Coyotes in Madison

Coyotes used to be a symbol of the American West--the stuff of folklore and cowboy song.  Throughout the 1900s, they were spreading to the East. Now they are common throughout the country, often living right under the nose of urban residents. For example, wildlife experts estimate there are over 2,000 living in Chicago, even downtown, where one walked into a Quiznos store.

Coyotes are common in Madison. If you walk on our lakes in winter, after fresh snow has fallen, you will see a myriad of coyote tracks, along with those of other mammals like fox, beaver, mink, deer, raccoon, rabbit, and squirrel.


Volunteers for green cities

Already, people in Madison are helping create a green city, by volunteering for...
  • community gardens growing local food
  • community orchards
  • rain gardens
  • friends groups for local waterways
  • friends groups and helpers for parks
These are all examples of green infrastructure--the general topic of this blog.

Citizen inspectors

Madison also needs "citizen inspectors," to help monitor construction sites for proper erosion control practices.

Studies show that 19% of the phosphorus in our lakes--an important nutrient that causes the growth of toxic algae--comes from construction site erosion.

My other blog, Contractor Report, has demonstrated that citizens can make a big difference if they just take photos of construction sites near their homes.

Today, I received a phone call from a retired man--since he lives on one of the lakes, he's concerned about their health. In areas where he used to water ski, sediment has accumulated, so that now it's too shallow for the sport.

He has been monitoring constructions sites for years, sometimes taking photos.  He told me stories about reporting numerous violations to the city--but nothing ever happened.   We talked, and I volunteered to help him purchase and learn to use a digital camera.

If the City won't take action...   those embarrassing photos remain there on the internet--they get the attention of contractors.  These photos also prove how permissive the City has become.  Photos are essential to giving your observations and complaints some teeth.

Technical support from this blog

If you are interested in helping monitor construction sites, I'll provide technical support (608-233-9589):
  • Advice in purchasing a digital camera (very inexpensive models work fine)
  • Help in learning how to use it
  • Help in learning how to upload your photos to the internet
Here's a sample of photos one volunteer took last summer in Maple Bluff.

Involving children

... is essential to creating a movement with sticking power.  Most adults today are unaware of what happens to the rain after it hits the pavement--that's why it's hard to make progress towards green infrastructure.  Let's involve children, so they take an interest when they grow up. 
Besides, children love the rain... and puddles.

My dream is to create teams of Runoff Rangers--a retired person in the neighborhood, teamed up with a child.  Or a parent with their child.  When it rains (or afterward), the Rangers go out, to see where the water has gone, and what it has done.  They talk about it, and see how things can be improved in their neighborhood.  Would a tiny rain garden on the terrace keep rain from puddling in the sidewalk?  Projects, or discussions with neighbors might follow.

For the slightly more ambitious teams, nearby construction sites would be a bonanza.  This could provide kids with their first insight into civic responsibility. 

Most private construction sites can be "inspected" simply by walking around the perimeter.  All you do is look for muddy water (or sediment) coming out.  Street construction sites always offer open access for vehicles of people who live in the area.  So there's no danger, no trespassing.

Children need to roam
When I was a kid, we roamed throughout the neighborhood.  But in my neighborhood now, children play only at home.  Perhaps that's because surveys show concerns about "kidnapping" are one of the top five fears of parents--even though the chances are remote. 
Runoff Rangers could be a way to roam and explore safely, teaming knowledgeable grownups with kids yearning to explore... an antidote to TV, the X-box, or obesity.

I live in the Westmorland Neighborhood, and I'm ready to start the first team.  Call 233-9589.  References provided!


Big machines VS gentle machines (and donkeys)

After millenia with large populations, not to mention world wars, Europe had devastated their environment.  That's why Green parties became so influential in countries like Germany.

In contrast, the American environment seems in better shape, due to just a few hundred years of settlement, plus relatively few people per square mile.

Nevertheless, Europe does have things to teach America about conservation... and thinking small.

Gentle machines

When I visited Norway in 1974, I was impressed by the variety of small farm vehicles.  There was a motorized wheelbarrow you could steer with handlebars as you walked behind it.  It was great for small farms with steep fields.

About ten years ago in Italy, I saw a similar device employed in ancient towns where the streets often consisted of stairs.  These machines could crawl up the stairs to deliver groceries or construction supplies.

Also in Italy, I saw tiny monorails used to bring the grapes out of vineyards high on steep slopes above the Mediterranean Sea. The aerial tracks were installed in sections like an erector set. The motor of a gas-powered locomotive grabbed onto "teeth" along the bottom of the track... so it could climb up the steep slopes. These tracks went right over the rows of grapevines without disturbing them.

Monorail near Italian town of Vernazza

Along the scenic Amalfi Coast near Naples, there was a small village called Nocelle nestled in cliffs high above the road.  The only way to get there was by a long trail with many stairs.  At one point, it skirted a narrow canyon, many hundreds of feet deep.

Because of its tourist potential, the Italians were building a road to the town.  When I visited the area several years later, they were still building the road.

Americans would have blasted out the rock, letting debris tumble into (and despoil) the canyon.   Instead, Italian workmen were carving a route along the cliff,  block by block.  Then they used the blocks to shore up the roadway and make it wider, much as you would build a carefully-crafted stone wall. 

But it was taking years.  Having seen the Etruscans and Romans come and go, the Renaissance and Mussolini--the Italians have a different perspective on time.  Looking at the portion of road already finished, you could barely see where it crossed the cliff--there was hardly a scar.

The Amish

In the US, the Amish are doing quite well economically.  When biking near Wildcat Mt State Park, we saw Amish chopping silage using machines dating from the late 1800s.  The kind you sometimes see rusting in fields.  They were powered by a gasoline engine that drove a long belt connected to the chopping machine.  It's OK to use engines for stationary work.  Horses are used for field work.

The Amish seem odd to many Americans.  But the Amish believe that, by carefully deciding which technology to adopt, they are making technology and machines their servants, instead of the other way around.  More

"Modern" farmers (and contractors) often seem slaves to their machines.  Serving the debt on expensive farm equipment, fertilizer, and fuel has driven too many modern farmers to bankruptcy.  Meanwhile, the Amish are steadily expanding.

Donkeys to the rescue

Now I learn that one Italian town has returned to donkeys for collecting the garbage.  With an economic downturn, the town was having trouble finding money to replace aging garbage trucks.  So they brought back... the donkey.   With narrow streets, the garbage donkey proved cost-effective.

And besides, tourists love the donkeys.

According to the Mayor of Castelbuono: "Today we have 30 donkeys and they work in shifts. When the females get pregnant, they even have maternity leave so our program complies with union rules.  We’re showing the world that an essential service like garbage collection can be done successfully using a very old resource like the donkey.  I think we should not wait for a good example from Rome. We should start, the local community should start."  More details   Photos

Don't underestimate the Italians--theirs is a fully modern, industrial country.  One of the G-7.   Sometimes they just have the courage to think small.


Big machines VS hand tools

Early in the Greenway controversy, residents realized that use of overly large equipment would cause lots of damage. This was also the lesson from the work on Spaight St, where many mature trees died.

Another example from the wars against nature

I notified the Director of Parks that there was serious erosion starting in the woods below Forest Hill Cemetery.  I was thankful that he addressed the problem right away.  But to do a job fit for a shovel and saw, they sent two men, a bobcat, and a truck into the woods.

They left behind a damaged tree and disturbed waterway--that will send much sediment downstream next time it rains.  Disturbing the ground also opens the way for invasive species.

The role of education

This recurring story results from cultural values that must change.  Children need to learn...
  • The value of long-term perspectives and solutions
  • The landscape is a living organism.  You can't slash it's skin without creating future problems.
  • Sometimes work with hand tools produces better, cheaper results.
Elaborating on this last point:  To the men in the photo above, using heavy equipment may have saved time that particular day.

But when you consider the cost of gas for two machines, maintenance on the machines, the expense of the huge Vactor truck needed to remove sediment from the catchment basin below this disturbed waterway, plus costs to repair damage to Lake Wingra--the machine approach was not cost-effective.

The role of citizen volunteers

Realistically, the war against nature with big machines isn't going to change in the near term.  But the destruction could be reduced by teamwork between city workers and volunteers.

Let's take, for example, repairing erosion in the woods below the Cemetery.   In a nutshell, here's what's needed...
  • Mulch the trails, stabilize bare areas outside the trails
  • Redirect the flow of water away from trails (with surgical precision)
  • Create several large rain gardens where water enters the forest
  • Create rock dams in developing gullys
Most of this work could be done by volunteers with hand tools. The City could use small equipment to haul silt socks, piles of mulch, and piles of rocks to several spots in the woods.  From there, volunteers would spread them where needed.

The City would use a backhoe to create several basins for rain gardens.  Volunteers could smooth the soil and do the planting.

Local materials can help.  Small tree trunks on the ground can become the borders of trails.  Stones from the woods can fill gullies.  Leaf litter can be moved from places without erosion to bare, eroding areas.

Hand tools solve erosion at Hawksnest State Park

This summer, I volunteered at a park on Cape Cod, to control erosion threatening pristine Hawksnest Pond

I produced an erosion control plan, getting approval from the park's superintendent.  Silt Socks were provided as a donation thanks to Peter Tonn of Lodi, WI.  With the help of 12 hrs labor from park staff, plus 3-4 days of additional labor by myself with hand tools, the problems were mostly solved.

Especially interesting was restoration of the "giant mud puddle."  People trying to park too close to the pond had created erosion and runoff into a huge puddle--an ugly mess, contaminated with human and dog waste. 

The park superintendent talked about bringing heavy equipment and gravel in to fill the puddle.  But equipment was never available.

Finally, I attacked it with a shovel and rake.  After about 8 hours of labor, I had the puddle filled, and the bare surface nicely mulched with leaf litter from the woods. 

The only power equipment needed?  A chain saw to fell a dead tree, in order to block vehicle access, and a truck to drag the log into position.

Puddle filled, mulching underway.

Part of the gentle solution was to divert runoff--using silt socks--before it could reach the giant puddle.


Speedway Sand and Gravel Co. deserves official "blacklisting"

A subcommittee of the City's Environment Committee has recommended that City Engineering maintain a "blacklist" of irresponsible contractors. I believe Speedway Sand and Gravel should be the first candidate for this list. Unfortunately, City Engineering seems very tolerant of poor performance on erosion control.   The blacklisting proposal sits on a dusty shelf somewhere--therefore, this blog.

Speedway worker on the job, 9/9 11:11 am. 
All stormwater inlets still unmaintained 7 days after major rain.

Speedway Sand and Gravel has been involved during June-Sept. 2010 in serious and repeated violations of Madison's erosion control regulations, at Edgewood Ave, and now at Segoe Rd.

Speedway is being sued by citizens for repeatedly sending plumes of mud into Lake Wingra.

Violations at Edgewood Ave include
  • inadequate gravel tracking pads
  • poorly located gravel check dams
  • use of unwashed gravel for pads and check dams (washed gravel is required)
  • leaving a filter off a key stormwater pipe leading directly to the lake from a muddy construction pit
  • ineffective cleaning of streets after work      more
Violations at Segoe Rd include
  • clogged and unmaintained stormwater inlet filters
  • ineffective positioning of silt socks around major stormwater inlets
  • failure to inspect and correct erosion control promptly after major rain events*
  • street cleaning after work has been incomplete and ineffective
The whole Segoe site has an air of disorder and neglect about it. Dust control chemicals, and waste water from cement mixing, have been spilled or dumped on the street. 

Residents along Segoe Rd are angry that Speedway is harming the lakes, and that holes in the terrace have not been properly back filled.  Negligent back filling, combined with rain, has caused several holes next to the sidewalk, which residents fear are dangerous to pedestrians.  I saw one resident filling the holes on her terrace.

 More examples  (click photos to enlarge)

Nearly all stormwater inlets in the street were unmaintained and clogged to varying degrees.
Most of the 16 or so stormwater inlets in the median were not adequately protected from inflow of sediment.  None had filters.  This one had no protection at all--it was so buried in sediment that Sherlock had to dig to find it.
Chemicals were spilled on the pavement in numerous places.  The pattern suggested they were intended for suppressing dust.  When samples were placed in water, they formed a floating scum that smelled of petroleum.  Not what you want in the lake.
The pavement and gutters everywhere were dirty.  Residents complain of dust.  Street sweeping has been done, but was cursory and ineffective.
The bottom line...

All this gunk goes directly to a large pipe running under Segoe, and from there to Willow Creek and Lake Mendota at University Bay.
#     #     #

Update: City officials responsible for this site

Apparently Madison Water Utility was responsible, since this was a water main replacement (plus resurfacing and stormwater inlet replacement).

Permit authority: Tim Troester
(608) 267-1995

Permittee: Madison Water Utility
Adam Wiederhoeft
119 E Olin Ave, Madison WI 53713

Inspector: Harley Lemkuil
hlemkuil@cityofmadison.com  See reports

Speedway Staff responsible
Todd Timmerman (608) 575-1499  todd@speedwaysg.com
Josh Stieve  (608) 836-1071  Josh@#speedwaysg.com

*  Inspection is required within 24 hrs of a rainfall of .75 in or more.  On 9/2 it rained nearly an inch, with another inch on 9/3.  There was substantial flooding along the project on Segoe.  Yet by 9/7, none of the damage or clogged filters had been repaired.  Inspection reports could not be found on the city website.  All photos 9/6 or 9/7 evenings.