Preserve Our Parks December 2012 Newsletter


As 2012 draws to an end, we’re reviewing our efforts over the year and looking forward to the challenges ahead. Our biggest concern now is protecting the public’s interest in the disposition of the Transit Center site at the lakefront. We have invested considerable time and money researching the history of the site, and more work is needed before the issue of whether the site can be built upon is resolved. Your financial support, in any amount, is vital and very much appreciated. Best holiday wishes!

John Lunz
President, Preserve Our Parks

Preserve public land on the lakefront
The Public Trust Doctrine may be Milwaukee’s best-kept secret, but it has been a major influence in our city’s history. Derived from the Articles of the Northwest Territory (1787) and from the Wisconsin Constitution, the Doctrine requires that filled land along Wisconsin waterways must be used only for public recreation or “in aid of navigation.”

The Doctrine’s premise is that because our waterways are public, any filled shore is public also. Milwaukee’s remarkable, mostly open lakefront is filled land, and we enjoy it today because the Trust Doctrine has protected it.

Milwaukee County is proposing construction of a 44-story hotel-retail-apartment complex on the site of the lakefront Transit Center. Working with a surveyor and old maps and records, POP has determined that much of the Transit Center site is filled land, which means it is held in public trust and not open to private development.

The Chicago & Northwestern Railroad was the first to fill land near the Transit Center site. In the 1870s C&NW was allowed to put its tracks out over open water. A protective breakwater was built east of the tracks and, later, fill was added on both sides of the tracks. Puzzlingly, a recent DNR opinion states that the line of the railroad’s breakwater is the original shoreline. We are mystified by this opinion.

Does it matter if a small piece of public trust land at the Transit Center is given up for development? It matters. The lakefront is hard-fought ground. It is dotted all over with places where private projects were planned but were defeated by Trust Doctrine restrictions. Can a way be found to build the new highrise while honoring the Public Trust Doctrine and sparing the public land?

Where should the power lines go?
Wauwatosa’s year-and-a-half struggle over the placement of its new power lines is moving toward resolution. When it was announced in 2011 that a wide grid of high voltage lines would be brought through western Wauwatosa to a planned new power substation on the County Grounds, residents, dismayed, learned that the power lines – mostly overhead lines – would come through long-established, densely populate neighborhoods. They mobilized and formed a coalition of private groups and public officials and began petitioning for underground lines installed along the most inconspicuous routes possible. They have been petitioning ever since.

POP ‘s role in this has been to advocate for preservation of Underwood Creek Parkway, a Wauwatosa scenic treasure proposed as a power line route. We are on record with the Public Service Commission (PSC) opposing use of the parkway and endorsing alternative routes. At a final public hearing on November 27th, our representatives re-stated our case. The PSC will make its decision in early 2013.

The proponent of overhead lines in Wauwatosa is the installer of the lines, the American Transmission Company and not We Energies, as we mistakenly stated in our last issue.

Other News

  • Former Parks Director Sue Black visited the POP board meeting in October, where we gave her an award for service during her nine years in office. Her achievements included the reopening of Hoyt Park pool, restoration of the Washington Park bandshell, dog parks, trail improvements, the new aquatic center in Lincoln Park. We sometimes skirmished with Ms. Black over park issues, but we appreciate her friendship and her good stewardship of the parks.
  • Three members of POP’s board led a fundraising campaign this fall to give Kilbourntown House in Estabrook Park a new roof before winter. This small, white-pillared, Greek-Revival house -- oldest house in Milwaukee and a national landmark – was built in 1844 by Benjamin Church, a Milwaukee settler from New Paltz, New York. It stood on 4th and Cherry until 1938, when it was rescued from demolition and installed in the park as a museum. Stop to see the house, and note its snug new roof! For more information, call the County Historical Society at 273-8288.
  • The 3-part Johnsons Park Initiative is gaining momentum. The Alice’s Garden re-do is complete. Brown Street schoolyard has become a gentle, natural space rather than an asphalt slab. The park itself will get its due when lights, paths and a small pavilion are installed. Leading the project are the Center for Resilient Cities, the Local Initiative Support Corporation (LISC), and a Rotary fundraising group.
  • POP has joined the City Parks Alliance, a national organization of park administrators and advocates working to promote more and better green spaces in American cities. CPA’s vision is that all city dwellers will be able to walk to a clean, safe, inviting park.
Preserve Our Parks, a nonprofit watchdog group, battles to keep Milwaukee area parks open and green, resists incursions for non-park uses, and fights for funds to properly maintain one of the County’s greatest treasures, its parks system.