Waterways - under attack

Waterways under attack


By Curt Andersen

Our Republican Assembly is once again attempting to screw with the status of thousands of miles of some of the best trout streams in Wisconsin. Assembly Bill 506 attempts to change the definition of what constitutes a navigable stream. If passed into law, this would remove state regulatory protection from waterways that bring millions of tourism dollars into the state.

The streams in question include the Wolf River north of County A in Langlade County (coincidentally the site of the proposed Crandon Mine; considerable parts and the tributaries of the Pike, Popple and Pine rivers - all State Wild Rivers ... coincidentally near the proposed Front 40 mining project near Menominee, Mich.); as much as 90 percent of the streams in Door County; the headwaters of all of Wisconsin's trout streams; and large portions of every river or stream in Wisconsin.

The bill is sponsored by local Reps. John Ainsworth, R-Shawano; Judy Krawcyzk, R-Green Bay; Gary Bies, R-Sister Bay; Frank Lasee, R-Bellevue; Terri McCormick, R-Appleton; Lorraine Seratti, R-Spread Eagle; and co-sponsored by state Sen. Alan Lasee, R-Rockland. It's the usual suspects again.

Republicans in our Legislature attempted this same sort of monkey business a few years ago during their move to change the status of the Wolf River.

The idea was to change the designation of the Wolf River from Outstanding Resource Waters to some lower designation, thereby allowing a mining company to dump pollution into the Wolf River without pesky permits or expensive water treatment.

Dumping their acidic pollution into the Wolf would ruin the multitude of tourism-based businesses along the river and would destroy the property value of all the land on that river. It would also destroy the sturgeon and walleye fisheries in the area, the source of much of that tourism income.

The Public Trust Doctrine evolved from the time of the Romans under Emperor Justinian, who in 528 AD condensed earlier decrees of other Emperors into a code of law by saying, "By the law of nature these things are common to all mankind; the air, running water, the sea, and consequently the shores of the sea." Similar concepts were part of the Magna Carta, signed in 1225 AD. Before that time, all lands were the sovereign property of the crown. The Magna Carta allowed the king to own public lands, but hold them in trust for the use of the public.

In America, this concept was included in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which declared, "The navigable waters leading into the Mississippi and St. Lawrence ... shall be common highways and forever free...." It was further enhanced by 155 years of Wisconsin legislation and court decisions that protect state waters and state lands so all citizens can use them.

This transparent attack by the Republican-dominated Assembly, a wholly owned subsidiary of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, real estate developers and the mining industry, shows the unmitigated gall of elected officials who would subvert the intent of all those people who thoughtfully put land and water aside for the future use of hunters, fishermen, campers, hikers, bird watchers and so forth. Without this protection, these people would have to hunt or hike their own land. This is the essence of the Public Trust Doctrine.

The public cannot trust this Republican legislature.

Andersen is a lifelong resident of the Green Bay area and a Navy veteran. He owns a small business and is an adjunct instructor at NWTC. He is vice president of the Clean Water Action Council. His column runs Wednesdays. Contact him via e-mail at curtandersen@milwpc.com

From Clean Water Action Council of Northeast Wisconsin
For immediate release: Oct. 1, 2003


Green Bay, WI --- The Clean Water Action Council expressed both relief and concerns over today's announcement of an interim $50 million settlement with P.H. Glatfelter's Company and Wisconsin Tissue Mills to pay for PCB-contaminated sediment cleanup in Little Lake Butte des Mort, at the head of the Lower Fox River in Northeast Wisconsin.

"We're grateful funds are being provided without a legal battle, and that the Lake cleanup may be more rapid than previously thought," stated Rebecca Katers, Executive Director of Clean Water Action Council. The project on Little Lake Butte des Morts may require only 2-3 years now, rather than the 7 years originally projected.

"On the other hand, we're very concerned that the cleanup standard is too weak and will not provide even minimal public health and wildlife protection downstream," added Katers.

The Lake project would require the companies to dredge down only to a 1 ppm PCB cleanup target, when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources both acknowledged that 0.25 ppm PCB target is the "most cost-effective PCB action level that meets protective thresholds." Local fish will still be unsafe to eat, even after the "cleanup." If they would dig just a little deeper and wider in each hotspot, the fish consumption warnings could be lifted decades earlier. Removal of more PCBs would also prevent PCBs from escaping downstream in the future to continually contaminate the lower river and Green Bay.

The agencies are misleading the public, claiming their project will achieve a 0.25 ppm AVERAGE concentration of PCBs on the surface of the sediment. This means hotspots of 10 ppm or more could be left behind, as long as statistical averages over the entire lake can be achieved. And that 10 ppm could extend several feet deep (including hundreds of pounds of PCBs) without affecting their AVERAGE surface concentration.

"This is the wrong way to measure the river cleanup's effectiveness. The cleanup should eliminate the MASS of PCBs, not focus on a temporary surface concentration. That surface could erode downstream tomorrow. What matters is the total amount of PCBs remaining in sediment pockets which will continue to erode downstream for years into the future. The cleanup should remove each entire PCB pocket (even 10 feet deep), to eliminate potential for future erosion and recontamination downstream. This means dredging down to remove all sediments with concentrations higher than 0.25, not just achieving a 0.25 ppm "average.")

"Keep in mind that our recommended 0.25 ppm PCB cleanup target is already a compromise that does not achieve full public health protection - but at least it would allow fish consumption advisories to be lifted, at a minimum," added Katers. Another serious concern is the governments' approval to cap PCB contaminated sediments in place with sand and gravel, if it is deemed less expensive during the design phase.

"A cap would be just a temporary fix, leaving the PCBs for our grandchildren to clean up in the future. This is would set a terrible precedent," concluded Katers. "Wisconsin rivers should not be used as permanent toxic dumps by private corporations."

For more information, please visit Clean Water Action Council's website onthe PCB problem, at http://www.FoxRiverWatch.com or call Rebecca Katers, 920-437-7304 (work) or 920-468-4243 (home)

Return to Midwest Treaty Contents Page