Monday, May 18, 2009

Don't Let The Butterflies Flutter By

I've written several times about the proposed plan to sell the last of the natural area of the county grounds to a private developer that is supposedly associated with UW-Milwaukee (but really isn't) in order for them to allegedly build a school of engineering campus, but for some reason also needs a hotel and a restaurant.

Oh, I know Scott Walker has been pushing hard for this to happen. But Scott Walker also had promised not to allow this land to be developed for anything but a state forest. Unfortunately, we already know all too well that Walker's word is good for nothing.

I also know that County Board Supervisor Luigi Schmitt is for this plan, as are the folks at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. But thanks to a reader of Cog Dis, this story was brought to my attention. The story is of the Butterfly Lady, Barb Agnew, who was already fighting to preserve the Monarch Trail for a long time. But here is what I found interesting (emphasis mine):

Agnew's is a renegade venture. She's a squatter, really, with no formal approvals from the county. She's garnered support from a few key officials, including Parks Director Sue Black and county Supervisor Jim "Luigi" Schmitt. Even the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District and the state Department of Transportation have drafted plans that skirt key features of the trail, at least for now.

But early drawings for the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's Engineering School show buildings, walkways and manicured grass in its place.

Apparently fickleness is contagious. Also interesting is the last part of the article:

One area that could end up being contested is a small section of the development zone where an Eagle Scout planted the endangered milkweed, plants Price grew from seeds.

Price and Agnew deny encroaching intentionally on the development zone in an effort to create something too controversial to destroy.

Still, he said, "It would take a certain amount of hubris for anybody to bulldoze an endangered species planted by an Eagle Scout."

Whatever the outcome, it will likely be a postscript in the coming documentary "The Butterfly Trees," by filmmaker Kay Milam, who shot footage last year of Agnew plucking a caterpillar from a milkweed plant with a "gargantuan bulldozer in the background."

The only other people really in support of destroying the natural wonder are the people that stand to gain the most wealth from it and Patrick McIlheran, the MJS' lead cheerleader for all thing avaricious. In fact, last week, PaddyMac wrote not just one, but two, snarky pieces on his company-sponsored blog.

In the first posting, he apparently thought that he was making a rational argument by saying that it's hard to ride the bus to the east side, where the main campus is. He adds to inanity by saying that most people drive anyway.

Heh. Most students I know commute by mass transit. Not many can afford a car, the gas, the ever-increasing insurance, and to pay for the scarce parking. Secondly, if commuting around the east side by bus is too hard, what in the world makes him think that schlepping across the county and back is any better? If transportation was really an issue, it would make much more sense to put it on campus, adjoining the campus (like the soon to be closed Columbia Hospital) or near the campus (like the Park East Corridor).

Paddy's second post is just as lame, if not more so. His argument is that there is already enough park space in the surrounding area, and that the butterflies should just pick up their tree and their milkweed and they move to the Park East corridor. I do believe the gentle reader is cognizant enough to see how foolish that line of thinking is.

My friend James Rowen feels that this might be a done deal, having been settled in a smoky backroom a long time ago. Likewise, David Reid feels that it is over because the County Board sees only the dollar signs from the sale and will sell out the butterflies to try to ease the Walker-induced alleged deficit.

Unfortunately, both of these learned scholars are at least partially correct. Walker's modus operandi is to set up back room deals and try to ram them through the board. And after seven long, grueling years of having to fight Walker's myopic approach to leadership, they are becoming increasing wear of making the hard decisions, of being set up as Walker's patsies, and getting blamed for all of Walker's mistakes.

But that doesn't mean it wouldn't still be wrong to do this. Just like with the proposal to move the mental health hospital, to privatize the airport, or not to staff the income maintenance program the way he should, this plan of Walker's has the stench of economic and environmental disaster all over it.

But don't just take my word for it. A good rule of thumb is to look to the people that would have to actually deal with the ramifications and get their input. That would mean the faculty of UW-Milwaukee, who are definitely not in favor of the move to Tosa:

The survey polled 298 members of UWM’s staff, 16 of whom work in the College of Engineering and Applied Science. The majority of the responses were neutral category, but faculty responded most negatively to questions regarding the proposed campus in Wauwatosa.

More than 28 percent said the Wauwatosa campus would negatively affect research, 43 percent said commuting to the remote campus would be difficult, and 39 percent said education for graduate students would be hurt if the engineering college is split between two campuses.

Not only are the faculty against it, but the whole plan could fall through:

William Holahan, chairman of the UW-Milwaukee Economics Department and professor of economics said UW-Milwaukee’s long-range plans show plenty of opportunity to expand the university’s current campus. He said the university should not move ahead with buying the Milwaukee County Grounds land until more research is done.

“The planning process goes on for another year,” he said, “and it’s amazing we would be making commitments when it might not survive that year of planning.”

I wonder if the County Board has even heard of this yet. I do know that some County Board Supervisors have expressed concern that this could be some sort of bait and switch scheme for the developers to build the hotel and restaurant, and then sell the land for a huge profit. This could be seen as confirmation of that suspicion.

Knowing how the County Board works, I don't expect them to just make it easy on all of us and just vote the thing down overwhelmingly. But I do sincerely hope that they will at least agree to table it for another month at least. They should take the time to fully investigate the proposal. I think that they would find some very alarming things and that they would be glad that they didn't just rubber stamp it.

Help Barb, Izzy, me and the others get this point across by contacting your County Supervisor. Or better yet, contact them all. You can find their contact information by following this link.

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