Iowa County, still carry debt from when hog prices tanked in the 1990s.

But a rare opportunity has come the Bishops’ way. For a least a generation, the family could receive double the market rental rate on about 650 acres used for a giant solar electric power project. “This is a good answer for the lagging ag economy. This provides us an excellent-looking future, a very bright future,” Bishop said. That would be renting out about one-third of their land, most of it now used to grow corn and soybeans.

Invenergy’s Badger Hollow Solar Farm is one of the largest solar utility projects planned for cropland anywhere in the country. The 300-megawatt project, which the company says could power about 77,000 homes, is envisioned for 35,000 acres of prime agricultural land. It is dividing the area’s farming community, pitting neighbor against neighbor.

Some residents who vocally oppose the project generally support renewable energy; some of them even have their own solar panels generating power for their rural homes. But because of the size of the project – nearly 5 ½ square miles – they fear the area will become a “solar wasteland”.

This is an opportunity to generate electricity locally, jobs, tax revenue and support local farmers,” said Invenergy’s renewable energy manager, Dan Litchfield. “The project could bring $1.1 million annual tax revenue to the County.”

The panels will face east in the morning and tilt throughout the day to catch the most sun. They will transfer power to machines called inverters to make alternating current compatible with the power grid. Underground collection lines will carry the energy to an overhead line and on to the grid. The project will be visually unobtrusive, and the farm’s inverters would only make a low humming noise, Litchfield said Alan Jewell and Richard Jinkins are farmers who both have long-held family land next to acres to be leased for the solar project. They have joined the formal process at the Public Service Commission to intervene in the Badger Hollow case. They love this countryside for its scenic beauty and feel the solar project would change that.

“This is an ugly, ugly mark on the land,” Jewell said. Why am I having this thrust upon me?”

Jewell said he is for renewable energy, but he thinks it should happen on an individual scale. People like him, who are not part of the project, will live with the down-sides but no benefit, he said.

Read Article Here