Apr 25, 201602:07 PMBlaska's Bring It!
with David Blaska
Blue skies and a smaller Lake Mendota, circa 1830
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In honor of Earth Day last Friday we bring you the cutting — nay, bleeding edge of Madison environmentalism.
An environmental group called CRANES would take Dane County back to the future — the future being the 1830s when a few French-Canadian trappers were the only Europeans in town. As part of its vision, the Capital Region Advocacy Network for Environmental Sustainability (CRANES) would lower Lake Mendota by five feet over the next 20 years to return the lake to its supposed pre-settlement state in the 1830s. That would reduce the large lake’s footprint by as much as two square miles.
The organization also advocates environmental standards for development be “benchmarked” not to farmland but to the natural state “as found in the mid-1830s at the time of the Original Survey” taken after the Blackhawk War freed up Dane County for development. All development in “closed basins” — watersheds with no river outlet — would be ended.
“These actions should be undertaken immediately,” wrote Gary Werner, president of CRANES in his April 11 letter as addressed to the Capital Area Regional Planning Commission (CARPC) and the Dane County Lakes & Watershed Commission.
At the encouragement of CRANES, the Dane County Board ponied up $35,000 for an Air Pollution Inventory and Strategic Plan in the 2014 budget. It has been referred to as the “Blue Skies Initiative” and “Healthy Skies.”
“I guarantee there will be money in the 2017 county budget covering some of the items CRANES wants,” County Board Supv. Ronn Ferrell told this blog. Ferrell is one of a single handful of conservatives remaining on the county board. “The challenge is finding it since they don’t call it what it is and hide it in various lines in the budget.”
Doing so would expose between 600 and 1,200 acres of present lake bottom. (For reference, Tenney Park is 37 acres; Warner Park is 213.) Lake Mendota currently covers 9,842 acres and reaches a maximum depth of 82 feet. The lake would recede 50 feet along 30% of the shoreline, CRANES estimates.
Eventually, the Tenney Park locks would be removed. Mendota has been dammed there since the 1840s when a grist mill was erected. Benefits, the environmental group claimed, would include more wetlands and wetland wildlife, less pollution, and better flood control. CRANES predicted the lake draw-down would expose “Caribbean quality white sand beaches at Tenney Park.”
CRANES acknowledged that many lakefront homes would no longer front water and that “public ownership of the newly exposed shore land would have to be secured.” Large boats would have limited sailing. Harbors or marinas oriented to large boat owners may need to transition to a new customer base, CRANES acknowledges.
County Board Supv. Ferrell was critical. “The fact that the Tenney Park locks prevent flooding downstream on the Yahara River by using Lake Mendota as a massive holding area for storm water runoff is obviously unimportant to CRANES and their supporters,” he told this blog.
CRANES is well connected
Ferrell also countered that CRANES’ land use goal would “end development in most areas in Dane County not already developed.” Ferrell said the regional planning commission is being asked “to apply natural conditions as found in the mid-1830s at the time of the Original Survey. That means no buildings, roads, or anything.”
CRANES wants future development in the Lake Mendota watershed to “recreate natural hydrological conditions, while also retrofitting existing development insofar as possible toward this standard, to ensure that Lake Mendota is not utilized as a detention facility for unnatural stormwater runoff.”
The Capital Region Advocacy Network for Environmental Sustainability is well connected and staffed. Officers are Gary Werner, president; Progressive Dane activist Phyllis Hasbrouck, who is vice president; former Sierra Club exec Caryl Terrell, secretary; Jon Becker (not the former County Board chairman), treasurer; County Board Supv. John Hendrick; Wildlife Federation director Don Hammes; UW soil sciences professor Harry Read; League of Women Voters activist Connie Threinen; bike advocate and former Madison alderman Robbie Webber. Founders include former Monona Ald. Peter McKeever, a lawyer with Ed Garvey’s firm and former VP of the Nature Conservancy; and Libby Lewis, for 26 years a Dane County Parks Commissioner.
“Many members of CRANES have been appointed and re-appointed to many committees and commissions by [County Executive Joe] Parisi, so he must agree with them,” Ferrell speculated. Parisi appointed Caryl Terrell, for instance, to the regional planning commission.