Archive for the ‘Greenwashers & Greenwashing’ Category

MGE’s Pump & Dump Rate Scheme

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014

Tomorrow is the big showdown at the Public Service Commission to shut down MGE’s outrageous, America-hating rate scheme.

Tomorrow there will be a rally at 9 am at the PSC offices in addition to testimony. Here’s the WhoWhatWhenWhereHow scoop by the RePower folks, followed by my comment:

Madison Gas & Electric proposes big changes to billing rates in 2015 that will increase electric bills for most customers, limit your ability to lower bills through energy efficiency, and penalize clean energy. The MGE billing scheme does not reflect community values and should be withdrawn by MGE or rejected by the Public Service Commission.

The Proposal

Every MGE customer will see a higher fixed charge each month coupled with a slightly lower energy rate. For example, the monthly charge for residential and small commercial customers would rise from $10.29 to $19 (85%), while the electricity rate would decline from 14.4 cents/kilowatt-hour (kWh) to 13.3 cents/kWh (-8%).

The Facts

  • The City of Madison, City of Monona, City of Middleton, Town of Blooming Grove, Wisconsin Community Action Program Association, WI AARP, NAACP and the Coalition of Wisconsin Aging Groups and nearly 50 local businesses have opposed the rate proposal.
  • 80% of MGE residential customers will see their electricity bill increase and will harm most seniors, apartment dwellers and those who conserve energy.
  • The proposal to increase the fixed rate and lower variable rate means that you will have less control over your own future energy bills. (Conservation does not cut the fixed rate)
  • Almost 88% of MG&E’s current energy comes from fossil fuels, most of which is coal.  A recent report, The Coal Truth, by RePower Madison details how MGE proposal is a ratepayer bailout disguised as a matter of circumstances beyond the control of the utility. In reality, MGE has “doubled down” on their dirty coal investments.
  • The rate changes will have a disproportional effect on low-income households. Bill Marcus, an expert witness hired by the City of Madison testified that “the MGE proposal will negatively impact equity in the City of Madison”.
Actions You Can TakeRePower Madison is a citizens group whose immediate goal is to persuade MGE to drop their rate proposal and support customer options for rapid expansion of renewable energy and energy savings.We recommend the following immediate actions:

  • Submit your concerns online at www.tinyurl.com/mgeratehike. Online public comments are due before October 8th and a public hearing is scheduled for October 9th at 9:30am at the Public Service Commission (610 N. Whitney Way Madison)
  • Visit and like our facebook page at www.FB.com/repowermadison.  While there, you can RSVP to testify orally and attend our picket at the public hearing on October 8.
  • Local businesses are encouraged to sign a letter opposing this rate case available at –www.wisconsinbusinessalliance.com/mge
  • Share this information with your members, and forward this email to your friends, for their information.

For more information www.repowermadison.org or email to Info@RepowerMadison.org

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….And here’s the comment I submitted:

Dear Commissioners,

Please scrutinize closely the MGE rate case. It is, quite frankly, appalling. So appalling that I oppose it in the strongest terms.

I am a real estate investor in the Madison Gas & Electric service territory. I am also a decorated veteran, having served overseas as a commissioned officer for four years and discharged honorably, and having attained the rank of captain. As someone who volunteered service to do my part in forming a “more perfect union,” I am horrified that there are corporations such as MGE who are actually militating against the “general welfare” of the citizens I risked my life to defend. I also see a direct link between energy gluttony and the wars we keep fighting. For that reason, I have invested heavily in energy conservation ever since I was discharged.

Their rate proposal denies the dangers of climate change that even the Pentagon has warned is an imminent threat to national security. Indeed, by MGE’s own admission, this proposal actually militates against American citizens who strive to do the right thing by our environment.

Gregory Bollom, MGE’s assistant vice president of energy planning, conceded this point at a Madison city committee meeting in July:

“If you’re a low-energy user, you will probably have less ability to reduce your bill than someone who is a high-energy user,” Bollom told the Sustainable Madison Committee. “We are reducing the incentive for people to reduce their energy use. I’m not going to quibble with that.”

This is the stuff of morons. It does not belong in Madison, Wisconsin, the home of one of the world’s top-flight research institutions.

An enlightened corporate leadership would institute an actuarily sound, progressive rate structure that strongly encourages wasteful users to waste less and reward those who have invested wisely in efficiency and thereby use modestly. “Actuarily sound” means that fixed costs get covered by usage rates while protecting the steady rate of return required to raise capital for said fixed costs (capital infrastructure). This is important because we know that it is the wasteful users who are driving the “need” for more lines and other infrastructure. So those who demand more power should also be paying for the extra infrastructure required to supply it. Thus the need for progressivity in the rate structure. If the usage rates are properly structured–actuarily sound, progressively increased according to usage–that “need” would soon be obviated, as the wasteful would get wise tout de suite. Or they pay for their willful ignorance. The choice would be the customer’s and entirely the customer’s. Consumer free choice and free enterprise–yes, including investments in efficiency and renewables–is what built this country. Why is MGE undermining free enterprise?

MGE’s rate scheme, by eliminating any progressivity, actually *rewards* waste. It undermines all efforts to do the right thing and create a better, energy independent America. This is important to me, because I’m tired of seeing my friends, my former comrades-in-arms get sent off to fight in fossil fuel wars. Sick. And. Tired. Of. It.

Progressive, actuarily sound rates that cover all costs–fixed included–is the most climate-friendly, peaceable way of properly accounting for climate-damaging, war-causing resource usage.
Fixed charges–of any amount–only aid & abet profligate use.

Furthermore, the idea of fixed v. usage costs is fiction. Much of the fixed cost increases goes to ATC’s wasteful expansions of unnecessary power lines. Unnecessary because they were/are being built on assumptions of ever-increasing fossil burning. That hasn’t happened. Electric consumption has gone down. Why? People are making the connections between their personal energy use->fossil burning->climate destruction. They should be rewarded for making that connection and acting to remedy it, not punished.

It’s also an incredibly cruel thing to do to people who thought ahead for their retirement and invested mightily in energy efficiency in their homes. Now they are on modest fixed incomes and getting slammed by these rustbelt rednecks in charge of our ‘community’ utility. Retirees’ investments in conservation are now set to be vaporized on behalf of energy addicts and their dealers.

There isn’t really a middle ground on this. Either we make the decisions to protect the climate–now–or else. (Please read your McKibben! Heed your Hansen!)

Where does the PSC stand?

MGE is now desperately touting a series of “Town Hall-style” meetings to get them out of this pickle of their own making. Approximately 9 years ago MGE held a series of just such meetings all across Madison. There were over a hundred people in attendance at one meeting alone (even though it was inconveniently scheduled at midday on a weekday). People of all backgrounds showed up, ranging in age 8 months to 80+ years. They were all impassioned, knowledgeable and armed with better ideas for delivering clean energy in conjunction with conservation pricing and other strategies. No one testified for more CO2 emissions or more megalomaniacal power lines. Typical was one woman, with a baby in her arms, who gave a most enlightened & impassioned testimony about how we’ve got to start planning *now* [i.e., nine years ago] for reducing our impact on the climate. That the science was well settled. That we can no longer deny the science through our profligate energy policies. She was unbelievably eloquent and *nice* about it. The old gray MGE execs just sat there, stone faced. Clearly, they didn’t want to hear it. A town hall in the sense of an open minded democratic process, it was not.

I gave testimony as well. I was pointed and concise about the importance of a progressive rate structure to reduce demand while maintaining their bottom line through actuarial science.

The gray MGE execs scowled. Again, they didn’t want to hear it.

This was nine years ago.

They did nothing in the interim to change their CO2 spew as usual. Indeed, they doubled down on fossil thinking.

The point is, they have heard all of this before. They have heard it from a variety of people, some paid by advocacy organizations, but mostly just citizen ratepayers doing their civic duty, expressing concern and better ways of doing things. MGE has had their opportunity–over many years–to do the right thing.

They have done nothing.

They chose to ignore reasonable solutions that quite openly acknowledged the necessity of getting a return to shareholders. Now the gray men in gray suits have gotten themselves in a pickle. A quite avoidable pickle. A pickle forewarned.

As for their shareholders, by & large, they don’t care how the dividend check arrives. Fixed charge, no fixed charge (but with a progressive, actuarily sound rate structure)–it doesn’t matter to them. They just want that check to arrive, on time and in a predictably steady amount. And it is perfectly doable with an actuarily sound, progressive rate structure. Indeed, how a shareholder’s dividend is generated is entirely not their concern in the amoral world of the limited liability joint stock company. Only the people’s representative, you, the regulator, the Public Service Commission can force the right, moral choice. Which is why they need to hear from you in the strongest terms possible that they, MGE, need to protect our climate and our ratepayers–not just their lazy, ignorant accountants who can’t calculate out a reasonable rate structure.

Being an energy geek since the 1973 Arab Oil Embargo, I have a bad habit of buttonholing the lower-downs at MGE when I get a chance, to find out why the stupidy of the higher-ups continues. One of them, an engineer, basically just shrugs his shoulders, rolls his eyes knowing that better solutions exist. Tiring of this, he gave me one of his utility trade magazines to shut me up for a while. That magazine issue of eight or so years ago was all about innovative demand-managing rate structures that could respond to a dynamic energy environment (dynamic in the sense of either more competition, more emissions regulation, opening the grid to non-utility participants, all of the above, etc.). So the knowledge of how to stay profitable while driving down carbon spew and better managing the grid (etc.) for all comers is out there. It is well documented even in their energy industry trade group! This isn’t just the stuff of crazy hippies, as Paul Fanlund and Gary Wolter would have us believe.

They’ve heard polite, well informed testimony. They’ve heard pointed, well informed testimony. For *many* years. The research and case studies of innovative, conservation-oriented rate structures in place over decades is well-documented by their own trade organization.

At what point do we the people stop giving them the benefit of the doubt?

You heard their own executive speak out against conservation and renewables in the quotes above. You are obviously quite aware of RENEW’s analysis which further confirms MGE’s militantly anti-climate, anti-ratepayer plot.

In the end, it is a bait & switch. For decades, MGE has been encouraging their customers to conserve and install renewables. (See, for example, any number of MGE bill inserts over the last twenty-plus years; see also their gleeful–and very public–celebration of conservation & renewables here.)

Now they want to crush those who followed their investment advice?

As a long time real estate investor who has invested tens of thousands of dollars in conservation measures on several properties, not only do I believe that you should reject their fixed rate plot against their ratepayers, you should also report them to the Securities Exchange Commission for their pump & dump scheme.

I would think that it’s pretty clear that their plans are not benevolent.

Please reject the entirety of MGE’s rate scheme.

Sincerely,
Michael D. Barrett

….

Madison, WI

Federal Highwaymen Paving Our Democracy Asunder

Friday, July 19th, 2013

I recently received this notice regarding, in their words:

…the metropolitan transportation planning process carried out by the Madison Area Transportation Planning Board (TPB), the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT), Metro Transit, and local units of government in the Madison metropolitan area….

The full notice was even more gobbledygookey cryptic; even a transportation geek like me had a hard time deciphering it. Specifically, they never cited what laws they were referring to.

Flying blind, I submitted comment anyway. You’ll find it below.

I went to the meeting.

There was only one other citizen there. (He had little to say other than moaning about the counter-flow bike lanes displacing parking spaces on campus.) It was a pitiful showing, but I think more indicative of the cryptic public notice than apathy on the part of citizens.

Federal policies are shaping our communities for decades to come. The question is, shaping those communities for whom? The Feds sent a phalanx of gray, middle aged, male bureaucrats. That’s whom. City/MPO did the same. (The lone woman bureaucrat present had nothing to say, so I assume she was on board with the highways.) It was all about building more, bigger highways for, by and of the dozen or so middle aged, white males present. Indeed, it was a cast worthy of the Soviet nomenklatura.

Oh sure, there was a crumb or two here & there to ameliorate a few of the many barriers to biking and walking presented by their megalomaniacal highways. And Bus Rapid Transit is but a pipe dream at the scale they are “planning.” They have no intention of funding it (thus the quotes). The crumbs and the fantastical are out there for window dressing only. Bait. Honeytraps. The stuff of Stockholm Syndrome. If we’re nice to our captors, embrace their manly highways, maybe, just maybe they’ll give us another bike path!

None of the MPO board members were there (except ex officio member, Madison Metro GM Chuck Kamp, who had to be there for job purposes related to the public notice).

Happy reading!

******

Madison Area MPO Comment

07/17/2013

by Michael D. Barrett

I have observed and participated in transportation and land use planning issues in Madison and Dane County for almost 25 years. I am trained as an urban geographer.

Here’s what I think of Federal funding priorities as planned by our MPO and prioritized by USDOT: It stinks. It’s all about highways. And your highways are nothing more than the new Jim Crow with a concrete face. It’s the epitome of Reverse Robin Hood, stealing from cities to promote rich suburbs. It’s about gated communities, but instead of gates you use concrete expanses to wall off the people you deem as undesirable – the carless, the aged, the young, the poor, people who are not white. Yes, I’m calling you racist. I’m calling you age-ist. I’m calling you classist. In other words you build landscapes for well-wheeled middle aged white men. Everyone else be damned. You should be ashamed of yourselves.

Your Federal policies militate against our community’s expressed political will. Over and over again the people of Dane County, Madison and surrounding  communities have elected stellar individuals who want to do the right thing. Witness electoral revolutions with the election of unabashed enviros like Kathleen Falk and Dave Cieslewicz and the very conservation-oriented council and board. In every League of Women Voters questionnaire for elected office virtually every candidate espouses transit, biking and walking over highways. Falk and Cieslewicz had made careers of fighting your highways. Plan after plan for this region, down to the neighborhood level, emphasizes community over cars, a clean environment over sprawl; inclusivity over segregation. The people’s voice is unequivocal: we want clean air, clean water, inclusivity, social justice and a land use/transportation paradigm that supports those goals. Furthermore, our elected officials explicitly ran on platforms promoting community cohesiveness, across race and class lines. Instead, your policies forced our elected leaders into making bad decisions that ultimately got them thrown out of office or blocked from higher office.

In other words your policies are overtly political. They militate against the will of the people.

Your federal highway funds proved to be a gusher, an endless source of cash, while you people constricted funds for transit, bicycling and walking. Everything our elected representatives stood for, your policies militated against.  Your policies backed Falk into a corner on the very unpopular US Highway 12 expansion. Her political base never forgot that, and she paid dearly for it. Without her most ardent supporters, she didn’t stand a chance for higher political office.  Similarly your policies forced road expansion onto us even under the leadership of the most ardent, pro-urban environmentalist ever to lead a city. Your easy highway money and shrinking transit money proved to be an embarrassment that alienated his base. Mayor Dave became Mayor Pave. When federal funds were used to jack up highway spending by 558% over the course of his tenure – 558%!!!!! – while slashing federal support for clean, city-supporting modes, the environmentalist mayor’s political base evaporated.

See this graph of the Madison City Budget? Now look at the top line. The one going straight up is paving, increasing at 558% during Cieslewicz’s tenure. The other lines are social services and parks: Flatlined during the same period. Now look at the debt that has been racked up to service your over-sized roads. Your highways are crushing our city’s budgets.

Your policies are overtly political.

Those elected representatives represented the will of the people. By embarrassing them with these anti-community funding priorities, you negated the will of the people.

You are a politically vindictive organization.

I oppose your anti-democratic policies. I oppose your racism. Your Neo-Jim Crow. Your social-exclusion-by-highway. Get out of our community, leave us alone. Return our taxes free of all strings and get out of the way while we build a sustainable city. We want a city that requires no war for our mobility. We want a city that protects our climate as we get around. We want a city that is protective of children’s lungs. We want a city that promotes healthy, active, neighborhood-friendly ways of getting around.  We want a city that is inclusive and for all people, not just the well-wheeled. We will no longer serve as suburbanites’ doormats.

I notice the MPO board is not present. Had they been here, I would have told them:

As for you people on the MPO, get a spine. Stand up to these highwaymen. Start thinking creatively. Stop blasting ugliness through our neighborhoods. Start joining with the people in building *community* not commuter sprawlways.

Everything about this organization has militated against the expressed will of the people. You should be ashamed of yourselves. I oppose you because you have incompetently executed the will of the people.

I recommend that this body be decertified from receiving federal funds.

The siting of this meeting at this isolated location speaks volumes as to whom the MPO wants to hear from. Bus service is scant at best. Parking is ample. We are located adjacent to a giant highway. It’s a long way to walk anywhere from here. So the assumption must be that only car drivers’ views are wanted.

Regarding your introductory remarks: You speak of congestion as if it were the root of all evil. I disagree: Congestion is good for cities. It is the sign of a healthy city. It is a sign that people want to be there. Slow car traffic is the best friend of pedestrians, bicyclists and transit users.

[I also entered into the record a copy of the latest (2012) League of Women Voters questionnaire of Dane County Supervisor Candidates (showing their support for transit, walking, biking); a copy of the budget graphs in the article linked above; a copy of a 2011~ 1000 Friends of WI newsletter article showing how much money Wisconsinites spend on roads out of their property and income taxes (i.e. only about 50% of the total road budget is paid for by gas taxes and other car user fees; in other words, socialism for cars; rapacious capitalism for the rest of us).]

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US 51/WIS 19 camera image.

Sen. Mark Miller’s (D-Monona) $40,000,000.00 gift to the Seven. Thousand. Very. Republican. Villagers. of DeForest.

Keep in mind that the USDOT policies I cite here should not be taken as letting the likes of Falk or Cieslewicz or other locals off the hook. Ultimately, though the concrete dope was free, they injected the needle into the arm of the body politic of their own free will. Furthermore, USDOT’s pro-highway/anti-community policies are the products of pavement-friendly votes by other good liberals/progressives such as US Rep. Mark Pocan, US Senator Russ Feingold (ret) and US Senator Tammy Baldwin. Liberals on the state level have similarly taken the needle and the candy. From 2008-2010 Dane County Democrats – State Rep Mark Pocan, State Senator Mark Miller and Governor Jim Doyle –  held total power over the finances of state government as co-chairs of the all-powerful Joint Finance Committee and as the state’s chief executive (respectively). Truly, they were the patrons to the highwaymen clients in the nomenklatura of the Soviet Socialist Party of Pavers. Much like their Republican counterparts, they prioritized paving over people. Indeed, the pavers are of one party regardless of whether an R or D follows their name. I hold Mark Miller in particular contempt given his $40,000,000 (and counting) pork project more than doubling the size of US Highway 51 to serve the seven thousand Very. Special. Villagers. of. DeForest. while slashing state and federal investment in transit for 225,000 not-so-special Madison citizens.

Consider asking your alder why they continue to fund paving at the expense of people. Then ask your county board supervisor. Then ask your state rep. Then your US rep. Then ask your US Senator why she thinks more concrete is healthy. Always, always question. Then denounce. Because they just don’t get it. Because they are loyal party apparatchiks.

No Clarity in the Water

Thursday, July 11th, 2013

Dear Alders,

I urge a reconsideration of Item 9 (30156) for the contract renewal for Thomas O. Heikkinen, General Manager of the Madison Water Utility. I strongly recommend, that any renewal of contract be provisional, lasting no longer than one year, with specific goals to be met for any further renewal. Please do not rubber stamp this appointment.

I believe that there are some serious deficiencies in the management of our drinking water that need to be addressed. The MWU’s current water management paradigm:

1.     Ignores science behind hydrogeology, chemistry and biology – most notably, human bio-chemistry. The engineering – pumping & piping – is the be all, end all of MWU’s thinking. The quality of what comes out the tap is dismissed in a barrage of PR parsing, obfuscating and disingenuousness. Water volume is everything; quality is nothing in MWU’s world. At most they will express “disappointment.” But disappointment doesn’t deliver clean water.

2.     Ignores the interests of ratepayers by investing in well sites known to be unproductive and highly polluted. The recently approved Southeast side well is a case-in-point.

3.     Ignores citizen input from the Citizen Advisory Panels with regard to well-siting and capital investment priorities. The Eastside CAP prioritized Well 8 for filtering; Well 7 was way down the list of priorities. Well 8 languishes while Well 7 is being super-sized far beyond anything approved by any CAP, and is being built to a scale that denies the recent, highly rigorous scientific analysis of the site.

4.     Fails to provide adequate staff comment on development proposals’ effects on our drinking water supply. See for yourself: the University Crossing development proposal’s staff comment section for the Water Utility relies entirely on self-reporting by the developer. Yet it sits atop the sensitive wellhead protection zone.

5.     Dismisses water conservation; the utility won’t even address it, especially with regard to business water use. This is a real problem since some 82% of our water is consumed by business/institutions.

6.     Treats citizen ratepayers as cash cows in allowing polluters to get off scot-free after wrecking our drinking water with carcinogenic filth, thus requiring either expensive filters or new, multi-million dollar wells.

7.     Stifles scientific input from citizens. At best citizen input is taken as a personal affront. Straightforward questioning, pointing out scientific facts, has resulted in a citizen getting thrown off the MWU Board. At worst, honest, straightforward citizen input has resulted in a criminal complaint to the city attorney. Dissent is a punishable offense under this MWU administration.

8.     Puts PR above clean water. Are two PR people really necessary for one agency? Wouldn’t it be more effective to hire two lawyers to aggressively pursue polluters? 

9.     Lies about Madison Water meeting “all standards” and about the existence of PCE in certain wells. Indeed, the federal drinking water standard for the toxin PCE is zero. That’s 0.00. Down to the parts per billion, zero. There is no safe level of PCE in drinking water according to the EPA. Many Madison wells have significant, and growing levels of PCE and other industrial chemicals. Yes, there is a sub-standard EPA limit that MWU seems to fixate on (and that our water just barely falls under), but that is a secondary, outer limit that accepts a certain number of PCE-related deaths and neurological illnesses (such as Parkinsons) as, somehow, ok. I don’t believe that the preventable death or incapacitation of even one person is acceptable. Neither should our citizen-owned water utility. Furthermore, the MWU is playing fast & loose with the truth with it’s statement, “It’s important to note that no PCE has ever been found in the water at Well 8.” While that is technically true, we do know that the breakdown products of PCE have been found in Well 8 water. Breakdown products have been found to be at least as dangerous and possibly more dangerous than PCE itself. It’s time for the disingenuousness to end at the water utility.

10.  Coddles polluters such as Madison Kipp Corporation. Instead of doing the right thing and suing to defend citizen-owned capital investments in clean drinking water (well infrastructure and pipe systems), MWU provides PR cover & damage control for polluters and their polluting activities in the media and at public meetings.

11.  Wastes federal money dedicated to providing clean water. Federal stimulus money was dedicated to filtering nasties out of an east side well; instead of making the enduring capital investment, the money went to consultants to gather citizen input. That input was then ignored. The money was wasted. (See Item 3.)

12.  Works to dismiss or suppress dissenting citizens from the MWU board.

I am willing to give benefit of the doubt; Mr. Heikkinen had inherited a difficult situation with problems that had been institutionalized before his arrival (especially the ingrained attitudes of engineering über alles, which, unfortunately still reigns). Some things have improved. But let’s be clear: the improvements have only come as a result of bruising fights featuring brave citizens brandishing the scientific truth vs. MWU leadership denying it while personally attacking these very knowledgeable citizens (or, as Mr. Heikkinen refers to them, “wing nuts” and “Ph.Ds lacking common sense”). When the denials become too embarrassingly untenable, the MWU’s PR machine goes into overdrive to assure the public that the utility has always believed the science it once denied (but those pesky citizens are still really wing-nut crazy, and those Ph.Ds in environmental toxicology still lack common sense).

The last Water Utility Board meeting was illuminating. Board members discussed their discomfort with these jabs at citizens. Heikkinen refused to apologize. Later, another board member did come to his defense to explain away management-attitude issues that keep coming to light. This board member explained that since Mr. Heikkinen is an engineer, he can’t be expected to know what it takes to deliver clean water; that would be the responsibility of other departments. (He didn’t specify which department; would that be the Health Department? We don’t know. But these statements – by a board member – contravene the Water Utility’s own “Outcomes Policies.”) It would be worth reviewing the streaming video to begin to understand the level of discomfort about the way things are going at the MWU. Except….I would have sent a link to the video, but there is none. And….I would have sent you a link to the minutes, but the minutes omit virtually all of the discussion that happens at board meetings. Interesting that. Apparently MWU is a public records-free zone.

We demand an assurance from you, the fiduciary agents of our citizen-owned water utility, that any renewal of the manager’s contract will not be for more than a year, with renewal possible if these demands are met:

1.     The public personal attacks on citizens and threats of arrest will stop;

2.     The MWU General Manager will ramp up his knowledge of the science of clean water delivery in its full panoply. From chemistry, to hydrogeology, to biology, to bio-chemistry, to geophysics, to environmental toxicology, etc., the GM will studiously research, rigorously adhere to and apply the most up-to-date, proven technology, including conservation and re-establishment of a healthy hydrologic cycle (i.e., infiltration) for clean water delivery over a time horizon of generations. (Start with seven.) This is already covered for the most part in the Water Utility Board’s Outcomes handbook, specifically O-2E. The MWU board has given him a pass on expanding his knowledge, but you, the representative body of the people, the ultimate fiduciary authority, should not. Furthermore, in future personnel searches, the city should consider Epic’s successful strategy for software development. They hire liberal arts graduates to manage projects because of their ability to integrate a wide variety of knowledge bases. The engineers work under the liberal arts graduates precisely because engineers are not trained to think expansively, integratively. Curiosity is not an engineer’s strong suit. They know what they know. Period. Full-stop.

3.     Monster wells are not acceptable. Super-sized wells are not a sustainable strategy – environmentally or economically – for clean drinking water. Overbuilding, overpumping and over-dynamiting a well, then building super-sized water storage over the top of it all ends up warping and cracking protective bedrock. The result is fissures which allow surface toxins and pathogens to infiltrate the deep aquifers we rely on for drinking water. This must end. The science must be followed, not denied.

4.     Polluters of clean water will be pursued to the fullest extent of the law;

5.     Further pollution of our drinking water ends now;

6.     MWU will provide clear, strongly worded staff comment for all future development that may have an impact on our water quality. Pro-forma hear/see/speak no evil pencil-whipped comment on development will not suffice. MWU’s comment in the future should, among other things, cite the impacts of paving, and any other capping off/interference with the healthy functioning of our hydrolologic cycle.

7.     Long-term financial viability of all MWU capital assets (to include the water supply itself, well infrastructure, well zones, filters, etc.) will be defended at all costs. This includes avoidance of well-sites known to be polluted or lacking in sufficient flow. The current five-year planning horizon is not acceptable. Well infrastructure is a 60-year+ investment; the water flowing to it is perpetual. We must protect our city’s long-term financial interests for perpetuity. Water is a financial interest.

8.     MWU will communicate clearly, honestly and provide full records to the public: a) the existence of pollutants; b) the health threats posed by those pollutants; c) the likely sources of those pollutants; d) the city’s efforts to recover damages from the polluters; e) the city’s efforts to stop further pollution; f) video and full minutes of Water Utility Board proceedings will be made available quickly and in perpetuity. The denial and obfuscation on behalf of the polluters must no longer be part of the MWU’s duty.

9.     Dissenting citizens will be appointed to the MWU board to counterbalance the overly comfortable consensus there.

More dynamite down a hole does not a quality water system make.

Sincerely,

Michael D. Barrett

 

Anyone in receipt of this communication may forward it, post it, disseminate it, as long as it is presented in its entirety, unabridged and unedited by others. Respectful quotes that don’t obscure the contextual meaning are ok.

Needling the Power: Rummel’s High Road Strategy

Sunday, April 28th, 2013

I’ve always admired Salman Rushdie’s hammering of the arrogant, the powerful. This is classic.

Very much brings to mind the dynamic on our neighborhood’s listserv (SASYNA-Discussions@yahoo.com). People who question the arrogant power-wielders get routinely trashed by the listserv-marms. Those enforcers of civility (well, their short-sighted version thereof) are (at best) mute to,  and (more accurately) apologists for actual, physical abuses of power. Our local alder, Marsha Rummel, for instance, is all about destroying air, land and water with her paving ways, but the establishment progressives come rushing to her defense the moment her policies come into question. To question–with words–her physical abuse of our environment (and the people who drink water and breathe air) brings denunciations of, “Cyber-bully!” or snide condescensions of “That’s not how we do it in the 6th.” And the ultimate: question her votes for trashing the air we breathe and the water we drink and you get thrown off of your city commission (or, alternately, your appointment gets blocked). As you can see from my previous posts, her violence against our aquifer is now starting to cost us–in cash–as ratepayers and taxpayers. I’ve written extensively about its effects on our city finances over the years; here’s a classic. (Make sure to click through to the “Madison is paving itself into oblivion” article–yes, she voted for all of those extreme paving budgets except for the ’09 budget.)

RummelScapes

Rummel’s “High Road Strategy”

But the defenders of Rummel’s pollution-as-usual policies are always successful in cowing those ready to move forward from her 1950s mentality. Every election her oh-so-sensible defenders sniff, nose in the air, with condescending disgust, their “disappointment” that an opposing candidate would have the temerity to actually run against such a progressive saint as Marsha Rummel. The stalwarts of progressive piety denounce as blasphemy any opposition: To merely run against Rummel brings on denunciations of not being sufficiently “high road” to represent the district; “That we just don’t do negative campaigns in Madison;” etc. To run against Rummel is to invite the wrath of God Herself. And the district bows down before the icon; the last two elections it voted in droves for the symbol over substance–70% for Rummel.

And thus continues the paving, the annihilation of our drinking water and the air we breathe, the diversion of city resources from the poor, from basic services. Yup, the most proudly liberal/progressive district in the universe voted for it.

More to come on all that, I’m sure.

Madison Water Utility’s Science Denial

Monday, March 25th, 2013

TO THE WATER UTILITY BOARD:

We simply disagree with the need for the proposed mega-expansion of Well 7. We oppose the expansion of Well 7.
First & foremost we know, thanks to Colonel Christopher Gellasch’s research for his Geology Ph.D., that the mere fact of pumping vast quantities of groundwater in sudden, powerful bursts and then storing it in massive reservoirs on the surface is:
  • Warping the bedrock below
  • Fracturing an already fractured shale layer that currently at least *slows* transmission of pathogens and toxins to the deep aquifer. (His research on Well 7 was the first to positively demonstrate that the Eau Claire shale is indeed permeable, much of it human caused through overpumping and then overstoring masses of water on the surface. Conventional hydrogeology to that point had held that the shale layer was perfectly impermeable, protecting the deep aquifer. The reality: Warp it, crack it, pump hard, it stops protecting.).
  • Pulling denser, dangerously high concentrations of naturally occurring elements which in trace amounts are otherwise harmless (or nearly so)
This was the finding of his research, under UW-Madison Professor Kenneth Bradbury, at Well 7: That we are currently overpumping an already strained hydrogeologic system at Well 7.

And now we, as a city, want to:

  • Triple the size of the surface reservoir?
  • Pump even more?
  • Faster?
  • More vigorously?
  • Further exacerbating the fracturing? (Yes, the rapid pumping actually creates measurable seismic events under the well!)
  • Creating yet more pathways for toxins and disease right into our deep aquifer drinking water?
  • Actively pulling surface toxins and pathogens downward into the deep aquifer?
  • Increasing the concentrations of the naturally occurring neurologically damaging elements?
  • An expansion in capacity in an area that is essentially built-out and landlocked, not growing and not predicted to grow?
  • When there are so many more opportunities for conservation?

Indeed, before looking to expand capacity with these megalomaniacal tributes to manly engineering, we need to take a serious look at the consumption patterns across the city. We note that our 2-flat (that’s 2 separate families, one meter, 4 adults total) consumes 20% less than the average single family home (average occupancy: <2.3). Clearly, there is a vast chasm between need and waste in the current consumption patterns in this oh-so-enviro city. (Oh, and no one in our house stinks, there are no hairshirts in our respective wardrobes; during the summer we often take 2 showers/day given our high level of physical activity; the tenants have no financial incentive to conserve since they don’t pay the water utility bill, we water our trees, and this low level of water use held even when tenants had a baby, etc.). And we’re working on yet more absolutely invisible water conservation measures that will likely save us yet another 10-20 percentage points or more below the city average.

The fruit…it is so low-hanging that it is nearly dragging the ground!
And yet, everywhere we go–homes, city buildings, private businesses, non-profits–we see sink aerators that pour forth 2.2 gallons/minute (ours is 1.5; the glorious Overture Center’s faucets probably gush 4–FOUR!–gpm given that they have no aeration whatsoever!), showerheads that lavish >3.5 gpm (ours is 1.25, but feels lavish nonetheless), streets getting watered (how many sprinklers we see sending water right down city drains, never touching grass! how many thousands of gallons getting wasted in flushing operations!), new dishwashers that require handwashing before loading (yes, it is routine in the many households with dishwashers I have observed!), ….What’s the point of an EnergyStar/WaterSense dishwasher if you have to handwash the dishes first?
And the insanity continues…..
At Citizens Advisor Panel (CAP) meetings at least a couple of individuals tried to make the point that there is so much more room for conservation, but they were out-maneuvered by staff and out-voted by the timid. Indeed, there was but one lonely ‘no’ vote in a committee vote cast by the most intensely knowledgeable citizens on water issues. They were cowed by staff’s barrages of undigested data on water consumption. They should have held their ground.
And so it goes. Madison water utility leadership, much like Madison’s leadership in general swaddles itself in the attitude of consumption-at-all-costs-is-ok-because-we’re-a-liberal/progressive city.
We, the undersigned, refuse to go along with that groupthink. We choose to listen to the science. Thus, we oppose the expansion of Well 7. The extra water you seek is freely available in very simple, very cheap water management measures in households and institutions and industry.
We implore the Water Utility Board to smash the science denial that permeates the staff reports on the issue and simply say no to an expanded system at Well 7.
We note that only three Water Utility Board members showed up to the Technical Advisory Committee meeting at which Col. Gellasch laid out the hydrogeologic science of Well 7. One of those members has since been thrown off the commission for having raised precisely the questions that came out of that study. Pathetic political leadership made that happen. We implore you to rise above the politics of denial, even if it risks your tenure on the Water Utility Board. It would be worth it. You could achieve with this one action what others could never achieve even in 10 years of service.
On the science: for context, to get a private sector study of the scope and quality of the Gellasch Ph.D. would probably have cost $400,000 or more. It was groundbreaking, thorough, and, most importantly, highly specific to Well 7. And frankly, it was priceless because the funding was independent of the utility and thus untainted by staff’s pre-conceived notions.
To ignore the essential science–laid at your feet–amounts to willful ignorance.
You not only ignore the science at your peril. You, the board members of the Water Utility, ignore it at the peril of us all.
Because the science is clear: Build a mega-well at Well 7 and you:
  • Harm our aquifer
  • Harm our health
  • Deny science
We further maintain that an expanded Well 7 and similar efforts elsewhere in the city will:
  • Harm ratepayers
  • Harm the city’s future economic sustainability
WE OPPOSE SCIENCE DENIAL.
 
Thus,
 
WE OPPOSE AN EXPANSION OF WELL 7.
 
Sincerely,
 
Michael D. Barrett and Pamela S. Barrett
P.s. We give permission to forward this on to whomever, wherever.

Why Mark Pocan Fails…

Tuesday, August 14th, 2012

…To interest me….In the least:

From 2008 til 2010, he had it all. The Democrats owned the Governor’s Mansion, the Senate and the Assembly. He was the leader in the Assembly. As such, he co-chaired the all-powerful Joint Finance Committee. He was one of the three most powerful people in the state.

Did he advance education? Nope. Nixed funding for 4-year old kindergarten.

Did he fight for the environment? Nope. Nixed the Clean Energy Jobs Act (an excellent, all-encompassing plan; our one hope to launch a clean energy, hyper-energy efficient economy…).

Did he advance Bicycling? Nope. Slashed funding back to below early ’90s levels.

Did he advance walking? Nope. Ditto.

Did he advance transit? Nope. Ditto. Oh, no, wait. He slashed state support for transit to below levels established by Republican Tommy Thompson.

He sat on his hands.

What did he do with all that money he nixed out of good, people-supporting jobs & services? He accelerated wasteful highway expansions across the state, including the hyper-wasteful US Highway 51 expansion between De Forest and Madison (a route already served by the 8-lane Interstate 90/94/39), the Verona Road interchange, Interstate 94 between Cottage Grove and Madison, and the County Highways S & M (Mineral Pt. Rd & CTH M) intersection. All of these expansions support landscapes of Republicanism and militate against access to good jobs for the poor and working class. Contrary to his claims, Mark Pocan is no friend of the working class.

Let’s face it, we keep advancing lame Democrats like Mark Pocan, who fill the coffers of dirty energy and dirty transportation companies, and then wonder how it is that the Republicans keep beating us in the cash race.

Mark, buddy, I’ve got news for you, it is because you gave them the money!

I’m not exactly thrilled about his opponent Kelda Helen Roys either. I don’t think she exactly gets the money game either. I will cut her some slack about the 2008-2010 time period since she was just a rookie backbencher then. But she should have been raising holy hell about all the subsidies that Pocan & Co. were giving out to the grey economy companies. This past weekend on the Ride the Drive (ok, major plus that she set up campaign operations at that event!), I brought up to her that Tammy Baldwin had been doing the same thing for years, supporting the pavers and polluters (Kipp’s festering filth, anyone? The giant highways she supports now and supported all the way back to her days on the county board?), and that I didn’t want a clone of her in there, she fell silent. No one wants to say anything bad about St. Tammy. After all, Roys seems to be promoting the same old grey stuff Tammy so loves. From Roys’s website: “I support robust transportation investments to build our infrastructure in roads, rail, air, and waterways.” More expansion of the same crap that got us into this hot mess. (Then somewhere way on down there sits bicycling and walking; clearly afterthoughts.)

At the 350.org candidate forum, I felt that the best, most thoughtful candidate performance was by Matt Silverman. As a veteran–an officer who led troops in battle in Iraq–he was the only candidate there who explained–straight up–the ugly connection between our fossil fuel addiction and war. I applaud such honesty. Neither Roys nor Pocan could muster up that courage. I was just sorry to see him cling to the belief that there could be any compromise with Republicans. He made such compromise a highlight of his talk at the forum, and, from his website: “I know that the only way forward is meaningful compromise and cooperation between Democrats and Republicans.” Dude, those days died at the dawn of the Reagan era. I mean, Democrats are so afraid of their own shadows that they can’t even come up with a program within their own caucus–even when they have it all! (I’m talking about, for example, the healthcare debacle which resulted in the adoption of the righ-wing Heritage Foundation’s plan from the early 90s late 80s–and this came out of a congress with a strong Dem majority in both houses and a Dem-owned the presidency!)

Dems need to get their own house in order first.

Why do Democrats insist on being so absolutely gutless? They need to learn that Americans want their leaders to have guts; to be leaders. Pocan and Roys have not shown me that.

I need to see leadership dedicated to defunding the corporate enterprises that would grind us into dust.

Update 08/15/2012: Looks like he-who-sat-on-his-hands won. And decisively. I’m beginning to wonder whether this district, so full of high-IQ types as it is, is really so smart after all. Maybe it is just the reflexive gutlessness, not the brainpower….

 

Kipp Pollutes, DNR Stonewalls

Saturday, March 3rd, 2012

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) continues to do Madison Kipp Corporation’s bidding.

For decades WDNR has covered up the corporation’s willful & wanton toxic pollution in contravention of the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act. Now WDNR is covering up public comment.

A detailed list of links to public comment & background information on Kipp can be found here. Much of it will not be found on the DNR’s public comment site. (However, the best DNR-published comment is from the neighborhood association, Schenk-Atwood-Starkweather-Yahara (SASY) (pdf).)

Below is my letter to the DNR secretary regarding her latest stonewalling. The emails below also were cc’d to several elected officials at state & local levels as well as several relevant WDNR officials and SASY.

Please keep in mind, this is no accidental oversight; others involved in this process have admonished relevant DNR administrators—for months—for not having posted my comment.

-Mike

***

March 2, 2012

Dear Secretary Stepp,

Below you will find a copy of my emailed comment dated 10/21/2011 regarding Madison Kipp Corporation’s pollution.

I asked that you enter this comment into the record. To date, my comment has not been included in the record at: http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/Brownfields/kipp.html#tabx4

I have an acknowledgement of receipt of this communication from your office through other communication. Thus, I once again insist that my comment be included in all public record regarding Madison Kipp Corporation.

Sincerely,

Michael D. Barrett

***

October 21, 2011

Dear Ms. Stepp,

Please enter this communication into the record with respect to Madison Kipp “Scope of Work” (SOW) and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR).

At the recent neighborhood dog & pony show put on by WDNR, we witnessed professional malfeasance on an epic scale. In addition to doing everything possible to shut out the public from the process, WDNR employees promulgated lies, half-truths, dissembling and exhibited willful ignorance. To wit:

  • Your presenter, Michael Schmoller “felt” that there is no danger of Kipp pollution polluting our water supply because of a shale formation. Apparently Mr. Schmoller has not kept up with research of the last several years conducted by Professor Ken Bradbury. That research has found that the shale formation is completely permeable; so much so that viruses from surface waters have been detected in the deep aquifer from which we draw our drinking water. If viruses can move through from surface to our deep aquifer, so can toxins.
  • Your presenter claimed that he was not aware of contamination on Goodman Center land. I have seen a 2008 WDNR document, addressed to Goodman management which states unequivocally that contamination exists, and is from an “off-site source.”
  • The “Scope of Work” (SOW) is not designed to put the priority on assessing and mitigating the most likely routes of human exposures in the neighborhood–vapor intrusion into homes and other buildings. Appropriate mitigation depends on appropriate assessment of the plume and the vapor intrusion in the first place–if the vapor intrusion problems are not adequately and thoroughly assessed, the mitigation will not be adequate either.
  • Because the SOW does not fully map the plume (not even close), it is impossible to say how many homes/buildings might be affected by vapor intrusion, and in turn impossible to know which homes/buildings to monitor and then to mitigate if needed.
  • Ken Wade’s proposal is a good start, and should be followed, but doesn’t appear to fully map the plume either.
  • Testing a total of 14 homes is completely inadequate; it doesn’t begin to help risk assessors understand the potential scope of the vapor intrusion problems. Given the levels of contaminants that have been spreading in the shallow and deep groundwater for many years and probably decades and what is already known about their locations and levels in groundwater, the plume is likely under a much wider area than just these 14 homes.
  • The locations selected for monitoring do not make sense from a public health standpoint–e.g., they do not appear to be designed to put the priority on understanding and mitigating the most likely routes of significant and direct human exposure (vapor intrusion into buildings). For example, why are you only testing just at the edge of yards on the boundaries with Kipp? Why aren’t you going straight to monitoring closer to where people are living–e.g., testing subslabs and in-home vapors? That’s the monitoring that would be most relevant to people’s potentially most significant exposures.) Given the point below, you could test the edge of the yard and find no detect and there could still be significant vapor in the subslab and possibly the home.
  • Related to the above, single (one-time) tests of soil vapor (in locations that don’t make sense) to determine if vapor extraction or the installation of in-home vapor mitigation systems is completely inadequate on a number of levels. Single tests are not adequate to determine if there is a soil vapor problem. As noted in this paper– http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1745-6592.2009.01216.x/pdf–adequate sampling of vapor intrusion requires repeated tests over space and time because “measured concentrations of volatile organic compounds…can vary considerably from month to month and season to season. Sampling results from any one location at any given point in time cannot be expected to represent the range of conditions that may exist at neighboring locations or at other times. Recognition of this variability is important when designing sampling plans and risk management programs to address the vapor intrusion pathway.” Because soil gas samples can vary so much over space and time, a much larger number of sample locations over multiple times are needed to accurately characterize the contaminant distribution in soil gas.
  • The SOW completely ignores monitoring soils around and vapor intrusion under/in buildings very close to Kipp, and in particular the Goodman Center. Why? While Schmoller said he “felt” that Goodman wouldn’t have vapor intrusion problems, there is no data justifying his belief, and he never explained his reasoning. Regardless of his “feelings” on this, I think it’s a no-brainer that Goodman should be tested, just to make sure.*
  • The impacts, current & future, on Well 8 [Olbrich Sledding Hill] must be documented and modeled; this would include an increased withdrawal scenario. If Well 8 is filtered for Manganese and Iron, which is under consideration (pilot tests very soon if not already), this will also draw the Kipp contaminants into the well faster/sooner.
  • The neighborhood is already getting water from PCE/TCE contaminated wells–Well 11 and Well 15. The Schenk-Atwood area drinks water from a combination of Wells 8, 11, 15 (and 29?). Well 15 has the worst PCE contamination. Any additional PCE/TCE and related contaminants that end up from Well 8 will only add to existing levels from those wells.
  • This is an environmental justice issue: While most middle/upper middle class people can afford a filter, most low income people cannot. The poor should not be poisoned. Most especially, they should not be poisoned for being poor.
  • Put all relevant Kipp SOW/legal documents at Hawthorne Library and make them available for download. ALL documents–even the embarrassing/sensitive ones.
  • The vapor dispersal system you have proposed is so 1960s. Dilution-the-best-solution-to-pollution? Wrong. And it contravenes the agreement my government and I, as a citizen, came to through the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act.
  • The public engagement process so far has been highly inadequate on a number of levels. For starters, the neighborhood had less than a week to comment on this SOW; that is not even close to adequate. It is clear that WDNR sees public comment as completely token.
Ms. Stepp, clean up your mess.
Now.
Completely.
Dig up the source contaminant.
Remove it from the site.
All of it.
Dispose of it properly.
Make the perpetrator pay for all of it.*
Plus significant penalties.
Your agency has had decades to fix this problem. Do your job as you promised the US Environmental Protection Agency you would.
Sincerely,
Michael D. Barrett
*As good conservatives love to say, ‘you do the crime, you do the time.’

 

 

 

 

Epic Fit to Print

Sunday, January 15th, 2012

Epic gets big NYT feature today.

Epic Sprawl

It’s just too bad Epic’s brilliant CEO couldn’t have found a way to integrate the company into the urban fabric. The paving of farmland and it’s car-necessary location negates all the groovy-green stuff going into that  oh-so-pastoral office park. I know several long-time as well as newly-hired Epicureans, and to a person they agree the company shouldn’t have moved out there. The hard-working 20-something geniuses they hire don’t want to live in Verona; they want to live somewhere they can enjoy life after work. Thus all the additional driving. Oh, and yeah, I’m well aware of the bus service they run out there. Just try making that work with those 70 hour work weeks demanded by Epic.

They will soon regret having chosen such an energy-intensive location……

Epic Sprawl II

Enjoy the Drive

 

And the Paving Goes On….

Thursday, December 15th, 2011
Just sent this to the Long Range Transportation Planning Committee:
Dear Commissioners,
How can any of these highway expansion options be acceptable in light of the budget squeeze caused by all of the over-paving that has been approved by this commission?
The following article details the destruction your transportation planning has wrought upon our city’s finances:

TheDailyPage.com: “Madison is paving itself into oblivion,” by Michael Barrett 

http://www.thedailypage.com/daily/article.php?article=35022


Don’t you think you’ve done quite enough to wreck our city’s finances as well as its livability?

Cease all further paving expansion until:

a) the budget is back on track and,
b) City Engineering is put on a road diet that allows expansion only in line with population growth starting from a 1990 baseline *minus* 10 % (to be Kyoto Protocol-compliant). 
c) The entire city bureaucracy learns how to work together, synergistically, to promote a vibrant economy with a whole lot less driving and a whole heck of a lot less paving.

I have heard from several commissioners here and on other commissions that you have no choice but to expand paving because all of the developments surrounding these roads are built to car-oriented standards. 

Funny that. When I was on Urban Design Commission, we would routinely press the developers to rein in the car-orientation of the very developments surrounding the segments of CTH M in question. Their response? “While we support New Urbanist principles, we can’t apply them here because the city engineer has designed the roads so large as to make these principles unworkable. We have to design them for cars, not people.” The city’s planners would nod their heads and testify to reinforce car supremacy.

UDC would sometimes even go so far as to nix some of these developments, but in most cases they would make it through, since many commissioners had sympathy for the bind the developers claimed they were in (or Plan Commission would override us, in the case of the rejected plans.) (Disclosure: I was thrown off of UDC for refusing to approve such anti-human landscapes.)

So then I discover, from conversations with individual commissioners on LRTPC, Plan Commission, Board of Public Works and PBMVC that you believe that you aren’t responsible, because–get this–the development surrounding these roadways is so car-oriented!

The developers say the highwaymen made them do it, the highwaymen say the developers made them do it, and everyone blames the planners. The planners blame everyone else. If you corner any one of these parties in this blame-game, they’ll then deflect further and blame the individuals on their respective commissions. The commissioners blame their staff, or the alder. Or the mayor. The alder blames the commissions. The mayor blames the alder. 

And the devil made you all do it.

At some point, don’t you think you should brain up and take responsibility for your own conscience and just vote no?

After all, the nasty landscapes you are creating out there just keep sinking in value, thanks to their auto-centricity. No one wants to live in such ugly places. They suck. And they are not sustainable from any perspective–economic or ecologic. Meanwhile, places built with people in mind keep holding their value, and even increasing, through the worst economic downturn since the Depression. 

I see from the commission roster that many of you should know better. Are you asleep? Are you afraid? If so, it may be time to submit your resignation. These are times for bold leadership, not cowering before megalomaniacal engineers.

Your charge is to make this city better, not worse. But making it worse seems to be all that comes out of this committee and your home committees.

A 558% 11-year growth rate for paving is obscene. End it.

Sincerely,

Michael D. Barrett
2137 Sommers Avenue
Madison, WI 53704

Downtown Plan: Pave the Lakes! Drive a Stake through Miffland!

Friday, December 9th, 2011
I sent this jeremiad to all of the various commissions reviewing the Downtown Plan. Put on your seatbelts!
-Mike
***
Dear Commissioners,
It is my understanding that the Downtown Plan is scheduled for your consideration on XX/XX/20XX. I have read the Downtown Plan (Legislative File ID 24670) in great detail; below are my comments. Thank you for considering them.
Sincerely,
Michael D. Barrett
Madison, WI
Major Themes:Return our Lakes to Pristine. Please, no fill of any body of water, at all, anywhere. None. If planners feel the need to expand Law Park, that would be fine, as long as the expansion is away from the existing shore. De-paving half of John Nolen Drive for a wider strip of park would be most welcome. Traffic–current & projected–can be accommodated with a combination of efficient intersection engineering (roundabouts, etc.), reversible commuter lanes, aggressive Transportation Demand Management, as well as better use of more appropriate routes (e.g., Beltline).Our lakes should not be sacrificed at the altar of a pompous architect, no matter how heavily marketed the resurrected legacy.

Reduce motor vehicles in the downtown area. You cannot simultaneously call for more cars and greater sustainability. You get one or the other. Not both.

No accommodation of motorized transportation along lakeshore. Parks should be places of relaxation, not speed & fumes. The ski teams, for example, create a lot of havoc across the bike/ped path making life difficult for non-motorized transportation. That must end.

100% on-site stormwater management for all new buildings. That means green roofs, on-site water collection (rooftop rain barrels & water towers/reservoirs, raingardens, drainage swales, structured soils, etc.).

Zero net energy, LEED Platinum, EnergyStar buildings for all new buildings. The technology is there for hyper-efficient “passiv” buildings. Let’s do it.

Preserve our Architectural Heritage. No tear downs, no matter how old or what condition. It seems clear that one of the main goals of the plan is to drive a stake through the heart of Miffland and everything else that makes Madison cool. The planners & developers who cling to the idea of sanitized gentrification are the inheritors of the same ideology that destroyed the Greenbush Neighborhood. Enough with the 1950s Urban-Renewalism!

Furthermore, we can’t afford to waste the embedded energy in our classical structures. Re-invest in these old buildings for extreme energy efficiency. It can be done. It has been done. I’ve done it. And let’s learn to enjoy and cherish the human-scale of these classic old buildings and their environs.

Integrate art, architecture, landscape architecture, sustainability, commerce and basic urban infrastructure to create people-oriented places throughout downtown. This will mean demoting engineering from its current hegemonic status. It will also mean that art won’t just be an afterthought tacked on just because it was on a checkbox somewhere. We should instead elevate creative, artistic, ecologically-minded individuals who understand how to synergistically integrate nature, art, architecture, landscape architecture, commerce and infrastructure–et cetera–into a unique urban fabric, thus creating a place that makes a city a special place the people want to live in, all while using fewer resources.  The key word: Integrate.

Specifics:
p. 22. Economics: The Plan states: “The future of retailing in the Downtown needs to effectively mix the local businesses that make it unique with some of the national chains that can add stability to the retail base and provide an additional degree of familiarity that many shoppers like. ”

I disagree. No more chains. Shoppers who like national chains can get plenty of that back in Oshkosh or Fitchburg. Nobody comes to State Street to go to McDonalds. You see, they are all gone. How many corporate T-shirt shops have come & gone. Failed. Why? Because they couldn’t compete with our cool, local enterprises. Chains suck.

On p 24. Recommendation 12: How can parking be a “recognized constraint” when there is plenty of parking according to the city’s own data?

On p. 27, rec 20: I think I know what they mean, but the sentence is mangled.

Is this the page where green roofs should be discussed? If so, recommend all roofs in the entirety of downtown are GREEN–literally GREEN with vegetation.

Indeed, all buildings must be green, and certifiably so, with EnergyStar,  LEED Platinum, net zero energy.

On p. 28, 2nd sentence missing something at end.

p 31, rec 27.  Why more parking? Especially when there is already more than enough parking. And given trends (more below) that is likely to be the case for generations to come. Perhaps they mean more metering on-street, which could effectively create more parking? That would be good, because: Smart metering (yield management pricing, etc.) on all streets = good. For further information on how to better manage parking, in accordance with basic market principles, study The High Cost of Free Parking by Donald Shoup here (pdf):
http://www.uctc.net/papers/351.pdf

p. 32, Why the focus on drive time?  Does this mean that the greenbacks of downtown residents, bus riders, bicyclists, and pedestrians are worth less than those of suburbanites who drive? It may come as a big surprise to the Chamber of Commerce types, but a lot of us are living without the expense of a car so that we can enjoy life downtown. It is simply no longer the case that no car = poverty.

P. 33, Visitor & Tourist Destination.
Add: Hippies-as-economic-engine.
Specifically: Recommend enhancing, expanding and vigorously marketing the Madison Hostel to put it on the map of world travelers. When Europeans travel, they often follow the Hostelling International map. Here it is, Madison on the world map of hostels:
http://www.hihostels.com/dba/cmap-US.en.htm
We should take full economic advantage. Here’s why:
In the mind of a European, Australian or New Zealand tourist, the mere existence of a hostel in a city signifies that the city has something to offer of interest, no questions asked. Many Americans who traveled the world in their youth have picked up on the same idea.
Chicago’s hostel is one of the Hostelling International-USA’s premium, “gateway” hostels. Chicago, being one of the world’s great cities, is a mandatory stop for international travelers. One of the missions of gateway hostels is to introduce international travelers to regional hostels such as Madison’s. In the past, the Chicago Hostel has been open to displays from hostels throughout the midwest. This should be explored and paid for by the Madison Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Hostels aren’t just for stinky hippies anymore. Over the decades, a lot of those hippies took a shower, got a job, built up a retirement, and now travel the world–hostel to hostel. Why? Because they like to meet other people along the way. And no other lodging type better facilitates the instantaneous intercultural community that springs up every evening in the kitchen of a hostel.
To be sure, Chamber of Commerce-types in charge of this plan will look askance at the concept of budget travelers as an economic engine. I submit that they should expand their notion of tourism to include those who skimp on accommodations so that they can spend on, for instance, cultural experiences, nighttime entertainment and other experiential spending. Furthermore, if it weren’t for the hostel, they wouldn’t be here at all. Some spending is better than no spending, n’est-ce pas?

For more information about how hostelling is moving up in the world, check out this Wall Street Journal article, “In the U.S., Hostels With a Luxe Touch”:
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203710704577054220884980872.html
Hippies-as-economic-engine, what a concept! Featured in the Wall Street Journal!
[Disclosure: I was a founding member of the board of the non-profit Madison Hostel (served 2000-2006). I do not now, nor have I ever had, a personal financial interest in this or any other hostelling organization.]
[Update: A reliable source from 1960s Madison informs me that hippies are not now, nor have ever been, stinky. He reminds us, however, that we should “keep on truckin’”.]

Add: downtown historic preservation tour promotion, with special emphasis on the history of citizen action to fight back developer- and city engineering & planning departments’ depredations upon the historic built environment of our beloved city.

Add: downtown urban bike experience promotion. Highlight Madison as the Upper Midwest’s hub of human powered transportation and silent sports. Chamber of Commerce-types Nota Bene: Trek Corp–the second largest bicycle company in the world, based right here in South-Central WI–has already recognized this in their purchase of the Mansion Hill Inn as the center of their Trek Travel enterprise; witness also their significant investment in Madison B-Cycle. Trek has indicated that they want Madison to be the urban bicycling showcase of the world. Note that their model, showcase bike shop, which all of their retailers must visit for training, is right here in Madison. They have also indicated that they want Madison, the city, to be just such a showcase for all things bike on an urban level. If ever there were a corporate conspiracy for the good, this is it.

Bicycling is a billion & a half dollar industry in Wisconsin. Madison is home to the lion’s share of that industry. 20% of the nation’s bike industry is located within a half-day’s bike ride of the square. Not coincidentally, some of the very best bicycling–in the world–can be found in Madison’s rural hinterlands. It is no accident that cross-country tour planners usually choose routes through this region, and quite often, the city itself. Our region is the choice of Olympic road race planners! Let’s go with this major strength!

[Disclosure: I was on the board of the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin from 1995-2000 and was instrumental in bringing about the organization’s period of most rapid growth: from all-volunteer to a half-dozen professional staffers; from a budget near zero to a quarter of a million dollars. I am currently no longer affiliated with the organization in any way.]

p. 34, “…improved transportation and destination accessibility” invariably means bigger roads and more parking, both of which militate against the stated ideas (in the same sentence) of, “environmental stewardship… increased lake and lakefront activity, increased emphasis on outdoor recreation, strong cultural tourism, creation of distinctive visitor districts…” You get one or the other: environmental sustainability or more cars. Not both.

Note also that, according to your own stats, the UW Memorial Union has the highest draw of any other attraction in Madison, and yet–and yet–it has virtually no parking available. What little parking exists nearby is minimal in relation to the scale of its attendance. Little parking, high attractiveness…coincidence? Me thinks not.

p. 39, rec 42. Look to Ann Arbor’s Main Street for better building<–>street interactivity. Too many of our downtown streets choke pedestrian traffic while over-providing for the automobile. That needs to be reversed. Examples of measures include lots of bulb-outs at crosswalks, an enhanced outdoor cafe experience (expanded & enhanced mid-block curb terrace areas), as well as for more street-side greenspace. This necessarily means roads that constrict car speeds. High speed car access is anathema to a lively urban street scene.

Add: On the necessity of awnings. Look at old photos of Madison. Plenty of examples can be found in the the lower level corridor of the Madison Municipal Building; also here,
http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/whi/fullimage.asp?id=30695 (Fairchild Block)
and here,
http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/whi/fullimage.asp?id=23469 (Capitol Square)
Note the extensive use of large, massively overhanging awnings (I’m not talking about those stunted little decorative appendages in current use). Quality awnings improve urban life and commerce in several ways. Awnings:

  • Provide shade for the pedestrians in summer (commerce & green transportation promotion)
  • Prevent overheating of interior spaces in summer (sustainability)
  • Provide tasteful advertising (commerce)
  • Shelter pedestrians during rain & snow (sustainability & commerce)
  • Provide an overall feeling of pedestrian comfort & accommodation, encouraging, for instance more window shopping, and, eventually, actual expenditures (commerce)
  • Better building-street connectivity (placemaking, historic preservation)
  • Being retractable (see first photo for examples of both retracted & unretracted), are able to allow solar heat gain during winter months; something fancy window glazing can’t accomplish (sustainability)
  • Provide some measure of protection for expensive plate glass windows against thrown objects (safety).

Awnings are a key component of the lost art of urban placemaking. We need to bring them back.

Add: Look to State Street’s late-19th & early-20th century storefronts to understand principles of building-sidewalk interplay. A major principle is that of the prototypical sidewalk-entry neutral zone; a.k.a., the window-shopping friendly entryway. The trapezoidal entryway is essentially a large indention into the building that doesn’t breach the actual building envelope. It acts as a transitional extension of the sidewalk into the adjacent storefront/building. The key function: to allow a pedestrian to shop, lingeringly, from outside, while not blocking the flow of pedestrian traffic on the sidewalk. This is important, since entering a store creates a sort of commitment. The sort of commitment that, in the mind of a good Midwesterner (i.e., constantly feeling obligated to everyone they come across, to a guilt-ridden fault), means purchase is mandatory. Thus, many a  passersby won’t stop to window shop when presented with a sheer, flat, storefront without a neutral zone. The best example of such terrible urban design is the entire frontage of the Overture Center. One doesn’t even notice the museum gift shop while walking by its sheer glass frontage. Nothing draws one in. Nor is there an out-of-traffic spot to stop & shop the wares from outside. The merchants of yore understood the conundrum of how best to get people to slow down & stop at their store even as things bustled around them. They thus built their shops to allow the neutral, no-obligation zone, typically the entryway. Unfortunately, this was not something taught in planner school or developer school of the mid-late 20th century. In fact, I can imagine the perplexed look on the face of any professional planner or developer who reads this now.

p. 45, Urban Forest: All new street reconstruct projects must use maximum on-site stormwater management that maximizes street tree health. Structured soils across & underneath large areas under sidewalk & streets, designed to collect and infiltrate stormwater for street tree health, must be standard. [See Madison resident expert, Anne Walker, for further technical details.] The perpetual sickly stick tree practices of Madison’s forestry department should end. We must establish practices which bring about healthy, large and robust street trees. It is about creating an inviting pedestrian environment (the importance of street trees is very much emphasized in Madison’s adopted Pedestrian Plan) as well as reducing the urban heat island effect, and reducing emissions due to over-use of air conditioning. It is also about better management of stormwater for aquifer and lake health. Your plan makes claims to sustainability; these measures make it real.

State Street needs pedestrian-scale signage to expand the “State Street Experience” to off-State; e.g., down Gilman, up Henry, etc. This can be achieved with proper signage & wayfinding. The signs should be tasteful, yes, artful. For examples of successful ped-scaled signs, see State Street Brats’s signs (in their beer garden) directing tourists to the Kohl Center. They get it. The city, meanwhile….Well, it is just silly to not take advantage of the walkability of the rest of downtown.

[Update: I just noticed that Brats’s wayfinding signage is gone…Let me guess: It offended the city’s sign ordinance…. Alas.]

p. 51, Mifflin: I am against all tear downs. There is a lot of embedded energy in these classic old houses & buildings. Furthermore, the art of the human-scaled neighborhood has been lost in modern architecture, landscape architecture, planning and commercial development practice. Much as the knowledge of concrete disappeared during the Dark Ages, people have been engineered out of the development/urban planning practices of our age. Thus, anything that replaces our old structures will be a downgrade from the perspective of the the human experience (i.e., those moving about at a walking pace). The City of Madison’s Traffic Engineers and Fire Dept. will see to that. They will always demand maximal access standards for cars and gigantic firetrucks which inevitably militates against pedestrians.
Most importantly, we enjoy the connection with our past.

Boost building code enforcement to end the deterioration of Mifflin’s classic houses. Use micro-TIF and other means to promote rehab of existing buildings. Do the same throughout the downtown area.

I am against the “urban lane” thing; it is just a fancy term for ugly parking garage entrance. I guarantee that the traffic engineer will allow no “lane”-scaled anything. It will be required to be to full, fire-engine accessible widths (i.e., very wide) and huge turning radii to accommodate speed. This means, pedestrian unfriendly. Please, if people want to live downtown, they live with fewer/no cars, or, the hassle of owning one in a downtown area. That is to say, welcome to the big city. And finally, backyards should be returned to green.

General Comment:
The term “infill” has gotten severely bastardized. Its original meaning was exactly that: take an empty space and put something in it. Now, they’ve expanded it to mean tear down something cool (i.e., something old), and replace it with something new, ugly, car-friendly and obscenely tall. In typical fashion, our planners and local developers have usurped the goodwill the word used to have. I am against all “infill” that involves tearing down old buildings, no matter what shape they are in. As someone who has invested a lot of his family’s financial resources into three 100-year old buildings very close to downtown, I believe that we’ve got to stop subsidizing the scumlords who are essentially strip mining their buildings by not keeping them up. Along those lines….

p. 59, recs 86-89 are awful. It is all about tearing down entire neighborhoods and plunking down Fitchburg. Hideous. If they want Fitchburg, let them move to Fitchburg. Cool places like our downtown just aren’t made anymore. Let’s not let them take this one vestige of a human- & humane-scaled place away from us.

p. 71. Why is this being presented from the perspective of the well-wheeled suburbanite? Why not highlight the fact that, of residents who live in the downtown area from Blair Street to Highland Avenue, over 65% get to work by means other than driving alone?

p. 72, “An efficient network of arterial, collector and local streets”? Sounds like fast streets, something that militates against walking, biking, and most especially, old people and children; the very people the plan claimed it wanted to promote in the last chapter. Worst of all, it militates against our ENVIRONMENT; sustainability. Again, you get more cars or you get sustainability. Not both.

In fact, this plan does nothing to rein in the vast and excessive expanses of paving at key intersections and gateways to downtown. An example among many: The John Nolen/Blair/E. Wilson/Williamson St. intersection is way over-built for current and projected traffic. It is extremely–and unnecessarily–dangerous for pedestrians & bicycles. Same for the major intersections the entire length of Broom from John Nolen to W. Gorham. Flying right/left turn lanes are always inappropriate in an urban environment. These and other giant intersections militate against the plan’s pretensions to be elderly & child friendly, much less bike & ped friendly. And by promoting cars, it damages our air, promotes more water-destructive paving.

and,

“On street, structured, and underground parking facilities to meet anticipated needs….”

…More? Really? Why not promote downtown as the preferred place to live the car-free life? It is a strength now, and increasingly will be as fuel costs skyrocket (at least in relation to incomes). Don’t undermine that strength with more, wasteful car facilities. Parking is already overprovided. Much of it has already become “stranded capital,” so why not end the misallocation of public investment and instead invest in the future: pedestrians/transit/bicycles? How about investing in Beautiful Places?! Artful landscapes, plazas, expanded al fresco dining, rooftop nightlife?! Places for people!?

Update, 12/21/2011: Madison Trust for Historic Preservation has done a marvelous job of illustrating and explaining how to develop in harmony with our historic built environment, maintaining people-friendliness and bustling commerce. It is difficult, I might add, to ‘bustle’ in a speeding car. At least I’ve never seen it happen.

p. 74, Transit,
“Park and ride lots strategically located throughout the region”: P& R lots are an extreme waste of money; failed planning relics of the 1970s energy crisis–palliatives for sprawl–that just won’t leave the minds of planners. The money would be much better used to boost actual transit service. The assumption behind P&R is that everyone owns a car (or at least of the class sought by the creators of this document). That simply is not true any longer. The trends of car ownership are very much against the 1950s ideology that invented P&Rs. More here at AdAge Digital: “Is Digital Revolution Driving Decline in U.S. Car Culture?”
http://adage.com/article/digital/digital-revolution-driving-decline-u-s-car-culture/144155/

Time to catch up with the times…..!

p. 75, Bus Transit: As a growing city, and as a major medical center, Madison is increasingly a 24 hour city. As such, we need 24 hour bus service. A Skeletal system would be appropriate for late night hours, but at least that needs to get going.

78-79 Complete Streets: 2-way streets are the only kind of streets that are compatible with a truly urban environment.

p. 80 Parking:
“There is, however, at least the perception that there
continues to be a lack of sufficient parking for short term users and
commuters in certain areas. ”

…Why do the planners feel the need to repeat this old canard? Aside from Gov’t East, there is no ramp that fills up during regular business hours. None. If you want to fix the “perception” why not just use the technology currently available to you and actually post a real time number, visible to the street, available on the ‘net, showing the number of spaces available in each lot? Enough with the voodoo parking analysis.

[Update: It has come to my attention from a former Transit & Parking Commissioner that the Gov’t East Ramp has not exceeded 90% capacity in over five years. So the “perception” is wrong on all counts.]

p. 83 rec 142 B-Cycle: This is not the only bicycle sharing/rental arrangement available downtown. I don’t think it is appropriate to promote one private company over another in a public plan. It would be more appropriate to keep it generic and say “promote and expand bike sharing, bike lending and bike rental programs in the downtown area.” Budget Bicycles, Yellow Jersey and Machinery Row all rent bikes; Budget has a bike lending program. Point being, Trek Bicycles’ B-Cycle should not be given preferential positioning in this public document. Indeed, it appears to be the only private enterprise given mention in this document.

p. 85-6 Langdon Mid-block Path. Why are there cars illustrated on the rendering of this “path?” Giving it this name, but putting cars on it, is a bait-and-switch. Why not just call it what it is, a parking expansion zone? I mean, really, do you think the testosterone buzzed frat boys will be able to resist running all those strollers off the road? Really? Please….! I oppose any new motor vehicle routes in this area.

p. 89 TDM: “subsidies for transit riders,” should include subsidies for biking, walking as well. There is so much more that could be done to monetize & incentivize getting downtown by other than a car, alone. Better yet, remove all subsidies to driving. Again, see Shoup.

Summary
The plan has a very long way to go. It contradicts itself throughout, especially in its insistence on more cars and more speed for cars while pretending to promote sustainability. There is little to nothing promoting truly sustainable buildings (net-zero energy, Platinum LEED), preserving historic buildings through energy efficiency retrofits, or 100% on-site stormwater management. The commerce promoted here reeks of mall planning ca. 1965. The two overriding goals seem to be, fill the lake and kill Miffland. In sum, it is vision-less planning rooted in the urban-renewalist dogma of a half century ago.

I oppose the Downtown Plan as currently written. Please do not approve the Downtown Plan.