Engineering's plans for greenway approved by Common Council

At the May 4 meeting of the Common Council, the Engineering Department's plans for the Hillcrest-Upland Greenway were approved.  No alders raised questions about the resolution (#18093).  A motion was made by Ald. Clear, seconded by Ald. Cnare, to Adopt.  The motion passed by voice vote, unanimously.  The Greenway lies within the district of Alder Chris Schmidt, who was in attendance.

On May 4 the Common Council approved the greenway plans.

One resident registered to speak in opposition--this writer.  Here's a summary of my comments:
  • I'm opposed to this project because the current process for designing and approving stormwater projects seems to be broken.  This project is not urgent, and should be postponed until a better process can be put in place.
  • The current process does not take into account the watershed upstream.  The erosion in the greenway that must be repaired was caused by excessive runoff upstream, yet no effort has been made by City Engineering to address those runoff problems. 
  • Instead, City Engineering seems overly focused on building bigger and better ways to speed polluted runoff to the lakes.
  • This project became more controversial than anyone expected, because the greenway was neglected for many decades. During that time, it became a treasured natural "oasis" for local residents. 
  • So the greenway shows that this and other stormwater channels have tremendous potential for the city as green space.  As the city grows and becomes more dense (as is the policy), such green space could contribute enormously to our quality of life.  Yet the current stormwater planning process seems blind to this potential.  Unless the process is improved,  future greenspace will continue to be buried under tons of sterile riprap.
A broken process for stormwater planning

All of us--including residents, alder Chris Schmidt, and engineer Lisa Coleman--wasted enormous amounts of time, because of the controversy generated by a broken process.

Alder Chris Schmidt made an important contribution by mediating between concerned residents and the city's Engineering Department.  He spent untold hours patiently responding to emails, explaining technical matters, and attending meetings with residents.  He helped to secure some important compromises, such as leaving the stream open, rather than burying it in a pipe.  When I say the process is broken, I'm not referring to his part in the proces.  Indeed, we're very grateful for his contributions.

Rather, the problem seems to lie within City Engineering and the Board of Public Works.  City Engineering does not have a mandate or a willingness to address wider watershed issues, nor do they have the expertise to handle greenspace issues, such as landscaping or plantings. 

The Board of Public Works likewise has an overly narrow focus, and seems enormously overworked.   The meeting I attended went on for 5 hours, with 53 projects on the agenda.  With this burden, there's no way they can adequately address watershed or green space issues that arise during stormwater projects.  Unless the process is fixed, more and more controversy is going to clog up city government.

Remaining steps in the process
  • Project has to be put out for bids, and a contractor accepted.
  • Permits to be applied for: a Chapter 30 permit from the WDNR, a WRAPP from WDNR, a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers, and an Erosion Control permit from the City of Madison will be required.
A better process

The Friends of Lake Wingra have an initiative to improve the stormwater planning process.  You can find a draft of their Stormwater Management Initiative here.  I'll be reporting more about it soon.

If you are upset by what is happening to our greenway, it's a done deal.  It will be more productive now to prevent the destruction of green space in other neighborhoods by supporting the initiative by Friends of Lake Wingra to overhaul the process.

You can also work for more green infrastructure during the upcoming planning process for Sunset Village.

Choices for the future

Stormwater policy can have a big impact on how a city looks:

As Madison grows, do we want to look more like Indianapolis?

Or do we want to develop our stormwater channels as green space?

The photo shows wildflowers in the Hillcrest-Upland Greenway, soon to be buried under tons of sterile rubble.

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